Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Bars & Spirits

Bar reviews: Cage Brewing and Pinellas Ale Works

St. Petersburg's becoming quite the brewing city.

At the end of 2015, we had Brewer's Tasting Room, Green Bench, Cycle, St. Pete Brewing, 3 Daughters and Mastry's. Urban Comfort recently began pouring house beers in its Grand Central brewpub, and a new brewery — Flying Boat — was just announced for a nearby location to open later this year.

In the past two months, Pinellas Ale Works and Cage Brewing have also jumped onto the list. Located diagonally across the street from each other at the intersection of 20th Street and First Avenue S, the two new guys on the (same) block make for ideal mini-brewery hopping.

Start at Pinellas Ale Works, open only on weekends at the moment, as proprietors Dennis Decker and Matthew Brown work to get their 15-barrel system online. The acronym PAW is no coincidence, as this dog-friendly brewery serves a variety of beers with distinctively canine names.

Some of the flagships: Sit! (an Amber ale) and Stay! (an American Pale Ale). There's a Doberman brown ale, and a Pomeranian porter. I wonder what the Great Dane or bullmastiff beers will be? There's also the somewhat unappetizingly named Piddle Pils, which, despite sharing an appearance with its namesake, is actually a flavorful German-style "pils."

The quotation marks are because PAW serves two lager-inspired beers that — while technically ales, not lagers — are brewed and cold-conditioned in the spirit of traditional lagers. This includes PAW's go-to brew, Harold's St. Pete-style lager, named after the former proprietor of the auto body shop that the brewery is now housed in. Although it's closer to a Kölsch than a lager proper, it's an immensely satisfying brew that represents an underserved style in the St. Pete market. Put this one in cans as soon as possible, PAW.

The brews at PAW fall into the "classics" category, with traditional ales brewed mostly to style. The brewery does experiment a bit, however, as it did with its Dome #1, a pale ale brewed with Crosby Hop Farm's experimental hop #7. The beer was dry-hopped in five batches, each showcasing a different hop, such as Galaxy, Nelson Sauvin and Cascade.

PAW's space is split into a small tasting room with long, impressively sturdy group tables overseen by a gigantic map of the world hanging above a window that provides a peek into the brewhouse; a small room next door with steel-tipped darts; and a cozy, private beer garden with space heaters in the cold and umbrellas in the heat. Bring your dog, bring a bunch of your friends — you'll have plenty of room to stretch out.

Head across the street to Cage Brewing and you'll find even more room, as the brewery features two distinct bars and a sprawling enclosed patio with corn hole and oversized Connect Four. You won't be able to miss it, thanks to the fantastically absurd cat murals on the exterior, courtesy of local artist Danial Ryan. Full disclosure: my girlfriend, Geneva, helped paint some of the tiles involved in the mural — a fact that she gladly volunteers to anyone within viewing distance of the brewery.

Inside, one bar is a toned-down, intimate taproom; the other is bright and lively, with free-play (!) pinball and multi-cade consoles, as well as a view into the brewhouse obstructed only by a large metal "cage" that separates it from the tasting room.

The joke — and source of the brewery's name — is one between owner Robert Hughes and brewer Eric Richardson. Cage started as R Bar brewing, a kitchen-based small brewing operation at Hughes' restaurant of the same name on Treasure Island. Richardson was legally obligated to brew in a "separate" facility from the kitchen, so a cage was placed around the brewing equipment. Now, Richardson still brews in a "cage," albeit a much more spacious one.

The beers here are a mix of reliable standbys — like the smooth and rich Grand Central Red and the thirst-quenching Summer Wheatley — and a few fun flavor treatments, like the popular Sweet Love (a coffee brown) and mango-tinged variations of the brewery's IPA, double IPA, session IPA and wheat.

If you get hungry, there's usually a food truck outside. Heck, two breweries across the street from each other and a food truck — what else do you need?

In the old days — really old, as in 100 years ago — the neighborhood brewery was the hangout spot for residents of the area, and the rise of nanobreweries has shifted beer drinking back ever so slightly back toward that traditional model. That's the kind of vibe I get from bouncing between PAW and Cage. Between destination breweries, food-centric brewpub, and low-key neighborhood breweries, St. Pete's brewing scene is really evolving; as a resident, I'm happy to see it!

[email protected]; @WordsWithJG.

 
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