By GEOFF FOX
APOLLO BEACH – Nathan Hangen has a passion for beer and a vision for Apollo Beach.
The owner of Four Stacks Brewing Co., Hangen left of the software industry to pursue professional beer-making in 2015, when he opened the first Four Stacks location at 5469 N. U.S. 41.
“We’re family-owned and partially employee-owned,” said Hangen, a native of Dayton, Ohio, who moved to Florida in 2011. “It’s hard to sell Apollo Beach, because there’s not much to do in the area, but I want to put Apollo Beach on the map.”
A U.S. Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, among other places, Hangen opened another South Shore location, at 10656 New East Bay Road, in July.
Hangen said he was inspired to open his own craft brewery after a trip to California several years ago. There, he visited Ballast Point Brewing Co. and Green Flash Brewing Co., both headquartered in San Diego, and Stone Brewing Co. in nearby Escondido.
“There are a lot of breweries here, but nothing like the scene out west,” he said. “I started with a home brewery, then it just snowballed. It took me about 18 months to get everything going.”
He foresees the future of craft beers shifting away from stouts, sours and India pale ales toward more lagers, golden ales and blondes, which he refers to as “clean beers” with less alcohol.
Selections made at his brewery include: Chocolate Coffee Porter, and American porter; Hopticon, an American pale ale; El Indio, an American brown ale; Martin the Warrior, a German-style hefeweizen; Golden Idol, a Belgian strong golden ale; and Octopus Prime, an India pale ale.
“We’ve brewed probably 200 or 300 of our own beers,” Hangen said. “There’s usually 15 on tap at any given time, and they rotate, sometimes daily.”
That keeps Mike Frey very busy. Four Stacks’ assistant brewer and part owner, Frey has been at the company almost since its inception. After work recently, he sipped a Chocolate Coffee Porter and recalled meeting Hangen and his wife, Heather.
“They were asking people to pour with them at a beer festival, so I did,” Frey said. “You basically just hang out at your booth and pour beer for people and talk to them about beer. I had a lot of fun. Three days later, I asked if I could come on as a bartender.”
Frey got the job and left his career as an insurance adjuster specializing in automotive claims. He had always been interested in brewing, so he slowly learned the craft from Hangen and studied about the process in his spare time.
He now does most of Four Stacks’ physical brewing, which keeps him in a room that gets up to 99 degrees when the boil kettles are running. It’s sweaty, physical work, but Frey seemed to relish it.
“One of the more difficult ones to brew is the Chocolate Coffee Porter, because you’re using larger grains,” he said, as the hammering sounds of Rage Against the Machine pounded through the bar. “You’re lifting up to 200 pounds (of grain) into that thing and then you have to stir it. It’s like trying to paddle upstream – in a tugboat.
“The wheat beers are pretty tedious. They have a step-mash process, where you have to turn up the heat over time.”
Most batches of brew take six or seven hours to complete, he said.
In October, Four Stacks plans to enter the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. The festival, which includes beer from about 3,500 breweries, includes a brewing competition, and Frey wants to win. At last year’s festival, he said, Four Stacks made it to the “judging round,” meaning it placed in the top 30 out of 150 competitors.
For this year’s festival, Frey said Four Stacks will make its El Indio, a brown ale, Siege on Castle Black, a smoked porter with habanero and other peppers, and A Girl Has No Name, a smoked porter treated with vanilla.
Besides Four Stacks’ two locations, its beer is served at Circles, the popular restaurant, bar and music venue on Apollo Beach Boulevard, as well as restaurants and bars in St. Petersburg and Orlando.
Four Stacks isn’t just about beer. Every Wednesday at 7 p.m., the Apollo Beach location hosts a run club, where walkers, joggers or runners can traverse a 5-kilometer or 1-mile course. Afterward, participants get $1 off all beers until close.
Both locations also hold a weekly trivia night, Wednesdays in Riverview and Thursdays in Apollo Beach. There is live music at the Apollo Beach location every Friday night.
Hangen, who lives in Ruskin with Heather and their three children, said the Four Stacks name was inspired by the smokestacks at Tampa Electric’s Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach.
Like most entrepreneurs, Hangen plans to expand the business.
“I eventually want to make a path (of new locations) down U.S. 41, between Tampa and Sarasota,” he said.
For information about Four Stacks, visit www.fourstacksbrewing.com or find the company on Facebook. The Apollo Beach location can be reached by phone at (813) 641-2036; the Riverview location is at (813) 741-9333.