Saturday, December 16, 2017
Bars & Spirits

Southern Brewing and Winemaking: Great bar, store for craft beer newbies, experts

It's hard to think of a more rewarding hobby than homebrewing. It's cheap, it's fun, and it results in lots of beer!

Although the actual chemistry behind brewing can be pretty complex at times, beginner-level brewing is far easier than many people might expect.

I got into brewing a decade ago, making passable 5-gallon batches in my kitchen using pre-packaged extract kits that I picked up at the Beer and Winemaker's Pantry in Pinellas Park. I eventually attended a free ­homebrewing class there, resulting in several "aha!" moments that immediately improved the quality of my beer. I had a similar experience while watching an entire all-grain batch being made at Tampa's Booth Brewing, giving me the confidence to get into more advanced brewing techniques.

Homebrewing is so much better when you have resources to learn from and like-minded people with experience and a willingness to pass along knowledge. Combine those elements with a tap list guaranteed to stoke a homebrewer's imagination, and you have Southern Brewing and Winemaking, Seminole Heights' toy store for beer (and wine) nuts ready to start making the drinks they drink.

Southern has long been a big player in the local brewing scene, both on an amateur and professional level. Former employees include Khris Johnson of Green Bench Brewing, Justin Stange and Devon Kreps of 7venth Sun Brewing, and Ben Romano of Angry Chair Brewing. Homebrew club Special Hoperations — whose membership includes Robert Hilferding, winner of the American Homebrewers Association 2014 Homebrewer of the Year Award — holds a monthly meeting there.

Southern also is a solid — and sometimes overlooked — beer bar. Unlike most homebrew shops, ­Southern maintains a tap list of up to 24 beers and ciders, along with a well-selected wine list and both beer and wine bottles to go. It's as much a bar as it is a supply store.

Out front is a large, pebble-covered patio, featuring umbrella-covered café tables, a shaded row of picnic benches, several water fountains and even a large fire pit (not so handy now, but wait until February). There's cornhole in the corner, and a rotating lineup of food trucks outside in the evening. It would be a serious beer garden for a dedicated bar, so it's all the more impressive that a big chunk of the business at Southern is there for grain that hasn't even turned into beer yet.

Inside, the business is separated into halves. The right side is for homebrew supplies: bins of various malted barley, wheat, and other grains; coolers storing hops and yeast; buckets, measuring instruments, airlocks, siphons and so on. The other side contains a bar and a few high tops. It's nothing fancy, just a place to talk shop, drink some fresh, in-house brews and possibly brainstorm ideas for the next batch.

The beers at Southern easily rival the output of larger local breweries. Of several "core beers," the West Side IPA and Fragmented Porter are pretty memorable. But I personally like trying the new stuff, especially the various session IPAs made with a single hop, or combination of two hops.

For example, one of the current beers utilizes a homebrewing technique known as SMaSH, which means "Single Malt, Single Hop." The idea is that, by using only one type of malted barley and one variety of hop, you can really get a feel for what these ingredients taste like in a finished beer. This is invaluable for homebrewers and serious enthusiasts alike, giving you a feel for nuance that would otherwise be missed or muddled with other ingredients. The current option is a HopSession Hull Melon pale ale, brewed with Weyermann pale malt and German Hull Melon hops, and it's one of the only beers I'm familiar with using this new variety of hops.

Southern also offers half pours, a great option. Some beers are available in 10-ounce tulips only, but beers normally served by the pint can be ordered in 8-, 12-, and 16-ounce sizes. While beer is unquestionably the major focus, Southern does also offer a nice wine list, both by the glass and bottle.

In addition to providing brewing supplies and a wealth of beers, Southern hosts beer festivals, live music, a crafts market and beer and ­winemaking classes. Whether you simply like to drink the good stuff or want to start making it yourself, Southern Brewing and Winemaking can help you.

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