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Largo Leader
Largo brewery celebrates anniversary
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Photo by BRIAN GOFF
Owners Jay and Colleen Dingman pose with their son, Brody, outside the Barley Mow Brewing Company during the brewery’s second anniversary party.
LARGO – The second anniversary of the Barley Mow Brewing Company July 19 was a testament to the success of a business with humble beginnings, at a time when the business is expanding.

The brewery, at 518 West Bay Drive, began in a home, when Jay and Colleen Dingman started brewing beer for their personal consumption. And while home brewing is fairly common, the growth of the resulting business however is not.

To tell that story, perhaps it is best to go back to the beginning. The Dingmans started brewing as a joint venture, said Jay, 39.

“It soon became obvious that we couldn’t do it together. We had different tastes and liked different things,” he explained.

So the couple began brewing separate lots about once a month. Then it got to be more frequent. Finally they were brewing separate batches once a week.

“We were brewing more beer than we could drink,” Jay said. “At the time, both of us were working in the hospitality industry, and we knew how to run a bar. So we said, why not buy a bar?”

So they did; in late summer 2011, they bought O’Houston’s Irish Pub and turned it into the Barley Mow Brewing Company.

“We got the brewing system we have now,” he said. “We got it up and running in November 2011 and sold our first beer in July of 2012. That’s why we hold our anniversary party in July.”

There were plenty of old and new customers at the establishment on its anniversary. Jeff and Linda Lynch drove all the way over from Tampa for the party. They had only been at the Brewing Company once before but felt the party was worth the drive.

“We like the beer,” said Jeff. “We had tasted it at various beer fests around here so we finally came over once to enjoy an evening, and we did.”

“We especially like the outdoor patio and the live music,” said Linda. “Of course, the beer plays a huge part in that.”

Tim Newbill of Largo has been a regular at the brewery since it opened. He can’t seem to get enough of the place.

“I come here a few times a week,” he said. “You end up meeting new people and chatting about and comparing the beer. They make excellent craft beer, and the staff is friendly. My friends all like it here too.”

In fact, the beer is what drives the place, and there is no shortage of variety.

“We had 50 original beers on tap at the anniversary party,” said Jay. “We might have had another 15 or 20 that we didn’t brew or that we have retired. Many of the beers we have now aren’t brewed with their original recipes. We have learned how to sharpen our skills and work out the kinks.”

Jay said that six brands are core to the business. Among those are three particular favorites, all ales.

“Our bestselling beer is called Quackalope, an IPA,” he said. “Next is The Unkindness, which is an American black ale, then Selkie, a Belgian-style pale ale.”

Jay said his customer base is diverse.

“It is not a boy’s game anymore,” he said. “A lot of women are into craft beer. The boom is so huge right now; it involves somebody from every walk of life. We have people – regulars – in their 60s and 70s, then at night, regulars who are in their 20s.”

The Dingmans are taking advantage of the boom with a major expansion that is already underway, at least a year ahead of schedule. They have just purchased a 20,000-square-foot building on Commerce Drive in Largo. A new brewing system is being installed at the production-only facility. At the West Bay location, the brewing system can brew 75 gallons at a time; the new facility will be able to brew 1,000 gallons in the same amount of time.

“The only thing (different) about this expansion from our original business plan is that it came a year ahead of schedule and is 50 percent larger than we thought it would be,” said Jay.

The new facility should be up and running by September. It will allow the company to expand into new markets.

“We had hoped to be able to be a statewide brewery and then a regional brewery. We’re well on our way,” Jay said.

Hard work is critical to the operation, he added.

“What we do right now is pretty labor-intensive. It is not really super sustainable,” he said. “We work ridiculous hours. We have a good staff that likes to work as hard as we do. All our employees do everything, from helping with calculating the tax and accounting services to the actual brewing itself.”

The company currently employs nine people with the possibility of adding one more once the new system is up and running.

Jay said he never had any doubt that things would work out so well, even at the brewery’s humble beginnings. While other business owners might marvel that their success exceeded their “wildest dreams,” not Jay.

“In my wildest dreams, I did think we’d be here,” he said. “We’ve never been afraid to work. It is a rugged but really rewarding career. We love what we do, and it is easy to be passionate and present in our own business.

“How big can we go? I don’t really know. But when it stops being fun, that’s where we’ll stay.”

That fun can be gauged by a key demographic, explained Jay, once a bartender himself.

“We get a lot of hospitality people as our customers,” he said. “We’re open late, until 2 or 3 in the morning. If you get a lot of servers and bartenders coming to your place, you are obviously doing something right.”
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