Sopchoppy is primed for Civic: 'Wakulla is ready for a craft brewery'
When the Sopchoppy City Commission held multiple public meetings late last year to discuss whether to allow a craft brewery to open inside the city limits, opinions flew, things were said, and even a few feelings got hurt.
But amid the chaos that ensued as the residents debated the opening of Civic Brewing Co., there were two voices of support during those meetings that stood out among the crowd — Clayton Mathis, GM of Oyster City Brewing in Apalachicola, and Josh Parker, owner of Eastpoint Beer Company in Eastpoint.
And their message was this: Not only is a craft brewery a great addition to any small town, but a brewery will only enhance and improve the community in which you live, not hurt it — and they were both living proof of that.
"I just wanted to do whatever I could to help Civic and just let the folks of Sopchoppy know this was a good thing and please don't be worried it would damage the town in any way. It's really just the opposite," Mathis said. "The ways that Oyster City and Eastpoint Beer Co. have enriched Franklin County are truly immeasurable."
Fast forward 8 months (following the eventual approval by the City Commission), and that same type of enrichment is coming to Wakulla County — and it's coming soon.
Civic Brewing Company, which will be located at 106 Municipal Ave. in downtown Sopchoppy — directly across the street from Sopchoppy City Hall — is currently putting the finishing touches on what will be Wakulla County's first craft brewery when the doors finally open. So when will that be?
Founder and head brewer Elliot Seidler — a Sopchoppy native who was born and raised in Wakulla — told us on our ESPN 97.9 FM Radio show recently that it could be a week.
Or it might even be as long as a month.
Sopchoppy support for Civic Brewing
"I'm just waiting on all of my final paperwork to be approved — which should be any day now — but otherwise we're about 90 percent done," Seidler, 31, said on the show, which will air our conversation with Seidler this Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. "It's been non-stop work for the better part of a year to make this happen, and I'm really excited we're almost to the finish line."
But the most important thing, said Sopchoppy Mayor Lara Beck Edwards: A new, small business has chosen Sopchoppy as the place to put down its roots, doing so in a community with only a half dozen locally owned commercial ventures currently — and less than 500 residents living in the city limits.
"I think we all know that any time someone tries something new in a small town, it will have its challenges and likely be met with some opposition. This was no different. But to Elliot's credit, he never wavered, he never flinched, and he fought for his dream to open our county's first craft brewery in the place he grew up," said Edwards, who has supported Seidler from Day 1, despite admittedly not even being a beer drinker.
"I laugh when people ask me this, but the truth is I typically only drink wine, so my personal knowledge or love of craft beer really has nothing to do with my support. I'm just so excited that Civic Brewing will be a business incubator for Wakulla County, especially Sopchoppy. Wakulla is ready for a craft brewery, and it feels like this could really be the beginning of a renaissance for our city."
And it's a renaissance that's been years in the making too.
Making Wakulla more of a destination
When Seidler graduated from Wakulla County High School in 2008, he studied at both Florida State and the University of Florida before deciding in 2012 to enter the Navy, where he spent 6 years (much of it overseas in the Middle East and Japan) as a emergency search and rescue swimmer.
Unsure of what he wanted to do post-service besides finish his degree, his future path was guided by an unlikely influence: his older sister Taylor, also a Sopchoppy native.
"I was working for an weekly newspaper in Boston and we ran this column on craft beer from BeerAdvocate, which is HUGE now but was just starting out then. So I got really into craft beer early on and eventually became Creative Director for BeerAdvocate, and I would come home to visit from time to time and share craft beer with my family," Taylor recalled.
"And you could just tell Elliot was — just like me — discovering what beer could be with all these different styles and flavors he was tasting. Then when I went to visit him in Japan a few years later, one of the first places he took me too was a local brewery in Japan and he was saying, 'You gotta try this, and try that.' It was so cool to see him super excited about craft beer and his understanding of it. It was truly like the student had become the master!"
It was also during one of those visits that Elliot first told Taylor he not only wanted to attend the University of California, Davis, Brewing School when he got out of the Navy, but he then wanted to return to Wakulla and open a brewery.
"I loved it. As someone who grew up in Wakulla and always had to go to Tallahassee or other places to 'do things,' I thought it was such a great idea," she said.
"I'd have friends from Boston come to Wakulla and visit after I had moved away and absolutely love it — all the fishing, kayaking, boating, riding bikes, beaches, camping, going to the Blue Crab Festival. It makes you realize there was so much to do here already, and now here was Elliot wanting to add something else to do and make Wakulla even more of a destination."
Siblings collaborate on Civic Brewing
After briefly working at Proof Brewing to prepare for brewing school and learn the ropes of large-scale brewing, Elliot enrolled at UC Davis in 2019. He took part in an intensive 6-month brewing program while Taylor was busy launching her own full-service marketing, branding and graphic design firm specializing in craft breweries called SeaThirst Creative.
Based in Asheville, N.C. — the mecca of craft beer in America — Taylor knew that at some point soon, one of her most important clients would likely be her brother.
And when Elliot graduated from UC Davis in 2020 and moved back to Sopchoppy with plans to open Civic, the first call he made was to his big sis.
"Her hand is pretty much in everything you see here in the brewery," Elliot said with a laugh as he looked around and waved his hands. "She's a huge part of this."
From the design of the Civic Brewing logo, to the interior design of the tasting room, to the tap handles, to the signage, to the glassware and all the merchandise (hats, shirts, koozies & coasters), Taylor's creative touch is all over it.
In fact, she's visiting from Asheville this week to help him finish everything up in preparation for the Grand Opening.
And that's a day Wakulla County Chamber Executive Board Director Chris Russell has been eagerly waiting since Civic first got clearance to open.
"I echo (all the) sentiments about welcoming a new business to the county and wish them overwhelming success," Russell wrote in an email. "As a fan of craft beer, I can’t wait until they open. In fact, I’ve eased by a couple of times to check on how the progress is coming along from the outside. (The story of) a local returning home to open up a business that will help the local economy — that’s a great story in itself."
12 taps and a beer garden
But it's also a story that's only begun to be written. It will soon be up to the residents of Wakulla — and craft beer fans from around the Big Bend area — to help write the next chapter when Civic opens. And when they do open, Elliot plans to fill all 12 of his taps with 12 different styles. "Something for everyone," he says, and also host food trucks and local musicians every chance he gets.
But just don't look for any beers on tap above 10% ABV (alcohol by volume) — the Sopchoppy City Commission said, as a condition of Civic Brewing opening, that none of the beers he brewed could exceed 10%. And Eliiot — being a lover of classic, more traditional beer styles like pale ales, lagers, wheats and pilsners — was just fine with that.