New Stilt House Brewery brings laid-back vibe to Palm Harbor

The Stilt House Brewery in Palm Harbor is directly on the Pinellas Trail. Luis Santana/tbt*
The Stilt House Brewery in Palm Harbor is directly on the Pinellas Trail.Luis Santana/tbt*
Published January 15 2015

Driving down an unfamiliar stretch of Alt 19, I overshot my destination and had to turn around on a residential road. A yellow street sign depicted a golf cart, with the text "all of Ozona." Across the street, a golf-cart dealership.

This is the scene at the border of Palm Harbor and Ozona, where a new local brewery — Palm Harbor's first — has recently popped up. It's a relatively quiet street, positioned directly alongside the Pinellas Trail, which gives Stilt House bragging rights that the nearby Dunedin breweries can't quite match: It's the only brewery directly on the Pinellas Trail. Bike carefully, people!

Still, much of the clientele ostensibly arrives on foot or by golf cart. That might change as more people find out about the place, and bay-area beer nuts start adding it into the ever-growing rotation of Tampa Bay breweries.

Stilt House is the extension of head brewer Sean Greelish's longtime brewing hobby, increasing the output from simple home brewing to a 1-barrel (31-gallon) system, with an increase to 3.5 barrels per batch in the coming months. Although Stilt House has been open only just over three months — the first batch, an American amber ale, was brewed at the end of October — these 1-barrel batches have proven so popular with the locals that the brewery can hardly keep more than a few beers on tap at any given time.

When I stopped in, five of Stilt House's 15 taps were brewed in-house, with the other 10 pouring guest taps, from local brews from Big Storm, Darwin and Tampa Bay Brewing Company; to West Coast classics from Sierra Nevada and Green Flash; to traditional German and Belgian brews. Some of the house beers that have already come and gone (but that will return soon) include a Belgian-style tripel, an agave wheat beer, a West Coast pale ale, a Pilsner-style lager and an IPA.

With a few unusual flairs — the Hell Yeah honey jalapeño cornbread lager, which is served with a jalapeño wheel as garnish, speaks for itself — the brewery's profile of beers leans heavily toward the classic, base styles, such as brown ale, amber ale, pale ale and so on. This works well with the setting, which is about as clean and simple as it gets.

The interior of Stilt House is very Florida. It's laid-back and breezy, with the Pinellas Trail visible directly behind the brewhouse. The walls are decorated with murals of palm trees, seagulls, beaches and sailboats. A large horsehoe bar takes up the majority of the taproom, with room for just a few wood-slate benches, backlit to achieve a cool, clean lighting effect. The drink list is concise, and there's no kitchen, but food trucks sometimes set up outside.

It's not too dark or too bright (sunshine in the daytime, low-key Edison bulb at night), the music is not very loud, and the beers are served in unbranded nonic pints and tall weizen glasses. In aesthetic and in beer selection, Stilt House is decidedly not fancy or flashy. As such, it might not draw a lot of folks that are accustomed to barrel-aged wild ales and imperial stouts with exotic treatments, but it's a nice fit for the neighborhood in which it lies, where the average bar-stool occupant may have arrived in a golf cart.

That last part is crucial, because Stilt House feels like the local community brewery, and it is. Palm Harbor, which was previously brewery-free, now has a brewery to call its own, and that's quite a good thing.

I'm very much looking forward — as I'm sure the residents of Palm Harbor and Ozona are, as well — to seeing how the Stilt House crew grows, as it works toward more than tripling its output and bringing some new faces into the Tampa Bay brewing scene.

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