First there was Dunedin Brewery, which paved the way for all Florida craft breweries when it opened in the mid '90s. It took 17 years for a neighbor to arrive: 7venth Sun Brewing. In the past year, Dunedin had seen the opening of House of Beer Brewing, Woodwright Brewing.
Now, holding its grand opening on the weekend of 7venth Sun's fifth anniversary, Cueni Brewing.
The beer scene has developed slowly and deliberately in Dunedin. It's a bit of a drive for residents of other bay area cities, so beer in Dunedin has always felt a little more local than elsewhere. Where St. Petersburg and Tampa breweries fall neatly into a greater bay area brewery circuit, Dunedin breweries seem to be more centered around the immediate community.
Modest breweries are a natural fit there. You can visit all of the city's breweries on foot over the course of an afternoon and ride your bike home on the Pinellas Trail — presuming sobriety, of course. It's all very quaint.
Fans of this local brewery vibe will feel right at home at Cueni (pronounced "cue-knee") Brewing, which soft-opened in November and held its grand opening last week.
Cueni is wedged into a small shopping plaza right in the center of the Beermuda Triangle (I'm still trying to coin that), almost equidistant to Dunedin Brewery, House of Beer and 7venth Sun. Though the interior space isn't especially roomy, shutter windows and doors that open up to the wraparound back patio make it feel like a bigger space. The patio is right beside the Pinellas Trail.
Lime green walls and a bamboo bartop brighten the interior, which might otherwise feel a little too tight due to the presence of a four-barrel brewing system right up front.
Instead, it just feels like you're a part of the action.
With breweries opening at such a regular clip, I often struggle to find uniqueness in each one. I'll be honest here and admit that trying the house amber ale at this month's new brewery doesn't excite me as it used to. Fortunately, Cueni offers a good mix of traditional and crowd-pleaser brews alongside some more ambitious creations, which makes my job a lot more fun.
I overheard co-owner/brewer Jon Cueni tell a visitor that his favorite beer on tap was the Belgian three-way tripel, and I'd agree that it's quite good, if surprisingly bright for the style. I'd recommend pairing it with the Belgian single, which is a far less commonly found brew that doesn't pack quite as much punch.
For my money, it's tough to beat the Cranberry Crimescene Wit, which is a fairly straightforward rendition of the style, save for the addition of 40 pounds of cranberries. Those add a tart, refreshing bite. Of my flight of beers, this is the one I kept coming back to.
Another noteworthy option is the English golden ale, which merges ingredients from England (the yeast), the Czech Republic (the malt), and the U.S. (the hops) to produce a refreshing, lager-esque brew with a lot of interesting flavor nuance going on in the background.
The grand opening also featured limited brews like Dark Angel, a hefty and rich imperial stout flavored with Clearwater-made Angel Mint candy, as well as an Almond Joy porter, a one-night-only treatment of the house porter infused with toasted coconut, toasted almonds and cacao nibs.
There's clearly no lack of creativity at Cueni, but that doesn't mean that fans of more typical styles will feel left out. Apart from the Cranberry Crimescene, my two favorite brews of the night had to be the ESB on nitro — rich, nutty, super smooth — and the Mo-Citra IPA. A Mosaic- and Citra-hopped IPA isn't exactly groundbreaking these days, but Cueni's version is a knockout. I'd put it up with similar brews from Cycle and Angry Chair, and that's saying something.
Apparently, the Cuenis considered Costa Rica and St. Petersburg before deciding on Dunedin for their brewery's location. Smart move, I'd say, as Cueni feels right at home in the laid-back beer community of Dunedin. I'm sure the local support during its grand opening will continue, partly because that's how it goes with beer in Dunedin, and partly because, well, the beer is good.
Contact Justin Grant at jg@ saintbeat.com; @WordsWithJG.