Saturday, September 22, 2018
Bars & Spirits

Small batch, big quality at Southern Lights Brewing in Clearwater

I recently heard of the opening of "Clearwater's first brewery," which seemed odd to me, considering that there already are three in the city. Maybe it's Clearwater's first asterisk-free brewery — Sea Dog and Big Storm are local satellites of breweries from out of town (Sea Dog in Bangor, Maine, and Big Storm in Odessa) and Grindhaus Brew Lab is a home-brew shop that recently started serving its house brews in a new tasting room.

Enter Southern Lights Brewing Company, a neighborhood nanobrewery founded by three home-brewing friends who conceived the company in 2015 and officially opened to the public in August.

Clearwater is thirsty for breweries, especially in the downtown corridor, where it's offering up to a quarter-million in funding to brewery startups. Southern Lights is a smaller venture, brewing in two-barrel — 62-gallon — batches.

Situated in a nondescript Gulf to Bay plaza next to a Skyline Chili, Southern Lights is stripped down and to the point. It's the classic look of a no-frills nanobrewery: concrete bar, gray walls, exposed ducts, Edison bulbs and some heavily-lacquered wooden furniture scattered around the interior.

Aside from a couple of dart boards and a TV showing surfing clips — co-owner Ramy Malaty lived in Hawaii for several years — the only visual stimuli comes by way of colorfully painted palm fronds from local artist Michael O'Shea.

The focus is on the beer, of which there are seven options. "There would be eight, if it weren't for Irma," Malaty said.

There's room for 20 taps in total, but right now the brewery is focusing on keeping a steady flow of its core beers going, which is not necessarily a given when each batch only fills four kegs.

Of the seven Southern Lights beers on tap, all get an enthusiastic thumbs-up from me. From the crisp, mildly estery hefeweizen, to the rich and savory-sweet smoked porter, to the spice-and-bubblegum notes of the French-style saison, every beer far outperforms what you might expect from a brewery that's been open all of two months.

There's a velvety smooth dry stout, a robust dunkel, a double IPA made with Galaxy and Comet hops, and an absolute knockout of an IPA made with a new variety of Oregon hops called Strata.

This Strata IPA — almost a SMaSH beer, save for an addition of Columbus hops for bittering — is explosively fruity, with melon and cherry notes tempered by a smooth bitterness that finishes crisp and dry.

Make no mistake, the bay area is rife with quality IPAs of a similar ilk, but this beer is close to as-good-as-it-gets.

For non-beer drinkers, there's also Ananas pineapple cider from local Slim Pickens Cider & Mead, as well as four house wines. A little something for (almost) everyone.

Toss in some low-key live music on the weekends, and you've got yourself a brewery. It may not be Clearwater's first per se, but if the quality of the beer remains at the current level, it could make claim to Clearwater's best brewery some day.

Southern Lights is so new that most of its beers don't even have names yet. Malaty, however, keeps a list on his phone of at least 50 potential beer names that the Southern Lights crew has workshopped (more than a few of which are named after marijuana strains.)

The fact that the beers are currently nameless has no bearing on their quality — these suds are ready for prime time.

— Contact Justin Grant

at [email protected]

Follow @WordsWithJG.

Comments
Franklin on Twiggs restaurant opens in former downtown Tampa Pita Pit location

Franklin on Twiggs restaurant opens in former downtown Tampa Pita Pit location

DOWNTOWN — After a falling out with the Pita Pit corporate offices, Andrew Turek, the former owner of the SoHo location sold the property to Shula Burger and decided to open a new eatery and market called Franklin on Twiggs in the former downt...
Published: 09/21/18
Bar review: Punk meets Pilsner at Antibrewery in Dunedin

Bar review: Punk meets Pilsner at Antibrewery in Dunedin

Iíve had readers jokingly complain that Iíve exposed their off-the-radar watering holes that already are a carful away from becoming overcrowded. Itís like watching your favorite indie band achieve mainstream success: Itís good for them, but now youí...
Published: 09/20/18
Five ideas for date-night dinners at home

Five ideas for date-night dinners at home

For your next date night with your significant other, try staying in and cooking together. Meals eaten with your loved one are always sweeter. Literally."When we are in love Ö food tastes better," said Rachel Herz, an adjunct professor of psychiatry ...
Published: 09/19/18
Updated: 09/21/18
New restaurants: Olivia from Chris Ponte, Crabby Bill’s Off the Hook

New restaurants: Olivia from Chris Ponte, Crabby Bill’s Off the Hook

COMING SOON: OLIVIA Chris Ponte, right, has been a steady and notable culinary leader in our area for more than a decade with his flagship restaurant Cafe Ponte in Clearwater. A couple of years ago he mixed things up a bit by debuting On Swann in Hy...
Published: 09/19/18
Swizzle it: The tool bartenders turn to for a certain kind of cocktail

Swizzle it: The tool bartenders turn to for a certain kind of cocktail

TAMPA It’s a long stick with an irregular claw at the end, something a little macabre, like a skeletal monkey arm or a ritual tool made out of a chicken foot. It is crafted from the wood of the Quararibea turbinata tree, an aromatic and perenn...
Published: 09/19/18
What’s that bug gunk on your car? There’s an app for that

What’s that bug gunk on your car? There’s an app for that

Florida is rich in biomass. It’s got a lot of bugs. You’re driving down the highway, and all of a sudden — splat — a bug smacks your windshield, leaving a gooey glob on the glass. That’s the end of it from the bug’...
Published: 09/18/18
Pumpkin spice haters, back off: It’s okay to crave the seasonal flavor

Pumpkin spice haters, back off: It’s okay to crave the seasonal flavor

All right, okay, enough, I get it: You all hate pumpkin spice. But I’ve got one request as we head into fall: Can you just let us have this? There are many things on which to heap anger and despair right now, but please, that thing does not n...
Published: 09/18/18
A brown rice salad with asparagus thatís a hearty side dish

A brown rice salad with asparagus thatís a hearty side dish

This fresh, hearty side dish will stand out among its richer, creamier counterparts when the holidays roll around. We achieved perfectly cooked brown rice by boiling it in abundant water. Sprinkling the rice with bright lemon juice while it was still...
Published: 09/18/18
Restaurant review: The Local doesn't stand out enough above its Tampa neighbors to make an impact

Restaurant review: The Local doesn't stand out enough above its Tampa neighbors to make an impact

TAMPA Do you have this debate? "Florida is not in the South." "Um, look at a map." I guess I am in the former camp: It seems Florida gets more Southern the more north and west you go, accents only creeping in as reliably as boiled peanuts up on the ...
Published: 09/17/18
Updated: 09/18/18
Tampa Bay chefs get fresh platform at Bucs home games

Tampa Bay chefs get fresh platform at Bucs home games

TAMPA ó It was almost like a sitcom spit take. People in Buccaneers-red and Eagles-midnight green would walk up to the makeshift kitchen in the West Stadium Club, look at the huge poster of chef/restaurateur John Rivers, then glance at the guy in the...
Published: 09/17/18