When Southern Lights Brewing Company opened Aug. 2, it officially became the first craft brewery within Clearwater's city limits. Located at 2045 Gulf to Bay Blvd., the newcomer is easy to miss, tucked in at the end of a strip plaza. (Look for it across the street from Dairy Queen.)
Traces of the storefront’s past as a dentist office are gone. Inside, the nanobrewery is simple and inviting, with local art pieces lining the taproom walls and surf videos on a loop behind the bar. A marker board lists its liquid offerings, which hover around six beers. A few staple wines are on hand as well.
Southern Lights — first conceived in 2015 — is the vision of brewer Benton Mobley and friends William Batchelor and Ramy Malaty. According to Mobley, his focus is on traditional-style beers, made carefully in small batches. So far, the taps have featured IPAs, a dunkelweizen, hefeweizen, saison, chocolate porter and smoked porter.
Then there’s the Belgian tripel, a malty golden beer with a complex flavor and subtly high ABV.
“I think of it as my smoking jacket, sit by the fire, special occasion kind of beer,” Mobley said.
Mobley also has Berliner Weisse, a classic sour, and other brews in his repertoire. The Southern Lights brewer says he’ll try to keep things relevant to people’s tastes.
“The target is always moving,” Batchelor said of beer trends.
Because Southern Lights is working with a one-barrel system, the draft list will grow slowly over time — probably remaining around 12 beers for a year or two. Mobley would eventually like to maintain north of 20 at a time. The brewery has already started to draw lots of regulars, giving the three partners a big demand to keep up with.
But beer fans in the area aren’t the only ones happy about their arrival. The city of Clearwater has been increasing its efforts to attract breweries, one of which included hosting May’s inaugural Downtown Clearwater Craft Beer and Music Fest.
A big group of city employees even stopped into Southern Lights on opening night.
“The city has been very supportive and pro-brewery,” Mobley said.
Malaty — who handles the business and marketing side of the brewery, in addition to bartending some nights — loves that they’re on the way to the beach and its “killer sunsets.” The surfing clips are his touch; they remind him of his time spent living in Hawaii.
As for Mobley, he still works a day job for now, but he’s excited for a new chapter with Southern Lights to begin.
“Being able to set your own destiny is quite a powerful thing,” he said.
A grand opening celebration is to be announced.