Breweries are opening so quickly in the bay area, it's tough to keep up. And this is coming from a guy who spends way too much time in drinking establishments. As a result, I often have to take a day to check out the new places. This time, there was an interesting twist.
The first of two stops was Urban Comfort, the second in the now four-strong Urban Restaurant Group family, each location carrying a different theme. There's Urban Brew and BBQ, which is pretty self-explanatory; Urban Provisions, a deli and package beer shop; Urban Creamery, an ice cream parlor; and Urban Comfort, which focuses on Southern soul food.
As of a few months ago, Urban Comfort was also St. Petersburg's first brewpub, bringing the overall brewery count in St. Petersburg to an astounding nine — which, by the way, is a figure often under-reported by those who forget that there are breweries in St. Petersburg that are not in the downtown area.
From the frame of an old gas station, Urban Comfort has built quite an interesting little spot. It's minimalist-rustic, with a small indoor dining room and bar, and an outdoor patio outfitted with picnic tables and bartop-style seating facing the restaurant's shuffleboard court. The brewery's seven-barrel system is also located outdoors, fenced in on a concrete slab adjacent to the shuffleboard court.
The beer menu has been expanding regularly since the first batch of hefeweizen was released, with the newest addition an imperial hefeweizen made with honey — Honey Hefebock. It sounded awfully familiar, but I couldn't quite place it.
I started with the Royal Bohemian pilsner, which also sounded familiar. It's really tough to pull off a decent pilsner, and it's a surprising choice for a new brewery, given the time- and resource-intensive nature of making lagers. I was shocked by how good the beer was — it seemed too authentic to be a first run of a tough style from a new brewery.
The explanation: Urban Comfort's master brewer is no amateur. The reason I recognized the Royal Bohemian pilsner and Hefe Honeybock is because those are also beers produced at Palm Harbor's Lagerhaus, where Austrian-born brewer Franz Rothschadl has produced authentic European-style brews for 10 years. Guess who's doing double-duty brewing at Urban Comfort?
This is great news for me, as I can enjoy some of Rothschadl's beers without driving to Palm Harbor (though some Lagerhaus releases certainly warrant the drive). Aside from the aforementioned brews, the current lineup includes an IPA and red ale. Expect more to come.
By pure coincidence, my next stop was in Palm Harbor. Not too long ago, I was in the area to check out Stilt House, which had just opened a small brewery on the Pinellas Trail, walking distance from the small town of Ozona, known for its golf cart-riding populace.
A third brewery has just joined Stilt House and Lagerhaus. Unlike many breweries, which are housed in old mechanics shops, this one — I'm not joking — is built in an old golf cart repair shop.
The name is de Bine Brewing Co., which is kind of Spanish for "of the bine." What's a bine? It's the thing that hops grow on, which, as I've just learned, is not a vine. The distinction is probably only of interest to aspiring botanists, but if you feel like you need to know, Google it.
So far, de Bine has two house brews and three collaboration beers. The house beers include a pretty solid German hefe, as well as the just-released St. Joseph Sound porter. The collaboration beers include Harboring Around, a bright, resin-y session IPA produced with Safety Harbor's Crooked Thumb; Chillin' Wit Rufus, a Belgian-style white ale produced with neighbors Stilt House; and the Hoppy Monk, a Belgian-style IPA produced with St. Pete Brewing.
De Bine is surprisingly spacious (there are golf-cart repair shops this big?), with a very minimalist, industrial feel. Aside from the main taproom and outdoor seating, there's also seating in the actual brewhouse, which is a neat feature. Although it's new, it's already quite popular with locals, and the beer is certainly off to a good start. I'll be sure to stop back in once the house brew lineup gets fully fleshed out.
So, chalk up another one for Palm Harbor, and add some of that city's finest to downtown St. Petersburg, courtesy of Urban Comfort. It seems like a new brewery opens every month, but if the beer is good, I say keep 'em coming.
— [email protected]; @WordsWithJG.