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West Palm Beach finally gets serious about craft beer

John Pankauski is devoted to the grape. But when he faced a decision two years ago whether to open a brewpub in West Palm Beach or a 67-acre vineyard in California, he devoted himself to beer.

“It takes five years before a vineyard is in full production. That’s intimidating. To brew beer, it takes two to three weeks. We went with beer,” says Pankauski, owner of the new West Palm Brewery and Wine Vault. “But I couldn’t give up on wine.”

Which is why his 7,000-square-foot brewpub and wine cellar, located off Dixie Highway two blocks from the city’s posh waterfront and bustling Clematis Street, will showcase both wine and beer when it opens to the public on Thursday, Dec. 21.

The arrival of the brewpub, the city’s second brewery, marks a significant craft-beer expansion for West Palm Beach. One part downtown brewpub and one part Napa-style wine cellar, West Palm Brewery joins Ookapow Brewing Company, which opened in September, and will be followed by two more near downtown by early 2018: Steam Horse Brewing and American Craft Aleworks. The four craft-beer breweries catch West Palm Beach up to other South Florida cities, such as Boynton Beach (which boasts five breweries), Pompano Beach (5), Fort Lauderdale (5) and Miami (11)

The rapid growth in West Palm Beach happened almost by accident, brewers say. Fran Andrewlevich says his Steam Horse (1500 Elizabeth Ave.) will be among the first arrivals in the city’s rising foodie district, a warren of warehouses east of I-95 and south of Okeechobee Boulevard. When it opens in February, the 6,300-square-foot brewery will share the neighborhood with yoga studios and a food hall, Grandview Public Market.

“At first, I was like, ‘I‘m not willing to go down to West Palm,’ ” says Andrewlevich, who also operates Twisted Trunk Brewing in Palm Beach Gardens and Tequesta Brewing Company in Tequesta. “I didn’t see it at first, but then it clicked on me: The energy down in this district is insane. We’re going to feed off each other’s business. I signed the lease.”

Ookapow partner Jeff Singletary, whose brewery (1142 Old Okeechobee Road) neighbors Steam Horse in the warehouse district, says “slim pickings” in Boynton Beach forced him to consider West Palm Beach.

“This warehouse district is a welcome fit,” Singletary says. “The landlord was saying, ‘You’re exactly the kind of tenant we’re looking for here.’ It’s by pure accident this happened, because honestly, we had no idea this district was transforming. It’s the right place, right time.”

West Palm Beach is ripe for a craft-beer explosion, Pankauski agrees. The focus of his West Palm Brewery will be sophistication, offering a Neapolitan-style pizza bar inside its sit-down Intracoastal Kitchen, along with a cellar boasting 20 Napa Valley-style red and white wines. But the 3,500-square-foot taproom will mainly tout craft beer, says Pankauski, by day a West Palm Beach probate litigation attorney.

In August, Pankauski hired brewmaster Joel Kodner to program West Palm Brewery’s starting lineup of brews, which will include Evernia Saison, a Belgian-style brew punched with notes of stone fruit; Palm Beach Porter, infused with chocolate, coffee and toffee flavors; B4 Blonde, a nonbitter blond ale; Metermaid IPA, with notes of grapefruit and tangerine; and Five Six One Hefeweizen, a German-style wheat beer fortified with banana and clove flavors.

West Palm Brewery, unlike its South Florida competitors, will not distribute its beers, and its lack of canning and bottling lines frees up more time for small-batch beer experimentation, Kodner says.

“We’re approaching 6,000 breweries in America now, so it’s really a fight to get your brewery’s beer on store shelves,” says Kodner, who adds that West Palm Brewery can produce up to 330 gallons of beer per brewing cycle at once. “The thing for me is to keep it small and local, and have the quality be on freshness.”

Pankauski says the brewpub will also offer a variety of Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons from his private wine label, Pankauski Cellars.

A long, stainless-steel countertop frames the brewery’s wood-burning pizza oven, a mosaic-blue brick dome that can pump out well-done, thin-crust pies in 80 seconds. Used wine barrels converted into tables fill the farmhouse-reminiscent taproom, where customers can pair beer and wine with a menu of pub fare, including salad, meatball sliders, wood-fired wings and paninis.

Pankauski says the brewery will offer daily and by-appointment tours of the brewhouse, and a weekday happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m.

West Palm Brewery and Wine Vault will open to the public 4 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 21, at 332 Evernia St. Hours of operation will be 4-11 p.m. Monday-Friday, noon-11 p.m. Saturday and noon-10 p.m. Sunday. Call 561-514-0900 or go to WestPalmBeer.com.

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