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Bar review: House brews at the Pesky Pelican in west St. Petersburg

By Justin Grant, tbt* correspondent
Dan Pemberton owns the Pesky Pelican in the Tyrone area of west St. Petersburg. It’s a real neighborhood bar — literally tucked away in a residential area in the space that was formerly McNally’s. Pemberton offers a variety of small-batch brews. Geneva Johnson/special to tbt*

I had an interesting conversation recently with a home brewer who got into the restaurant biz. I've met Dan Pemberton a few times while hanging out at Brewer's Tasting Room, and at beer festivals where he was pouring his beers as part of one of the local homebrew clubs.

Now, Pemberton owns the Pesky Pelican in St. Petersburg, a low-key neighborhood — literally in the middle of a residential area — bar and restaurant that he purchased last year.

The Pesky Pelican has been cleaned up quite a bit from its former life as a neighborhood dive, bearing only a handful of relics from its predecessor, like a lacquered bartop embedded with old baseball card replicas and a family crest of the bar's old name: McNally's.

The focal point in the cozy dining area is a bright, cartoonish mural by the Vitale Brothers, featuring the restaurant's mascot, Pesky Pete Pelican. Next door, there's a small dart room. The back wall of the main room is a wall-to-wall chalkboard, filled with endless daily specials, drink lists and new items, like the low-carb, grapefruit-lime Spiked Seltzer.

There are a variety of mocktails to choose from, including a rotating daily special, all made from wine-based faux liquors. I hear the margarita is pretty good.

But that's not why I came. Just like another Tyrone area restaurant, CD Roma, the Pesky Pelican is also a brewpub, featuring a small but ever-changing selection of Pemberton's house brews.

While some home brewers ultimately aim to move into the commercial brewing realm, most are happy staying lifelong hobbyists. That could have been Pemberton's path, had a restaurant in his neighborhood not gone up for sale right around the time that he was coming off a 25-year stint at a software development company.

That brings me back to our conversation. While some people would say that we're at a saturation point for new breweries, I've long argued that we're instead looking at a paradigm shift, where people simply drink more local craft beer at their local craft beer bars, opening up a market for small, modest brewpubs, similar to the way beers have been traditionally consumed in the U.K. or in the U.S. prior to Prohibition.

Pemberton agrees, which is a big reason why he decided to take over this little neighborhood restaurant in the first place. Small-batch brews, consumed on-site, with recipes developed specifically to pair with the Pesky Pelican's food. Just like the (really) old days.

I went with a flight, which is perfect because there are four house brews on draft. The Heffenweiser hefeweizen was excellent and authentic, while the saison was ambitious, flavored with hibiscus, coriander and dried lemon and orange peel. The flagship Pete's pale ale is a balanced, English-style pale, while the Pesky Pete raspberry wheat has a little unexpected richness, due to a subtle addition of roasted barley. Good beers all around, and only $5 for a flight, if you can believe it.

Pemberton's small brewing system — roughly 15 gallons a batch — allows him to pump out a wide variety of brews without anything sticking around too long, though an upgrade to a 1.5-barrel system — roughly 46 gallons — is coming by the end of the year. The next brews on deck? A vanilla porter, dunkelweizen, Oktoberfest, winter warmer spiced imperial stout and a schwarzbier, made in honor of a regular who passed away last Christmas Eve.

I like the approach. While the prospect of opening a full-scale production brewery in today's beer environment may be met with smaller returns than, say, five years ago, I think there's still plenty of room for small-scale, hyper-local brewpubs like the Pesky Pelican.

It won't be the site of the next hot bottle release, but there are a lot of people in the neighborhood who might stop in for lunch and live a little, trying the house beer instead of a Coors Light.

I'm sure there are also plenty of Tyrone area beer drinkers who haven't come across the Pesky Pelican's quasi-hidden location yet. Hopefully, word of mouth will prevail, so area beer fans can take the "drink local" credo to its logical next step.

Contact Justin Grant at [email protected] Follow @WordsWithJG.