Lakelandís a little out of the way, but Iím always eager to check out the bar scene there when passing through or attending an event. Every place Iíve visited just seems so pleasant.
I regret missing the boat on the cityís first brewery, Lakeland Brewing Company, which powered through a three-year run before closing earlier this year. It was a major undertaking in a city conspicuously brewery-free relative to its neighbors, and it helped pave the way for subsequent breweries to supply Swan City residents with fresh, local beer.
While itís sad to see a brewery go, itís also exciting to see a new one open. Enter Swan Brewing, Lakelandís latest, and still only one of two in town.
With only two breweries to serve 100,000 locals, it should be no surprise that each gets its fair share of business from thirsty Lakelanders. Even so, the scene at Swan ó only a month old ó was impressive. It may have been the largest non-festival crowd Iíve ever seen at a local brewery.
Before walking into the brewery proper, I passed through a huge outdoor courtyard, artificially turfed and shaded under white canopies, a food truck parked at the corner. A live band played near the entrance to a full house. If I didnít know otherwise, Iíd think this was a festival of some sort, but it was just an ordinary Friday.
Inside was equally dense. The interior is long and narrow, with picture windows on one side providing a view of the brewery and a long bar on the other, a weathered sheet metal lean-to hanging overhead.
The look is what Iíd describe as automotive-rustic.
Thereís an antique gas pump against the wall and the flight boards are old license plates with cutouts for the sampler glasses.
A unique look and hot/new factor aside, Swan Brewing also boasts a lineup of eight very worthy house brews to go with another 22 guest taps. The beers cover a respectable range, from the crisp BL Blonde Ale to the roasty Old Murph dry Irish stout.
I found all eight house brews to be enjoyable, but three in particular stood out. Schwansteiner is a classic hefeweizen, a style that tends to hit the spot perfectly when executed well, as this one has been. Then thereís Juice Cup, which cashes in on the current New England IPA craze. Itís hazy and juicy, but itís slightly more assertive than many of the low-bitterness beers in this style, adding an extra spicy earthiness beneath the tropical fruit flavors in the forefront.
My favorite ó and Iím guessing a crowd favorite as well ó is a bit gimmicky. Bean Flicker (they couldnít resist) is a coconut and coffee version of the BL Blonde. Itís not especially nuanced, and by no definition could it be considered subtle, but itís a blonde ale that tastes like coconut and coffee. Iím a simple man, and this is a proposition that Iíll gladly accept.
What Lakeland lacks in number of breweries, it makes up for in character and scope. Swan Brewing has a large audience to look forward to, and based on early impressions, it appears up to the task. I look forward to seeing the direction it takes as time goes on.
Contact Justin Grant at[email protected]Follow @WordsWithJG.
115 W Pine St., Lakeland; (813) 703-0472; swanbrewing.com
The vibe: A spacious, lively taproom with a funky, antique service station decor.
Booze: Beer and wine. Beer, $5.50 to $10; wine, $6 to $10.50.
Specialty: Swan keeps about 20 guest beers on tap, but be sure to sample the house brews, which range from well-executed traditional styles like a blonde ale, American IPA and dry Irish stout to more new-school brews, like a tangerine wit, New England IPA and coconut-coffee blonde ale. Order a flight, which comes in an old license plate with holes punched for the samplers.
Hours: noon to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; noon to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday.