I had the opportunity yesterday to meet with Jon McCracken from St. Pete Brewing Company.
My first impression of the space was how modern it looked. There was a lot of character to take into account – there were bright lights, shiny wooden tables, anchors and skateboards. It used to be a skate shop, which explains why their tap list is written on older boards.
The mural by the front door (shown above) is something that really stands out and sets them apart. Their new location has definitely helped business, although some still aren’t aware of it.
If you’ve never met Jon – you’re missing out. It was obvious right off the bat how passionate he is about the beer industry. There were no awkward silences. No hesitations. Suddenly our interview felt more like a conversation between friends.
Jon was working as a head chef in Savannah when he decided to move to Vermont to attend the American Brewers Guild. His buddy suggested that it might help him find a job, and that’s exactly what he did.
Before participating in the program, he started off as a home brewer – so he felt more advanced than the average beginner. “There was still a lot to learn, and it definitely helped to put me ahead,” he mentioned.
After graduating and moving back to Florida, Jon worked with the Tampa Bay Brewing Company. Now that he’s in St. Pete, he’s able to use his own recipes and come up with new flavors on his own.
It wasn’t always easy getting distributors to pick up their beer, he told me. Although many people might think their beer still comes from Maryland, “it’s not true – all of our beer is brewed in St. Petersburg,” he said.
I was most excited to ask him about any upcoming beers for the fall season. “I’ve got a pumpkin batch in the works – it’s my first time using pumpkin. We’re shooting to have it out by mid-to-late next week.” I imagine it’ll sell fast. Which reminds me – I should probably schedule an office lunch/happy hour next week.
When Jon isn’t trying his own delicious beer, he’s usually visiting Rapp Brewing Company or drinking an Old Elephant Foot IPA from Tampa Bay Brewing Company. I was lucky enough to try the Orange Wheat during my interview. It’s a perfect anytime beer for people like me, who like fruit-infused beers.
Many people have helped to shape Jon’s career as a head brewer. “There’s not just one person who’s influenced me, it’s a group. Former employers, friends – everyone,” he said. Which makes perfect sense – throughout each of the breweries he’s worked with over the years, it’s pretty apparent he’s learned a lot from many people.
After our interview, I was given a tour. He was already in the process of training a new employee when I got there, so I got to observe his knowledge and skills in action. He told me the average time it takes to brew an ale is between 16 and 21 days – and even longer for lagers.
“As long as we’re successful, I’m happy,” he said when I asked him about expanding outside of Florida. “It depends on what our drinkers want. For now, I’m happy with where we are.”
On September 23, St. Pete Brewing Co. is participating in the St. Petersburg Science Festival. They’ll offer beer and food tastings and teach learners about the process of brewing their beer. “It’s a class of about 20 people, and we’ll give everyone a tour,” he said. With events like these, you have to get your tickets fast before they run out.
However, if you can’t make it to the Science Festival, there’s always the monthly beer and cupcake pairings. Yes – I said cupcakes. Once a month, Baked By Erin will provide the cupcakes and St. Pete Brewing provides the beer.
“One of my favorites was the Irish Car Bomb version – chocolate imperial stout cake filled with Irish Whiskey ganache and topped with Bailey’s frosting,” he said. I had to keep my jaw from dropping.
St. Pete Brewing Co. is open seven days a week: Monday: 4 p.m. – 10 p.m., Tuesday – Thursday: 2 p.m. – 10 p.m., Friday: 2 p.m. – 12 a.m., Saturday: 12 p.m. – 12 a.m. and Sunday: 12 p.m. – 10 p.m. Tours are available upon request – and I highly recommend it.