Telling the story of Mocama, the coastal region that stretches from what is now southern Georgia down through the Okefenokee Swamp to the west coast of Florida, Hamp Tanner says the word means coast or ocean.
“Mocama is where you live, where you are, and it’s the people who live here,” he explained. “Mocama people living in a Mocama place have a Mocama lifestyle.”
It’s also part of the name of a new venture Tanner recently helped launch: Mocama Beer Company, a locally owned and operated brewery making beer for local distribution. Currently, the company is selling its beer through North Florida Sales in kegs and on tap at local restaurants, as well as a few beers in cans at local retailers. Mocama’s beers will soon also be served in the company’s taproom at 629 S. Eighth St. in Fernandina Beach.
Co-founder, president, and chief financial officer, Tanner explained Mocama is neither a brewpub nor a restaurant but a brewery with a taproom occupying the front of the mid-century building that once housed Lasserre Motor Company, a Ford dealership that opened in 1953.
“Throughout our renovation and repurposing of the iconic building, we have done our best to pay homage to the mid-century look and feel while adding some modern touches,” Tanner said. The building, with a capacity for up to 235 people, has 24 beer taps and a custom bar with a short-draw draft system and a cooler just behind the tap wall.
The interior of the taproom maintains the mid-century vibe with custom seating that features walnut and leather chairs, couches and banquettes. There is a kitchen, but Mocama won’t be offering food cooked onsite. Instead, the brewery plans to coordinate with local restaurants to offer food from a menu created for Mocama that can be delivered to the taproom so customers can enjoy a meal with their beer. There will be a retail space for merchandise and for packaged beer to go. In the future, Mocama will offer wines by the glass and draft wines.
But the star of the show, and Tanner’s passion, is the beer. He explained he’s enjoyed beer since he was a young man but didn’t consider making it before 2017, when he was operating another business in Fernandina Beach. Tanner has lived here for 22 years and visited the area all of his life.
“I grew up in Douglas, Georgia, and this is where we came to the beach,” Tanner said. “I grew up coming here my whole life. My parents owned a condo. Sometimes we stayed at a friend’s beach house. I moved here in 1998 with a business, Well Traveled Living, which is an import wholesale-distribution business of patio products. We worked with manufacturers to create outdoor products, mostly items such as fire pits.” His partner bought his half of that business in 2018, when he began transforming the vacant building on South Eighth Street to Mocama.
Tanner said he has not always had a dream of brewing beer.
“My nephews said I should get a home brewing kit, but I said there are other people who brew beer really, really well, and I can just go buy that beer
and I don’t have to do the work,” he said. “But about a dozen years ago, I became interested in craft beers. What is generally a more artisanal approach to making beer with hand-selected ingredients for more specific flavor profiles and things that allow you to enjoy beer, whether it’s the flavor, look, smell, the ‘mouth feel’ – and big beer wasn’t doing that. They were all basically serving light lagers, foreign beers, German and Belgian beers … all kinds of other beers but
it wasn’t happening in the U.S. until the Carter administration when some of the laws were relaxed to allow home breweries and micro-breweries. After prohibition ended, most of the breweries were the large breweries.”
Tanner said Florida ranked 43rd in the nation in breweries per capita in 2017 and Northeast Florida was behind other parts of the state. He said Mocama will be the fourth brewery on Amelia Island but believes the market here won’t be over-saturated thanks to the tourist season.
If Tanner is the brains of the operation, J.T. Murrett is the heart, and the taste buds. As head brewer and chief production officer, Murrett determines what Mocama’s beers taste, smell, look and feel like. He came to Fernandina Beach from Asheville, North Carolina, where he worked at Burial Beer. Before that, he was at Lagunitas Brewing in California and Boston Beer Company.
Tanner explained how the brewer defines the beer.
“How your beer is going to turn out is dependent on your brewer’s approach and skill and the equipment you are brewing with and the ingredients we use,” he said. “If everyone uses the same ingredients, it comes down to your brewer. Brewing is science and also art. To me, the best craft beers have a good balance between creativity and science. Science doesn’t change; the ingredients do what they do and the cycle is what it is.”
The brewer chooses the grains to be used, which is usually barley, but can also include wheat, corn, flaked oats or even rice. The grains are roasted, but how long they are roasted and with what method is also the decision of the brewer. Grains can even be smoked with different woods. Then, there are decisions to be made during the brewing process that create a beer that tastes like fruit or chocolate, is very light or dark like coffee, is transparent or opaque. The amount of hops added during the process can give a bitter flavor, if desired, or a citrusy taste. Of course, the beer will only be as good as the water from which it is brewed, so Mocama has a three-step water filtration system that includes a water softener, carbon filtration and reverse osmosis.
All the work and loving care creates Mocama beers, and the taproom will have at least 12 different varieties when it opens. The building has 18,000 square feet, with the taproom occupying 3,500 square feet of that space and a production area that covers 10,000 square feet. Core beers to be served include IPA, session IPA, pilsner and Berliner Weiss, and derivative beers will include double IPAs and fruited Berliner Weiss. Seasonal beers will include porters, stouts, Oktoberfest, English mild, sour beers and saisons.
Mocama Beer Company will open, hopefully according to Tanner, within two weeks. For more information, visit mocama.com.