Southwest Florida may be about five years behind other regions of the nation when it comes to craft beer, but options for finding – or making – a good beer are rapidly on the rise.

“Why people who drink good beer are so passionate about it is because it’s so good,” says Don Story, who runs Brew Story, a home brew supply store in Estero. “It tastes so different that I can’t drink the other stuff anymore.”

If a restaurant doesn’t have craft beer, Story says he’d rather drink water. And that’s saying something for a man who has kept a keg of beer on tap in his home for the last 20 years.

The story of beer in the U.S. was abruptly altered by Prohibition. Before 1920, there were 4,600 breweries in the nation, Story notes. After prohibition, just 36 macro-breweries dominated the market for decades, until microbreweries started to emerge in the 1970s. Now, craft beers represent more than 10 percent of overall beer sales in the U.S., Story says, noting a 100 percent increase over the last five years.

Locally, Southwest Florida is just beginning to taste the difference, with craft beer menus popping up at local restaurants and microbreweries with tasting rooms opening in the region.

“I think the population is getting a little younger, and more people are moving from regions where there’s craft beer,” says Brian Hahn, who plans to open Momentum Brewhouse on Bonita Beach Road late this summer. “The area needs something like this. It’s fun for the whole family. It’s almost like a coffee shop atmosphere, but with beer.”

Will microbreweries become as common as coffee shops?

“This industry is growing by leaps and bounds,” says Story, who prefers to make his own home brews.

He helps craft beer aficionados learn to brew their own ale. A startup system and beer ingredient kit cost about $350. Story offers kits for 30 different types of beers, ranging in alcohol content from 4.1-9.5 percent.

“Beer is chemistry,” he says. “People who do this have an engineering mentality. They want to make their own equipment and tweak their recipes to get the exact taste they want.”

Indeed, Hahn is a former industrial engineer.

“It’s setting up an assembly line and putting a product out, but now I get to see the smile on the customer’s face,” he says.

Momentum Brewhouse won’t be a bar atmosphere, Hahn adds. It will be a happening hangout, with live music and events like car and motorcycle shows.

An increasing number of local eateries are latching onto the craft beer trend, some centering their business around it. 

House of Brewz opened in Gulf Coast Town Center in November and celebrated its grand opening in February. The bar carries 300 different craft beers, with 150 on draft.

“The breweries that make these [craft beers] pay a lot of attention to what they put in the beer,” says General Manager John Howard. “It’s an art form.”

House of Brewz hosts frequent release parties for new brews and constantly rotates drafts. They carry as many local beers as possible, from Fort Myers Brewing Company to Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, which is ranked No. 5 in the nation for microbreweries.

“We have high quality beer, as well as high quality food made in our ‘from scratch’ kitchen,” Howard adds.

Hurricane Grill & Wings was the first to bring craft beer to Estero, Story notes. Ford’s Garage opened in Miromar Outlets last fall, with a seven-page beer menu. While the community didn’t allow World of Beer to come to Coconut Point, Story says he thinks attitudes are changing as the industry grows.

“I don’t drink to get drunk,” he adds. “I drink beer because I love the taste of a good beer.”

While most home brewers are male, Story is surprised by the number of couples who are getting into the hobby together. His own wife, Jackie, wasn’t a beer drinker for years until the couple started hosting “beer dinners,” pairing craft beers with entrée and dessert courses.

“Now she’s become a very educated beer geek,” Story says. “She loves beer as much as I do.”

Brew Story stocks about 35 types of grains, more than 30 hops and 15 varieties of yeast. Creating a recipe may be art, but consistently producing it is science, he says.

“It’s not hard, but it takes patience,” Story muses. “I always age my beer a long time. Most guys can’t wait, but they admit if you do, it tastes better.”