Beer Here: An Introduction
Beer: possibly the oldest man-made beverage, with rabid and intensely brand-loyal fans, an intoxicating variety of flavors and styles, and a surprising impact on the economy. In case you haven't noticed, beer, particularly from small independent breweries is a big deal.
The last time I wrote about the Orlando brew scene back in 2011 (in the appropriately named “Beer, It’s Not Just for Getting Drunk Anymore” issue), the explosion of taprooms was the top story. Pubs and bars were popping up all over, with cascading rows of pulls and a flourishing flow into Orlando of this thing called “craft beer” from around the country. Craft breweries in Central Florida weren’t even prevalent enough to mention.
Fast forward, and today the big story is one of supply. Four out of the six taprooms I wrote about have vanished, but rising from the hops-scented ashes are a profusion of home grown nano-, micro- and macro-breweries. Inhabiting strip malls, industrial parks and neighborhoods, they create new, inventive and often locally sourced brews daily.
Way back seven years ago, my recommended craft drafts were from Colorado, Delaware and Belgium. Now, I’d be foolish to look beyond the Central Florida region for quality, style and drinkability.
According to a 1978 report by the Federal Trade Commission, there were under 100 brewers in the country in the decades after Prohibition. Florida claimed three: Anheuser-Busch in Tampa and Jacksonville; Schlitz in Tampa; and a tiny concern called Duncan Brewing Co., now Florida Brewery, in Polk County. Today, as per the Brewers Association trade organization, there are more than 5,600 craft brewers in the U.S., with two more opening every day.
Florida is in the top 10 states for number of craft breweries (independently owned, producing less than 6 million barrels annually), with 165 at the Brewers Association’s last count, producing a staggering 322 million pints per year. The growth in the Greater Orlando scene has been remarkable, and craft brewers from large (Orlando Brewing, with 75 beers in their back catalog) to small (Deadly Sins produces four brews) are changing neighborhoods and reviving neglected and abandoned buildings. Bear & Peacock is in a former Winter Park auto parts store; Wolf Branch revived a Eustis department store building from 1882. And one micro begets another, as seen by the gathering of brewhouses in Sanford, with three in one two-block area and more on the way.
To quickly define our terms, “beer” is malted barley, brewed with hops and yeast, then aged. The simple act of converting starch into sugar and sugar into alcohol—which, to be honest, can happen all by itself—has become an art practiced for centuries, and what we get out of it is beer. Describing the differences between styles of suds can fill a book—and has, many times.
But the proof is in the tasting, and the brewers’ craft produces an infinity of varieties, from refreshing pale lagers to Belgian-style sour ales that have been described as a cross between vinegar and an old boot.
But whether you’re partial to the ancient traditions of American Amber or a draft made with almonds, strawberries or peanut butter, you’ll find it and much more in our roundup of grain-to-glass crafters.