Monday, June 18, 2018
Bars & Spirits

Bar review: 81Bay Brewing has cool decor, great promise

There's a new brewery that bills itself as South Tampa's first brewery. At first, that sounds improbable, but it checks out: The vast majority of Tampa's breweries are concentrated in the downtown, Seminole Heights and Tampa Heights areas.

81Bay Brewing Co. brings local beer to Gandy Boulevard, just a short jaunt across the bridge from Brewers Tasting Room, north St. Petersburg's lone brewery. The location was strategically planned by three friends who decided to set up shop in the Sunshine State due to its booming beer market, bringing a large brewery to a dry part of a rapidly growing beer town.

The addition of a head brewer — Stephen Foster — who studied at Weihenstephan and has international brewing experience, completed the crew. And a huge space on Gandy, decked out in multimedia mural work by St. Petersburg artist Sebastian Coolidge, gave 81Bay a spacious and lively home.

I'll focus a bit on that last detail because, at the moment, I think it's 81Bay's biggest asset. From the road, 81Bay is just another drab shopping plaza storefront, but the interior is a very different story.

The warehouse space is cavernous: high ceilings, concrete floors, a sprawling tasting room, a large stage and a partially open brewery in the back. But it's the brilliant artwork — a colorful, wonderfully surreal underwater fever dream — that makes the place special.

The stage wall features a facade in the shape of a giant shark's mouth, looking out onto a wide, theater-sized screen showing cartoon underwater video, as if the tasting room is wedged in the jaws of a Megalodon. An opposite wall is a projection screen for movies and sports.

Bright LEDs add a cool glow from beneath the bar. Even the bathroom has its own look: communal sinks are outside of the bathrooms proper, with repurposed beer kegs and functioning taps taking the place of traditional faucets.

The 3-D multimedia decor at 81Bay is not only outstanding work, it's wholly unique in the Tampa Bay area. I can't think of any brewery I've visited that was visually stimulating in a similar way. It's much more theme park than traditional tasting room, though it functions quite capably as the latter, offering a dozen rotating house taps.

The beers are good, but they don't stand up to the uniqueness of the setting. Most of the brews I sampled were reasonable versions of the typical stuff: English and American IPA, a red ale, a brown ale, a porter, a stout — you know the drill. I was excited by the Lightning lager (a 3.2 percent alcohol by volume very light lager), but it didn't quite do the trick for me, even considering its diminutive nature.

I was, however, very into the Hurricane Heather Ale, an un-hopped beer flavored with heather tips — a style originally brewed somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 years ago in Scotland. It has a flavor reminiscent of mint and chamomile, making it extremely cool and refreshing. The only commercial version I've seen of this style is William Brothers' Fraoch Heather Ale from Scotland, so it's neat to see such a rare style brewed locally.

That's exactly the kind of thing that 81Bay needs. For as colorful and wild as the place looks, I expect a good number of the beers to follow suit. While I understand the need for core styles and crowd-pleasers, a few more beers in the spirit of Hurricane Heather Ale are very much in order.

Fortunately, 81Bay's website does list some intriguing coming-soon beers. There's a gruit (medieval, un-hopped beer, flavored with spices and herbs), a chocolate-raspberry porter, a bock, a Swedish öl flavored with lingonberries, and a Flemish red. And the Ramble On Raspberry Ale is a regular fixture, offering a non-sour raspberry brew that reminds me of the kind of stuff you'd find in craft/microbreweries a decade or two ago.

If the brewing program catches up to the interior design of 81Bay, then I think it will be a formidable player in the Tampa Bay brewing scene. The place is visually unlike anything else around, but the beers need to be similarly unique and exciting if that massive tasting room is going to get anywhere near full.

I have faith that the 81Bay crew will make it happen.

[email protected] @WordsWithJG.

