The "Coming Spring 2016" banner has come down at last, and I'm sure no one is more relieved than Kevin Lilly and Tony Casoria, proprietors of Rock Brothers Brewing, which is now — finally — open in the heart of Ybor City.
Breweries opening comically behind schedule is cliché nowadays, so no one's judging Rock Brothers on the delay. That much is clear from last weekend's heavily-attended grand opening, which included crowds so dense that you'd swear the place was a well-established Ybor institution.
Part of that is due to the fact that Rock Brothers, as a brand, has been established for some time now. Lilly and Casoria launched the project in 2013, partnering with Cigar City to produce a beer developed in collaboration with local band Have Gun, Will Travel.
Since then, Rock Brothers and Cigar City have collaborated on new beers with JJ Grey, Umphrey's McGee, Rebelution, 311, Darius Rucker and Kyle Hollingsworth of The String Cheese Incident. While the beers are still currently being brewed at Cigar City, an on-site brewhouse is in the works, beginning early February.
Another reason may be due to co-owner Casoria's resume, which includes The Mandarin Hide, a bar that helped bring cocktail culture to downtown St. Petersburg. This detail also explains why a local brewery's tasting room also includes a very strong cocktail program.
Either way, Rock Brothers Brewing is off to a good start. It's a unique entry in Ybor, too, bringing local beer, fancy cocktails and a steady schedule of live music together in a single, two-story building. That's right: the upstairs space is a small, intimate concert venue called The Attic, named after Lilly and Casoria's record label (Attic Records).
Downstairs is the bar area, a very attractive remodel of the 125-year-old building's interior. Like most (all?) old Ybor buildings, there's a lot of brick and steel involved, giving it that industrial vibe that we've all grown to love. The bar top and adjacent island are made from reclaimed wood from the original structure, which is a cool touch. Throw in a few globe lanterns, white decorative ceiling tiles and a wall of elevated booths surrounded by concert posters, guitars and drum heads and you've got what's looking like a happening new spot.
Oh, and there's a statue of Lady Liberty smashing a guitar, made by Casoria and his mother.
The cocktails program, as noted, is top stuff. To tie in the brews, a line of house "beer-tails" is included, featuring Rock Brothers ales in starring roles. These cocktails are listed on the giant wall board as "coming soon" (I'm told they'll be ready in a couple of weeks). I'm looking forward to trying the All Mixed Up cocktail, which features a reduction of the 311 Amber ale mixed with aged rum, tobacco syrup and lime, with an absinthe rinse.
Speaking of the house beers, you'll find six on draft and one in a can. Nothing groundbreaking, but the beers are solid. Hootie's Homegrown Ale is one of the more interesting options — it's a refreshing blonde ale brewed with Carolina Gold rice and lemongrass. Another unique pick is Lebrewski's Scotch Ale, a wee heavy that the menu describes as having a "kick of spice." I didn't get much spice, but I did get coffee. Jarring at first, but ultimately really delicious.
With a shared emphasis on house beers, craft cocktails and live music, Rock Brothers is certainly an ambitious project, but it seems to be paying off. If they can keep even half of their opening weekend momentum going, then it's safe to say that it was worth the wait.
— Contact Justin Grant at [email protected] Follow @WordsWithJG.