Is Wakulla County getting a brewery in Sopchoppy? Maybe
When you look at the North Florida craft beer map, you may notice one prime area that is missing in action.
But soon, if one local resident gets his wish, that may change.
Meet Elliot Seidler, a Wakulla County native who has set the proverbial wheels in motion to open Wakulla's first craft brewery: Civic Brewing Co. (civicbrewingco.com)
He's got a location. He's got a website. He's got a logo. And he's got the brewing background to make it happen.
There's only one problem: Not everyone in Wakulla County is on board — especially considering where Elliot wants to open CBC. (More on that in a second)
Elliot, like many Wakulla natives, was born in Tallahassee but grew up in Wakulla — specifically the city of Sopchoppy. He moved away after high school and joined the Navy, and after his service stint, enrolled in a renowned brewing school at UC Davis in California, which had a waiting list of two years before Elliot was accepted.
Elliot had been home brewing for nearly a decade before attending and graduating from UC Davis, and he was working on his master's degree in business administration when the coronavirus pandemic hit. When that happened — and all his classes were moved to online — Elliot decided the timing was right to move home and begin work on his dream of opening a brewery.
So why Sopchoppy? Here's a little backstory ...
For those who aren't familiar with Sopchoppy, it's a super small city located in the southernmost portion of the county — and it's about as rural as rural gets. Its population is only about 500 people, but it has gained notoriety over the years for its famed "Worm Gruntin' Festival" held next to the beautiful Sopchoppy River every April.
Thousands come from all over to take part in the day-long event that features arts and crafts vendors, live music, amazing local food, a 5K race and the annual crowning of the new "Worm Gruntin' King & Queen" — an honor which goes to the man and woman who can make the most worms rise from the rich Sopchoppy soil by rubbing metal on wood stakes in the ground that creates a vibration and makes the worms come to the surface.
The festival itself was recently named "12 Annual Events In Florida You Absolutely Cannot Miss," although it was postponed this year due to the coronavirus pandemic with plans to resume in April 2021.
We helped break the news that Wakulla was poised to be home to the 850's next craft brewery last month when we featured Elliot on Episode #102 of our ESPN 97.9 FM Radio Show, "The Saturday Morning Bottle Share."
We encourage you to go back and listen to the whole interview, but here's a little bit of what Elliot said when asked why he chose Sopchoppy.
"I started looking for a building about 6 months ago. I was like, 'It's about time. Wakulla needs (a craft brewery),' " Elliot told us on the show. "Then once I found my location, I got in contact with the mayor of Sopchoppy about 2 months ago to figure out what I needed to do to get the process rolling. Current ordinances don't allow alcohol to be sold if we aren't selling food — and I'd rather not sell food and just support our local food trucks — so I'm hoping to have the city commission vote to change that and pave the way for this to happen.
"I just think Sopchoppy is a really cool spot. I grew up there, so I have that personal attachment to it, and the property I'm looking at has a huge outdoor area. And it's an old historic building. I just think it's a really great spot and would give off a really cool vibe (for Sopchoppy to be the home for the brewery)."
But as quickly as the process got rolling — with the full support of Sopchoppy Mayor Laura Beck Edwards, we should point out — it was stopped in its tracks. Not dead in its tracks, but halted nonetheless. As it turns out, not everyone in Sopchoppy is a fan of Elliot's idea, and those opposed voiced their displeasure at a recent Sopchoppy City Commission meeting last month.
You see, Elliot wants to open Civic Brewing Co. next to a church in Downtown Sopchoppy — and when we say "next to," we could not be more literal. The building Elliot has leased is a 120-year-old log cabin-esque structure next to the famed Sopchoppy Train Depot, and it sits roughly 20 feet from Sopchoppy Church of Christ. The two locations are separated only by a small six-foot privacy fence.
At that August commission meeting, many of those ingrained in the local Sopchoppy church community — which features 10 churches in Sopchoppy alone — spoke up and expressed concerns about a craft brewery opening in their city and in such close proximity to one of its churches.
As a result, the city commission set a hearing for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 14, at the Old Sopchoppy High School auditorium to specifically address the issue and take a vote. All Elliot needs is a majority vote from the five-member commission to proceed.
We, of course, fully support Elliot's vision to open Wakulla's first craft brewery, and we hope the city commission decides to as well. We fear many of those opposed incorrectly associate "craft brewery" with being "a bar," when the reality is most craft breweries are family friendly, don't stay open late and often are assets to jumpstart positive and significant business growth around them.
Elliot says if he gets the blessing of Sopchoppy to proceed, he hopes to open in 9-12 months — so sometime in spring or summer 2021. And he added that despite the opposition he's been met with thus far, he's also received a steady stream of support.
"Overall, the reaction to this has been really positive for the most part," he said. "Outside of some of the pastors speaking out against it, all I've heard is that people are looking forward to it. And that has really meant a lot to me. It keeps me motivated to make it happen."
Danny Aller is the co-founder, along with Matthew Crumbaker, of the TLH Beer Society, a group of avid craft beer lovers. Reach the Beer Society on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.