I've long seen Sea Dog beers around town, with the titular, hat-wearing shaggy dog on the label, winking at me, encouraging me to try the Blueberry Wheat, Hazelnut Porter and English-style IPA, three common varieties from the Maine brewery.
But when I heard Sea Dog was setting up shop in Clearwater at the old Pssghetti's location on U.S. 19, I was surprised. Why Florida? As a brewery strongly identified with New England culture, I found it intriguing that, out of the entire country, Sea Dog felt Tampa Bay was the best place to open a new brewpub. Although Sea Dog has six brewpubs scattered throughout Maine and New Hampshire, the Clearwater location is the first outside of that region.
The new Clearwater brewpub looks like an average bar and grill from the outside, but it's gorgeous inside, with a wide-open, cavernous interior constructed of smoothed-out concrete floors, natural wood and industrial-style decor, such as the four tap stations made from heavy-duty pipe fixtures, a brushed steel bar top and the hanging lights above the bar, made from bulbs encased in frosted beer bottles. The long bar wraps around two sides of the building, capped at the far end by a rustic wine cellar. Shutter windows behind the bar will soon open to the attached outdoor patio, which is still under construction but that will seat an additional 100 or so people when it opens in another two weeks.
It turns out Florida is one of the top U.S. markets for both Sea Dog and its parent company, Shipyard Brewing. Since both labels are fairly ubiquitous in Florida, it never occurred to me that this wasn't the norm elsewhere. Sure enough, I realized that I don't see Sea Dog or Shipyard beers nearly as often when I travel out of state. In addition, I'm told that Sea Dog sees the bay area as somewhat of a boom town for craft beer. I'm inclined to agree.
There are a dozen beers from Sea Dog and Shipyard on draft, as well as Capt'n Eli's root beer, a soda produced by Shipyard. I'm a bit of a root beer enthusiast, and Capt'n Eli's gets high marks in my books. Although the brewpub currently imports its beer from the Maine brewery, plans are under way to start brewing in a small, seven-barrel brewhouse located behind the wine cellar. At that point, the Clearwater brew team will also debut experimental batches, seasonal releases and even traditional, British-style cask ale.
Now, full disclosure: I have to admit that I don't drink Sea Dog or Shipyard beers. I'm a vegan, and these beers are clarified with isinglass, a traditional fining ingredient derived from the swim bladder of various fish. I've had both Sea Dog and Shipyard beers in the past, before I knew that they weren't vegetarian products, and I can confirm that they are both solid, quality brands, for what it's worth. The second they switch to a non-animal-based fining agent (fingers crossed), you will see me at the brewpub, eagerly working my way through an eight-beer flight!
Speaking of which, if you're new to the Sea Dog or Shipyard beers, you may be interested in the flight options at the brewpub. Samplers of four 4-ounce beers are $5.50, while flights of 8 are $10. A full pint of any beer on the menu is $4.50, which is quite a bargain. This generous pricing extends to the wine and spirits; even a top-shelf cocktail won't put you back more than $8 or $9, and a nice bottle of wine maxes out at $31.
The value-oriented menu makes the Sea Dog brewpub a good place to stick around for a while, to watch the game, have a meal or just chat with a group of friends. When the outdoor patio opens, it'll also be a place to bring your four-legged friends. For a company named after brewery founder Pete Camplin's late dog Barney, it only makes sense that guests should be able to bring a sea dog of their own.
With so many new craft brewing operations sprouting up in various parts of the bay area, it's a surprise to see one that originates from such a distant location as Portland, Maine. But Sea Dog has put together a pretty nice package right there on U.S. 19, and it's one that I think both serious craft beer fans and casual drinkers will appreciate.