Kevin Milkey drew on his experiences at brew pubs around the world when he created Grand Central Brewhouse.
The Brewhouse has copper serving kegs that are popular in Prague and other European cities, pulley fans that resemble those Milkey saw at an old bar in New York City, and a Bavarian-style beer garden.
“There are so many influences here that came from my travels with my wife Jeanne. Some of it was before I thought about starting a brewery and some since I had the idea, even when construction was ongoing. I wanted to create a brewery that had what I thought were all the best features I liked,” Milkey, founder and CEO, told the St. Pete Catalyst.
The Catalyst got a sneak peek as Grand Central Brewhouse, at 2324 Central Ave., prepares for its grand opening this weekend, just over a year after groundbreaking.
Milkey has invested about $5 million in the project, which includes two newly constructed buildings totaling more than 10,000 square feet on land he acquired about two years ago. Place Architecture was the architect on the project and Boyd Construction handled the buildout.
The site previously was home to Taco Bus and long before that, a Cadillac dealership.
The Brewhouse not only adds to the flourishing activity in the Grand Central District, but also will have an economic impact. Milkey has hired 22 people — a dozen full-time and 10 part-time — nearly all of whom had lost their jobs or had their hours cut when other local restaurants and breweries limited their operations due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In addition, Milkey, a retired insurance executive and philanthropist, will donate 10 percent of the sales of selected beers to nonprofit organizations.
“We will always have three beers on tap that are charity beers. It’s part of our ‘Brew Good’ program. Ten percent of sales from these beers will go to three local nonprofits,” Milkey said. “You buy a $6 beer and 60 cents is going to charity.”
Tampa Bay Watch, dedicated to the preservation and restoration of the Tampa Bay estuary, will receive 10 percent of the sales from the beer of the day on a permanent basis. Milkey and his family are long-time supporters of Tampa Bay Watch.
The other two nonprofits will rotate monthly, with Milkey selecting one and the Brewhouse staff selecting the other. Initially, Daystar Life Center and The Manners House are the other recipients.
Lagers and ales
The brewery is a 10-barrel system, equivalent to 20 kegs of beer for each brewing cycle.
“We have four fermenters. We can we brew four beers four days in a row and put them in the four fermenters, where they have to stay for at least 10 days and often 14 days. Then we can do another batch,” Milkey said.
The head brewer is Tyler Singletary, a veteran of the local craft brewing industry. The Brewhouse will have both lagers — which tend to have a crisper, cleaner taste, according to Tapville — and ales, which are more full-bodied and sweeter.
“I told Tyler I wanted more lagers, the more easy-drinking, traditional style of beer that most people like. It’s hot in Florida and people want something that’s smoother and crisp. But we’ll have a full spectrum of beers, a few IPAs, every shade of ale, in addition to the lagers,” Milkey said.
A unique feature at the Brewhouse are the copper serving tanks.
While they are popular in Europe, they are made by a company in Missouri, from which Milkey ordered them. The copper tanks keep beer fresher because there’s no need to add carbon dioxide as the beer gets lower in the tank.
The brewhouse features an observation window on the second floor so guests can watch the brewing process in action.
There’s also a laboratory.
“We take quality extremely seriously. To make sure you are measuring quality right, you need a lab,” Milkey said.
The Brewhouse also will offer four wines on tap – two reds and two whites – and free self-serve purified sparkling and still water. Milkey expects to add coffee later.
Inside the Brewhouse, there’s an industrial feel, with steel and brick and concrete floors. Windows facing Central Avenue are actually doors that open up, similar to a garage door.
The upstairs, including an outside terrace, feels more like a lounge. Milkey expects it to be a popular spot for private parties.
A counter facing Central Avenue on the second floor is one of Milkey’s favorite spot in the Brewhouse.
The beer garden includes lots of seating, with room for bocce ball and cornhole games. Milkey plans to show movies and sports on a screen painted on the eastern wall.
The walls facing the beer garden feature murals by local artist Carrie Jadus and are among the several murals at the Brewhouse. The mural on the outside west wall was painted by Jabari Reed, who goes by iBombs, and was created as part of the SHINE Mural Festival to depict the impact of red tide on the ocean.
The Brewhouse has a total capacity of 600, most of that outside in the beer garden and upstairs terrace. When it opens, and through the pandemic, Milkey said he will limit the amount of people to no more than 50 percent of capacity. All employees wear masks, there are lots of hand sanitizer stations and a professional crew will come in nightly to clean and sanitize.
The Brewhouse is in the western part of the two-building project. LaLa Karaoke Box, or LaLa St. Pete, will occupy the eastern half of the site. The restaurant concept features high-end pub food with a French twist and seven private karaoke rooms. When it opens in May, it will provide food to Grand Central Brewhouse.
Until then, Milkey plans to bring some food trucks to the Brewhouse occasionally, in partnership with his neighbor, The Dog Bar, and guests can bring in their own food.
“If they don’t have food they are here for one or two drinks and then they need to go get something to eat,” Milkey said. “If they have food they stay.”
Still to come are solar panels on the roof of the Brewhouse that will take care of 40 percent to 50 percent of its electric needs, Milkey said.