Craft beer has come a long way. Ever since President Jimmy Carter deregulated the brewing industry in 1979, smaller, independent breweries and brewpubs–pubs or restaurants that brew beer on their premises–started popping up all over the country: Grant’s Brewery Pub in Washington state, Bridgeport Brewing Company in Portland and Dock Street Brewing Company in Philadelphia, to name a few. Nowadays, there doesn’t seem to be a place where craft beer can’t be found–independently brewed IPAs, Pilsners and Lagers are on tap at every bar across the country, from down-home dives to big city saloons. Still, the tenets of the industry remain the same: a passion for what you do and a pride in how you do it. 

Pride and passion are two things that Chef Darwin Santa Maria knows a lot about. An immigrant from Peru, Santa Maria has been in the Sarasota food scene since he arrived in the United States as a teenager. Santa Maria made his bones at the now-closed Fred’s where he was first introduced to craft beer. “I was 19-years-old and hosting a wine dinner and one of the guest chefs there was Ron Siegel, who at the time was the executive chef at Masa’s Wine Bar and Kitchen in San Francisco,” says Santa Maria. “He introduced me to craft beer–I had no idea what it was–but it was the first time I’d tried an IPA and it just blew my mind with its different flavors. So I started doing my research and made a little home brewing kit and eventually that led me to open my first restaurant and brewpub, Darwin’s on 4th, in 2012.”

Darwin’s on 4th later expanded into a 15-barrel production brewing facility, Darwin Brewing Company. In 2021, Clearwater’s Big Storm Brewery purchased the facility. In 2023, Santa Maria purchased his brand back and is now building out his vision with a newer, larger restaurant and taproom. 

“We purchased a facility right on Fruitville and 75 here in Sarasota. We’re going to have a full production brewery, a full restaurant with an open kitchen, a space for distilling spirits and we all love soccer here–our roots are Peruvian after all–so we’ll be able to have tournaments for crowds of all ages, and a stage for live music in our beer garden,” says Santa Maria. “This is five years in the making and has been a lot of hard work for us as a family, but we’re excited to take everything we’ve learned in cooking and brewing to create a great concept for our local market.”

For Santa Maria, rebuilding Darwin’s Brewing isn’t just about buying his brand back, it’s about restoring a sense of home and belonging to a community that gave it to his family all those years ago. It’s about restoring his roots in the very soil he first planted them in, bringing people together by pouring everything he has into what he does. That way, it only makes sense for his beer to be a reflection of who he is. “Ever since I opened up my first brewpub, I’ve always believed that there was something missing in the craft beer community: there were no Latin flavors. At Darwin’s Brewing, we’re going to brew Peruvian-style ales that are inspired by Florida culture,” says Santa Maria. “That means using a lot of Peruvian spices and ingredients, like Amazonian and cacao chocolates, while still maintaining a respect toward the beer. We’re not here to drastically change anything, but instead infuse Peruvian flavors into craft beer.”

Santa Maria’s intention can be seen in the first of the brand’s new beers, the Maize Morada, a Peruvian purple corn twist on the beloved hazy IPA. Inspired by the traditional Peruvian drink Chicha Morada, which includes purple corn, cloves and cinnamon, the Maize Morada derives the same purple hue and citrusy flavors as its namesake through the use of traditional Peruvian ingredients. In his ode to the Gulf Coast, Santa Maria is developing an orange wheat beer using Florida oranges. There will be more, undoubtedly, but for now, as Santa Maria manages his other restaurant Almazónica Cervecería and continues to build out Darwin Brewing, that’s all there is to see. A promise of what’s to come, a nod to the past and a step towards the future.