This week, for the 14th consecutive year, Dunedin Brewery began pouring its annual limited-edition beer known as Leonard Croon's Old Mean Stout. It's a robust, smooth drink with notes of burnt chocolate and toffee.
On Saturday, the brewery will start selling 22-ounce bottles of Leonard Croon's Old Mean Stout, with a custom design and wax crown around the cap. There are only 250 bottles, and at $7 apiece, they no doubt will go quickly. "For us, it's an elusive beer," said general manager Michael Lyn Bryant.
It is also one that's stood the test of time. Over the past few years, as more and more beermakers have entered the Tampa Bay market, creating a panoply of options for the discriminating drinker, Leonard Croon's Old Mean Stout has remained a fan favorite.
All of this raises a very important question:
Who the hell is Leonard Croon?
"It's a fictitious person," said Dave Korman, a local musician and Dunedin Brewery regular. "I basically tell people I'm Leonard Croon."
Korman, 42, is the leader of Pinellas alt-country band Memphis Train Union, which will perform at Saturday's Leonard Croon bottle release party. (The show doubles as a CD release for Memphis Train Union's newest album.) But back in the early '90s, Korman was in a local band called Hum. When he learned that another, more famous band had already claimed that name, he picked a new one off the top of his head. The name "Leonard Croon" had no significance — he just liked the sound of it.
The Leonard Croon Band, whose members rotated around Korman over the years, played all over Tampa Bay, including several gigs at Dunedin Brewery. By 1999, owner Michael Bryant (Michael Lyn's father) had become a fan.
At that time, Dunedin Brewery was one of the few pubs in the region to brew its own beer. Most of its releases were seasonal, to mark events like Christmas, Oktoberfest or Dunedin's Highland Games. Bryant, though, had an idea that he thought might help support at least one local artist.
"He was like, 'How about if I make you a beer?' Korman says. "I went, 'Okay, I like beer.' Then I went, 'How about if you make a stout, because you don't have one?' "
A tradition was born.
Stouts are thick, filling beers, and so Dunedin Brewery breaks out the Leonard Croon during the winter. The recipe varies from year to year, as do the bottle designs. (Korman himself has designed a few labels.) This year's, said brewer Trace Caley, is "just an easy-drinking, good, smooth, robust stout" — albeit one with 6 percent alcohol by volume. As with most of Dunedin Brewery's products, it is available on tap in several variations, such as vanilla bean or black cherry.
Although the Leonard Croon Band hasn't officially played together in years, Korman is always a VIP when his quasi-namesake beer is released.
"This time of year," Korman said, "I start hanging out here a lot more."