When word got out in late 2012 that St. Pete Brewing Company — whose Orange Wheat beer was already popular at other pubs — was opening in the heart of downtown St. Pete, ’Burg beer aficionados collectively smiled, high-fived, and waited. And waited. And waited.
But that’s all behind the brewpub now. St. Pete Brewing has been open on 1st Avenue North since April, and cranking out refreshing, Gulf Coast-inspired beers under the watchful eye of head brewer Jon McCracken.
McCracken, a former chef, never intended to become a commercial brewer. He was happy homebrewing and following jam bands around the country, stopping into breweries and tasting their offerings when he could.
“One day I got divorced, and I could do whatever I wanted,” he says. “‘Hey, let’s go to brewing school!’”
He graduated from the American Brewers Guild, and started his first brewery job in Burlington, Vermont, before relocating to California and eventually finding his way to Tampa, where he put in time at Tampa Bay Brewing Company before heading up the program at St. Pete Brewing. Locals who dropped in for one or two beers after work quickly came to recognize the bearded, affable McCracken, who can often be found hanging out at the bar and having a pint himself after a long day behind the scenes.
“I literally haven’t taken a day off in four months at least,” he says. “But I work, then I come out here and have a beer and talk to customers, and I don’t consider that work. My worst day at the brewery is better than any best day I had at any other job.”
When he’s not putting in long hours at the brewpub, McCracken usually can’t be found, as he’s at home. When he does get out, though, it’s most often to see a band or two.
“Music is very big in my life,” says the brewer. “To go see a good band at Ale & The Witch is a good day for me.”
He often works to music, usually trippy fare like The Grateful Dead and Phish or jam-grass bands like Yonder Mountain String Band, though he’ll occasionally throw on some OutKast. It helps move the day along, and keeps him in a good mood while he’s brewing. What makes him feel best, however, is seeing someone enjoying the fruits of his labor.
“I love it when people drink my beer and I see a smile on their face,” he says. “It lets me know I did a good job.”
Favorite local beer that isn’t his: “Old Elephant Foot [IPA] from Tampa Bay Brewing Company. That’s the beer that I drink when I’m not [at my brewery].”
His signature St. Pete Brewing beer: “That’s a tough one. I’m very, very happy with my Milo’s IPA. Now, does that represent St. Pete Brewing? Probably not. I think the Orange Wheat would probably represent St. Pete better — the temperature is hot, it’s an easy, drinkable beer.”
St. Pete Brewing Company
544 First Ave. N., St. Petersburg