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Clearwater’s Pair ‘O Dice Brewing Company draws crowd at grand opening

Source: | By: Tom Scherberger

Ken and Julia Rosenthal didn’t know what to expect when they planned the grand opening of their Pair O’ Dice Brewing Company.

So they were a pleasantly stunned when they opened the doors at 2 p.m. last Saturday to find a line outside the warehouse space along 118th Ave. N. Located in the north of St. Petersburg in Clearwater, a couple miles east of Rapp Brewing, Pair O’ Dice is far from the buzz of the burgeoning craft beer scene in downtown St. Pete.

Three hours later the crowds were still pouring in, beer was being wiped off the chalk board and the Rosenthals were beaming.

Pair O’ Dice has been bit of curiosity in Tampa Bay craft beer circles. The husband and wife team didn’t spend years pouring samples at local beer fests like some local craft brewers, didn’t apprentice at any of the local breweries. There’s that odd name — it is a pun on paradise, which is how they think of Florida. They were also relative newcomers, having recently move from Austin, Texas. And then there’s the Anheuser-Busch connection. Both had worked for the beer giant, Julia in operations and Ken supervising a brewhouse that produced 10 million barrels a year — the opposite of craf beermaking. Budweiser calls itself the king of beers but it’s pretty much the standard for all that is wrong with American beer.

But since the Rosenthals quietly opened on Halloween last year, this pair ‘o brewers has won over the skeptics with their affable ways and and professional approach to brewing, producing a solid lineup of core beers, including Little Joe, one of the best oatmeal stouts in the Tampa Bay area. The other two core brands are the Parley Pale and the Hop Bet Red. They are brewing on large scale with plans and the space to accommodate more. Their big-beer experience seems to have worked to their advantage, scaling down rather than having to scale up from homebrewing.

For the grand opening, they widened their offerings with five new limited release batches that impressed the huge crowd that filled the tasting room and the adjacent warehouse with its 15-barrel brewhouse and four 30 barrel fermenters, complimented with live music by Fowler’s Bluff and food truck fare from Der Wurstwagen.

The Strawberry Cream was a blonde ale on nitro made with Plant City strawberries; it had a strong strawberry nose and a well-balanced taste that avoided the cloying sweetness characteristic of many fruit beers. The Nina Wit, made with grapefruit and tangerine, was an excellent example of the style.

The throngs included the usual suspects in the craft beer scene but lots of new faces too. And as always, the Tampa Bay craft brewers were on hand to show their support, including brewers from 7venth Sun, Green Bench, Big Storm, Cigar City and Barley Mow.

So far, Ken and Julia are taking things slow. They are focused on quality and consistency and growing organically, not pushing the envelope with sours or barrel aging or obscure styles. But with strong backing from Great Bay Distributors, Pair O’ Dice draft — no bottles or cans yet — has already found its way into 60 to 70 taphouses in Pinellas, Pasco and Citrus counties.

So the future is looking pretty bright for this upstart brewery with the goofy name. With the grand opening behind them, it’s back to work for the Rosenthals. Two of those giant fermenters were empty Saturday night and they need filling.