 
Comments
Restaurant review: Chile Verde is serving up very solid tacos in an unlikely spot

Restaurant review: Chile Verde is serving up very solid tacos in an unlikely spot

ST. PETERSBURGThere are a lot of decommissioned gas stations across the country. Some have been reinvented, cleverly made over as upscale restaurants. There’s Big Star in Chicago, Elaia & Olio in St. Louis, Red Truck Bakery in Warrenton, Va., even Bi...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Taste test: Chocolate chip cookies

Taste test: Chocolate chip cookies

When we started seeing ads for Nestle Toll House cookies already baked and prepackaged, I knew it was time for our tasters to get involved. They are cookie lovers, and one even has his own cookiemaking business. We found the Nestle brand and had hope...
Published: 06/18/18
From soft serve to ice pops, 12 places to get frozen treats

From soft serve to ice pops, 12 places to get frozen treats

I know we have three more months or so of hot-as-dog-breath Tampa Bay summer, but let’s start things off on the right foot with some frozen treats. Ice cream is on my mind after a recent visit to Disney Springs, when I found love in a perfect scoop o...
Published: 06/13/18
Downtown St. Petersburg breakfast staple Dome Grill goes out of business

Downtown St. Petersburg breakfast staple Dome Grill goes out of business

ST. PETERSBURG — Longtime downtown breakfast staple Dome Grill has closed its doors.The restaurant, at 561 Central Avenue N, announced the closing on Facebook on June 10 and will not be relocating to a new location."We have nothing but love and respe...
Published: 06/13/18
Five restaurants worth checking out at Disney Springs in Orlando (w/video)

Five restaurants worth checking out at Disney Springs in Orlando (w/video)

LAKE BUENA VISTA Disney Springs has swiftly become a playground or trial balloon for the country?s celebrity chefs. Art Smith, Masaharu Morimoto, Rick Bayless, Guy Fieri, Tony Mantuano, Wolfgang Puck and others are already on board, with names like ...
Published: 06/13/18
Take grilled potatoes to another level with garlic and rosemary

Take grilled potatoes to another level with garlic and rosemary

By AMERICA’S TEST KITCHENGrilled potatoes are a summer classic. We wanted to put a new spin on this dish by adding rosemary and garlic. Unfortunately, we found it was difficult to add enough flavor to plain grilled potatoes. Coating the potatoes with...
Published: 06/13/18
Recipe for Stuffed Beef Burgers

Recipe for Stuffed Beef Burgers

Hidden inside these tame-looking burgers is a smoky and spicy blend of bacon, chipotle, cheese and something unexpected: pepperoni. Because the ground beef part of these burgers is patted fairly thin, there’s less of a chance you’ll undercook it. For...
Published: 06/13/18
How to cook eggs for dinner: shakshuka, carbonara and more

How to cook eggs for dinner: shakshuka, carbonara and more

Eggs are an underutilized dinner ingredient. Aside from fried rice and a breakfast-for-dinner situation, I rarely use eggs in my cooking past the hour of 4 p.m. It makes no sense. Eggs are a great source of protein, able to be cooked in myriad ways, ...
Published: 06/12/18
Add some sweet heat to your cookout with these jerk chicken skewers

Add some sweet heat to your cookout with these jerk chicken skewers

By Matt BrooksBurgers and dogs may be the traditional staples of a cookout, but when you’re craving something more than meat on bun, a well-assembled skewer is a colorful showstopper on the grill.It’s scientifically proven that food tastes better whe...
Published: 06/12/18
Alcohol-infused ice cream and coffee bar will be downtown St. Petersburg’s newest sweet spot

Alcohol-infused ice cream and coffee bar will be downtown St. Petersburg’s newest sweet spot

ST. PETERSBURG — With coffee, ice cream and sweet liqueur, a new date-night spot is hoping to bring something sweet to downtown St. Petersburg.Beans & Barlour is a new craft coffee bar and dessert lounge set to open in July that plans to serve alcoho...
Published: 06/11/18
Updated: 06/14/18