Clearwater's Sea Dog Brewing Co. doesn't get enough credit. Most craft beer drinkers familiar with the near-ubiquitous Sea Dog and Shipyard brands, which have been brewed in Maine since the early '90s, erroneously conclude that the Clearwater location is more of the same. But this location, opened in 2013, features its own head brewer and unique recipes that you won't find at your local liquor store.
Head brewer Bobby Baker trained at Sea Dog's Maine headquarters in 2012 before setting up shop on a 20-barrel system in Clearwater, where he continues to experiment with a variety of ambitious small-batch brews, many of which never see distribution.
One current tasting room standout is Fireberry Tea Ale, an easy-drinking wheat beer infused with a blend of mate and rooibos teas from Tiesta Tea, featuring botanicals such as hibiscus, currant, cranberry and rose petals.
The hibiscus lends an attractive ruby color, while the berries and rose petals create a delicate floral aroma. The flavor is light and not as aggressively infused as another of Baker's tea beers — Maui Mango Tea Ale — but the relatively neutral wheat base allows the flavors to shine through clearly enough to make it memorable.
As a bonus, the mate used in the beer is rich in vitamins and antioxidants, as well as naturally occurring caffeine. That doesn't mean you should choose it as a morning drink: after all, Sea Dog's Clearwater tasting room (26200 U.S. 19 N, south of State Road 580) — the only place to try Fireberry at the moment — doesn't open until 3 p.m. Stop in and try it yourself, along with a handful of other one-offs that have flown under the radar.
— Justin Grant, tbt* correspondent
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