The place was empty when I walked in. It was quiet – the AFC playoffs were on the TV in the background, but other than that: nothing. Maybe it was closed. Maybe I was intruding on this guy’s private time. The proprietor – Derrick – stood at the end of the bar, messing with his iPad. I thought they would be open – he just posted on his Facebook page that he recently tapped their RIS Czarina Czarina. I was looking forward to trying that. But then I saw it – the bar – the half-dozen or so taps were okay, but beyond that – the four casks – and three of them were pouring. It was my lucky day.
I took my seat at the bar and struck up a conversation with the barman. Business was great – Friday night was packed, not a seat in the house. Yep, they keep the casks fresh. Yep, they have a food menu. Oh, the food menu. Honest-to-goodness pasties. I looked up, then around. I felt like I was in a British pub. Wainscoting? Check. Casks? Check. Fireplace? Check. British beer advertisements? Check. Industrial park? NOPE. This place was not in an industrial park, but rather a strip mall in way northern Hillsborough county. Keystone to be exact. Not England. And Derek – a transplant from Sussex. That’s in England y’all.
Derek then introduced me to Ricky, brewmaster and son of the owner. Ricky looks the part of a brewer: big belly, big beard. Just like me. Ricky’s kind of an island here – he’s not a member of any local homebrew clubs. He’s self-taught. When I asked him where he learned how to brew, he quietly replied “the garage.”
I chatted with them both while I devoured my chicken tikka masala pasty and “John’s Coffin” cask ale – the cask version of “John Barleywine Must Die”. Fitting names.
I was too excited to take pictures of the rest of the place, but let me tell you this: Derek hand built it all, including the fireplace (his father was a mason), and it is beautiful. It’s smallish but definitely a neat place. While I was there, we saw a bunch of people come and go – couples, people in the industry coming from other brewpubs to wind down after work, and a few just “curious” folks.
And casks – did I mention they have FOUR of them? While I was there, three were live. The other taps were filled with a wide variety of pub-style brews including Saison and ESB varieties. There was an IPA on draught, but if you’re looking for a bunch of hoppy beers, you may be disappointed.
One of the best things about this place is the character. Loads of it. From the pictures on the wall signed by the last surviving WWII Spitfire pilots to the subtle music references in the beer names – this place has depth.
It may be out of your way, but if you’re looking for what I think is the most authentic British pub experience in Tampa Bay, this is it.