A new craft beer brewery in coastal Apalachicola is a point of pride and an economic driver for a community that was hit hard by the oyster industry's recent decline. The historic Panhandle community celebrated the grand opening of Oyster City Brewing Company this week.
At this year’s National Oyster Day celebration, Apalachicola had an extra reason to celebrate. On a downtown street lined with palm trees and restored old buildings, a band plays outside the tap room of Oyster City Brewing Company.
Four beers are on tap next to giant metal tanks in the red-brick walled room.
“We produce everything here, we make it on site and sell it to you, and there’s just not a whole lot of that going on anymore,” says Oyster City co-owner Cassie Gary.
For years, Gary and her family have run the Owl Café, a popular restaurant across the street, and, more recently, the Owl Tap Room next to it. She says, after so many customers asked what local beers they have on tap, the family found business partners and decided to make some of their own. It’s been a nearly two-year process.
“I mean it literally takes a village to raise a brewery,” she says. “We couldn’t have done it without half—I mean, the community has been amazing.”
At this week’s grand opening, Gary says she’s exhausted but feeling great. And that’s despite national headlines that paint a bleak picture of a region that’s depended on oysters for so long. With that industry’s health at stake, an ongoing state lawsuit against Georgia seeks to force Florida’s northern neighbor to increase the flow of fresh water into Apalachicola Bay. But Gary says locals find plenty to be hopeful about.
“I don’t feel like Apalach’ is doing anything but growing stronger and getting better and figuring out ways to create jobs that have been lost through the oyster industry,” she says.
Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce President Anita Grove says the new brewery is a big part of that.
“They’ve been employing more and more people every week,” Grove says. “I come by, and there’s a new person. So they’re creating jobs, and as they expand, they’re going to be creating more jobs.”
And though Oyster City’s been operating for just months, it’s the central Panhandle’s first craft brewery to get regional distribution. Tallahassee’s Will Davis is a manager for beverage distributor Tri-Eagle Sales. He says Oyster City Brewing Company came along at the right moment to satisfy what restaurant owners want.
“Some great local-seafood-style restaurants are really bringing in Apalachicola-fresh seafood, and so they want to pair that with Apalachicola-fresh beer,” he says.
In the past couple of months, Oyster City beers have found buyers from Pensacola to Destin to Tallahassee. Happy National Oyster Day, indeed.