This SWFL Brewery is a Beer Lover’s Paradise

Ceremony Brewing, in Bonita Springs, offers food-driven sours and a cultish bottle shop.

BY January 1, 2024
Zach Smith’s Ceremony Brewing in Bonita Springs
(Photo By Brian Tietz)

The jet-black walls are the first sign that something’s different about Bonita Springs’ Ceremony Brewing. Music by metal band Pallbearer and surf punk rockers The Frights drifts through the speakers as customers kick back on the leather couch and comfortable chairs in the basement lounge-like space, sipping fruited sours and unfiltered corn lagers. Unlike many of Southwest Florida’s beachy breweries, situated in strip malls or industrial warehouses, Ceremony is nestled in the heart of Downtown Bonita. And its location is the heart of the operation as far as owner and brewer Zach Smith is concerned.

A Naples native who was priced out of his hometown while working in hospitality and then education, Zach moved to Bonita Springs 12 years ago. He saw the potential in the revitalizing downtown. “I like the smaller town vibe, the diversity, the fact that it’s more blue-collar and that you’re surrounded by non-gated communities,” he says. “When I opened Ceremony, I wanted to keep it in Bonita. It was a big push of mine to be the neighborhood hangout.”

As an avid homebrewer and vice president of the Southwest Florida Brewcrafters—which has hosted the 9-year-old Bonita Brew Fest for the past five years—Zach treats Ceremony like a shrine to the breadth of beermaking. Since opening in 2021, the brewery has produced more than 85 different beers in a wide range of styles, from crushable Belgian blonde ales to full-bodied milkshake IPAs. But it’s the sours—a style that’s somewhat rare among local breweries but big with serious craft beer nerds—where Zach really gets creative. Inspired by everything from drugstore candy to Midwestern potluck staple ambrosia, he’s created a quaffable smorgasbord of food-driven drafts. On any given week, regulars might find a tart lemon cookie or Key lime beer, a guava cheesecake sour inspired by pastelitos or a ruby red brew that tastes like chocolate-dipped cherries.

Ceremony’s 18 taps also feature a rotating selection of guest beers, often including picks from some of Zach’s favorite Florida breweries, like Tampa’s Angry Chair Brewing and Tactical Brewing Company in Orlando. (Brewery spotlight events dive deeper with four-glass flights from a single producer and special releases.) At the onsite bottle shop, running along a wall across from the bar, Ceremony stocks Southwest Florida’s most enviable craft beer collection. “It’s my personal beer cellar,” Zach says of the nearly 150 beers, which include blink-and-you’ll-miss-them releases from cultish breweries like Brooklyn IPA heavyweight Other Half. “I have fantastic relationships with distributors. We get phone calls and emails like, ‘We’ve got a very limited special release, do you want to jump on this? Only 10 of these are coming to the state, do you want on the list?’”

While folks can geek out over world-class kriek from the more than 135-year-old Brussels brewery 3 Fonteinen and some of America’s best lagers from Denver-based Bierstadt Lagerhaus (Ceremony is the first brewery in Florida to carry their beers), Zach is adamant that Ceremony is just as much about fostering community. To that end, he also fills his shelves and fridges with ‘Not Quite Beer’ alternatives, including nonalcoholic drinks, canned cocktails, hard seltzer, mead, Botanical Brewing CBD beverages and a tightly curated selection of about two dozen natural wines—all of which can be cracked open onsite for a small fee. “I try to carry everything under my license so anybody who walks in can find something they enjoy,” he says. “Even if you’re not a brewery lover, you can come here and feel comfortable.”

That something-for-everybody attitude also extends to Ceremony’s robust lineup of events. Local food trucks are parked outside almost daily, serving pairable plates like lacy-edged smash burgers (Only Doubles) or Vietnamese pork quesadillas (Nguyen Street). In October, Ceremony debuted an in-house kitchen, slinging shareable bar bites, like the Twisted Sisters pretzel sticks, Mosh Pit fries smothered in beer cheese and pork belly, and beer-brined wings (expect seasonal twists). Ceremony also hosts enormously popular drag brunches, in addition to trivia and emo music night concerts.

For the past two years, Zach has celebrated the brewery’s anniversary with Ceremony’s Ritual Fest, in which he brings representatives of some of Florida’s best breweries to Bonita Springs. Unlike the majority of local beer fests, run by distributors and featuring widely available beers, Ritual focuses on smaller breweries and rare specialty releases, with about 25 breweries present and the brewers onsite to extol the joys of their brews. “I love talking to people who come in, educating them on beer,” Zach says. “I love the social aspect of the brewery, sharing beers with my customers, shooting the shit and having a good time.” 

Photography by Brian Tietz

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