When you know, you know. Jessie and Kevin knew. You need to know, too.
Kevin and Jessie O’Brien haven’t known forever that they would one day open a brewery, but looking back it’s clear that this was destined to happen. Jessie has had a passion for craft beer for a long time, stemming from their time at the University of Maine. Kevin is naturally a people person. He is warm and engaging … he has an amazing ability to make you feel welcome with a smile and a genuine interest in conversation. Combine those two with Jessie’s drive to dive into the science of brewing and Kevin’s natural knack for marketing and management, and we have a winner!
I first contacted them about a week before my recent visit to Amelia Island/ Fernandina Beach, Florida. I had hoped to at least get the typical, “Yeah, come on by and we can chat” response. But what I got was a thoughtful welcome and some thoughts on some beers I should be trying. And right then I knew – this visit became the priority for the weekend. Spoiler alert: I was not disappointed at all.
First Love Brewing is pretty new to the scene, having opened in June 2020.
Yes – they opened in the middle of a global pandemic …
In an economy largely focused on tourism …
They were actually set to open in March, but we know how that turned out. I was particularly struck with the positivity and optimism Kevin displayed when talking about that situation. “That was great for us, because it gave us more time – it was almost like we had a three-month soft opening.” Lemons –> lemonade.
Enough of the background … how was the product? I was ‘only’ able to try 11 of the beers they had on tap. 😁 One thing really stuck out to me looking at their lineup: no sours and no hazy IPAs. It seems a lot of breweries these days focus almost all of their attention on just those two styles. It makes sense, because that’s the crazy-fad-trend right now. First Love has light, dark, Belgian, light & crisp, heavy and complex. And amazingly enough, for a brewery barely in its infancy, everything I had was quite good. And I’m not just being nice. Everything was legit good. A dubbel, tripel, saison, red IPA, Baltic porter, rye amber …. the variety of styles and quality of the beer was truly astonishing. I guess those brewing science courses at Auburn University and Level III Cicerone training are working pretty well for Jessie!
Do not sleep on First Love. They have big plans. The beer is taproom only … for now. Back to the aforementioned timing of the opening – this brewery opened against seemingly all odds, and has been successful despite the challenges. According to Kevin, they have received amazing and consistent support from the community … the people they live with and serve every day. Just wait until the world starts traveling again. Community is what they’re all about. I’m going to straight up steal a line from their website:
First Love Brewing is built around the idea of pursuing your passions and dreams. We are driven by the people we meet, the community that we live in, and the places we visit.
Community – that’s obviously what they are supporting. But what they may not even realize yet is … they’re building community too. Their flight paddle (pictured above) is shaped like Amelia Island. They’ll place your beers in the order you should drink them for the best experience. (Drink from north to south for optimal results.) And they have a solid menu, too. This is not a ‘grab-a-pint-and-go’ sorta place. Sit, eat, sip, enjoy. COMMUNITY. The detail that goes into every aspect of the operation just screams that this is designed to be a piece of the Fernandina fabric for a very long time to come. I mean, they trained under a master pizza-dude in Chicago; they import their flour from Italy. The pizza is unbelievable. The beer is amazing. The people are genuine and authentically friendly. Now I know.
Again, when you know, you know. And now you know, too.
This is the first installment in a new segment entitled, “15 Minutes With …”. These posts are designed to be more than just a brewery review. We will attempt to dig deeper and do more than simply tell you what sort of beer and food you can find at various places. We want to delve into the stories and anecdotes … those eccentricities, quirks, and oddities that make each brewery unique.