Add Safety Harbor to the list of brewery cities in Tampa Bay. Crooked Thumb Brewery will hold its grand opening celebration next month, with distribution throughout North Pinellas to follow shortly after. In the meantime, hours have been expanded and the brewery is open every day, so you're free to do what I did and pay a visit for a little sneak peek.
Crooked Thumb is only months old, but it's already fairly well known in Safety Harbor, just two blocks off Main Street. The brewery has been open on weekends since fall, and it has been so popular at times that it's had to close early due to all of the beer selling out.
Of course, the folks at Crooked Thumb have been at the beer game for a while. I originally met co-founder Travis Kruger at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival during his five-year tenure with Cigar City Brewing. Prior to that, he worked at Dunedin Brewery. I've worked on beers with assistant brewer Jason Toft at Brewer's Tasting Room. I've consumed many, many pints of beer brewed by head brewer Kenjiro Tomita during his run at Las Vegas' 777 Brewpub, in the Main Street Station casino. And co-owner Kip Kelly — well, I only met him at Crooked Thumb, but he seems like a stand-up guy.
Crooked Thumb is on a quiet road, slightly offset from the main drag. It's housed in an old auto-body shop that was built back in the '60s. Rather than modernize, Crooked Thumb opted to embrace its rough industrial space and shoot for a distressed, timeworn appearance, accented with a variety of reclaimed and unfinished wood.
Metal sheeting along the perimeter of the interior is streaked in faded blue and rust tones, simulating a weathered look, while high tops around the tasting room are constructed from unfinished plywood nailed into old whiskey barrels. One light fixture is made of Edison bulbs in iron cages, suspended by rope from a hanging ladder. Large shutters give the brewery an impressively open feel, allowing sizable crowds to stretch out in the roomy tasting room, or to kick back on the side patio.
Adding to the open layout is a huge, Plexiglas-covered cutaway behind the bar, offering unobstructed views of the 15-barrel brewhouse. According to Crooked Thumb, the 15-barrel system allows them to have six to eight beers on at a time, but recently, it's been more like nine to 10, with the same number of guest taps available, as well as a few wines and ciders.
Of the house beers available, many are basic styles, done impressively well. For example, Grandpa Jack's Pils, named after Kelly's father-in-law, is an authentic and neatly crafted pilsner, which is deceptively tough to pull off for a new brewery. Namesake Porter, named after Kruger's son (who is named Porter — yes, after the beer style), is a lighter, more nuanced take on the style, easily distinguishing it from the sea of samey porters out there. One of my favorites is the Gold Ale, an endlessly drinkable brewpub classic that I can't help but think was inspired by 777's High Roller Gold.
Of course, there's plenty of experimenting going on, too. Crooked Thumb's Grapefruit Gose — brewed with grapefruit zest — avoids the heavy-handed approach, offering a smooth, complementary citrus tang to the lightly tart base beer. Namesake Porter also makes for a nice treatment beer, as evidenced by Chai Porter, which is spiced with ginger, clove, cinnamon, cardamom and white pepper.
Crooked Thumb is also banking on its connection to the community. The name "Crooked Thumb" comes from a physical description of Pinellas County made in the book A Brief History of Safety Harbor, while some of the reclaimed wood used in the taproom came from local trees. Co-owner Kip Kelly also owns Trycom Components, another Safety Harbor business. Earlier this month, Safety Harbor Mayor Andy Steingold presented Crooked Thumb's owners with the Mayor's Award of Excellence for transforming an old auto body shop into the city's first brewery.
Safety Harbor is such a nice little area that I hardly need another excuse to visit. If there's going to be one, however, I'm glad it's Crooked Thumb. The beer is good, the tasting room is cool, and the staff are solid dudes. They've been putting out quality brews since the day the shutters opened, and the community has responded by drinking all of them. Expect word to get out.