Beer, It’s Not Just for Getting Drunk Anymore

Nowadays it’s a lot like wine, appreciated for flavor and paired with food. The trend has moved into Orlando, with brewpubs raising the bar on the beer-drinking experience.

When I was a kid, my father would frequent a local bar after work. In the dimness, surrounded by cigarette smoke and the noise of a baseball game on a lone television in the corner, men would argue the news of the day and order a beer. The brand wasn’t important, because whatever came out of the tap was the only beer the bar served.

In the 1960s and ’70s, unless you asked for a national brand like Budweiser or Schlitz, your local beer was very local, indeed; New York’s Rheingold never reached the lips of a Leinenkugel fan in Wisconsin, and Schmidt drinkers in Philadelphia wouldn’t have tasted Denver’s lager of choice—Coors. In fact, the main plot point of the hit 1977 film Smokey and the Bandit was the tribulations of carting an illegal shipment of Coors from Texas to Georgia. How times have changed.

Beer yields a sense of discovery, says Teege Braune of Redlight Redlight in Baldwin Park.

In 2011, beer is king. Orlando is alive with beers, countless beers served by a growing collection of ale houses, gastropubs and beer-centric restaurants, offering brews from long banks of taps and creating menus pairing food with malts from some of the most inventive breweries in the world. Driving the movement is the explosion of craft beers. A craft brewer is defined as small (less than 6 million barrels a year), independent and using traditional ingredients (sorry, no bacon), while open to innovation and uniqueness. The United States now claims 1,740 craft breweries and 13,000 beer brands, more than any other country. As Julia Herz, craft beer program director for advocacy group The Brewers Association, says, “Beer is an American success story.”

Brew bars have replaced wine bars, which in turn displaced martini bars, as the adult beverage location of choice. Why the boom? James Devito, owner of Taps Wine & Beer Eatery in Winter Park Village, sees a progression of trends. “Martinis got too gimmicky,” Devito says. “They turned into sugary cocktails. Wine bars boomed because of the economy, and they were hurt by the recession.”

Herz points to another phenomenon that she says helped beer become fashionable. “The rise in gastropubs helps to generate an enlightened local beer presence,” she says. “Craft brewing has reclaimed beer at the dinner table. The combinations of acidity, salt and sweetness complements and contrasts perfectly with food.”

Once you consider fruity, dry, sweet, red or white, wine doesn’t have much more to offer, regardless of the “expert” tasting notes of steel, wet stone and leather. A grape is a grape. But the combination of malted barley, hops, yeast and water, with the occasional addition of wheat or fruit, seems capable of an unlimited flavor palette.

The magic of fermenting, flocculation and filtration creates the 5,000-year-old beverage called beer from the byproduct of yeast digesting sugar into alcohol. So to be blunt, beer is yeast pee, with such a complex chemical makeup that wine is like tap water in comparison. The esters, ketones and organic acids formed by these tiny fungi can create, along with alcohol and CO2, flavors as different as butterscotch, bananas, cloves, apples, corn, smoke, paint thinner and rotten eggs. Barley adds malty tastes, light as popcorn or as pronounced as chocolate. Hops, flower buds of a vine related to hemp, bright green catkins as delicate as insect wings, contribute grassy, floral and lemony tastes and aromas.

It’s impossible to say you don’t like beer, because it’s impossible to categorize the flavor of all beers.

Whatever food you are contemplating, there is probably a matching beer (see Beer Pairings, page 53). Draft Global Beer Lounge, sitting in the shadow of the Amway Center, offers 40 drafts and more than 100 bottled brands. The menu, crafted by chef Bryce Balluff, formerly of Funky Monkey Wine Company, consists of well-executed takes on pub food like fish and chips and impressive crabcake sliders.
“India pale ale is a great match with those,” says Draft Global’s general manager, Gabriel Rathweg. In fact, every item on the new bar’s menu, from wings to ribeye, has a recommended beer pairing.

If you’re at Taps in Winter Park, ask beer sommelier Jason Hulse for help picking a beer from the pub’s line-up of 350.

Rich Lendino, chef/owner at Stone’s Throw Bistro in Sanford, has been taking a slightly different approach. Working with local home brewers, he tailors beers to go with specific foods for quarterly pairing dinners. “Wine dinners have to be just so, or you have a disaster,” he says. “Beer can pair with just about anything.” His imaginative matches have included Kobe beef and truffle mac and cheese with bitter American pale ale, a strong Belgian tripel ale with wild game, and rich cream cheese-frosted carrot cake with India pale ale.
(As an aside, vegetarians may be surprised to learn that not all beers are vegan-friendly. Check for breweries that don’t use isinglass, gelatin or egg whites to filter their product.)

Let’s talk numbers, because they’re impressive. Beer is the top-selling alcoholic beverage in the United States, with sales of $101 billion last year. Craft beer, according to The Brewers Association, accounted for only 7 percent of the beer market, but its sales have grown by double-digit percentages each of the past two years. For the first half of this year alone, craft beer sales are up 14 percent, the industry group says.

Online beer fanatics flail against the impossibility of describing all beers by describing them obsessively. The website claims more than 2.47 million posted reviews, while posters have contributed almost 1.5 million ratings of 67,000 beers. Most dismiss “fizzy yellow beers,” as they call the typical American light lager, and say so fervently. “It’s the only beer that I ever poured down the sink and felt sorry for the fish,” proclaims a poster on BeerAdvocate, dissing Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Beer won’t break the bank. Wine is a major profit center for many restaurants, with the price of a glass of wine often exceeding the retail cost of the whole bottle. But it’s still possible and typical to get a pint of craft beer for four or five dollars. And from a business standpoint, the beer craze is a godsend. It’s easier and cheaper to get a beer and wine license than a liquor license. 

Perhaps not surprisingly with dozens of brews available, the most popular beers at Draft Global are the mass-produced labels Miller Lite, Bud Light and Corona. But even with that, Rathweg says that about 45 percent of his customers step outside their knowledge base and explore. “Once you get the beer bug,” he says, “there’s a whole world out there. Even with a very esoteric, hand-crafted ale hand-brewed by Belgian monks in a centuries-old cloister, it’s still made with water and yeast and grain and you can still say, ‘Hey, it’s beer.’” Beer flights help; Draft offers four shots for $12 of anything on tap.

In the pantheon of brew bars, World of Beer probably has the most descriptive name. The chain has opened 15 Florida locations since 2007, with more on the way. The row of 50 brews on tap at its Dr. Phillips location, with names like Delirium Tremens, Swamp Head Stumpknocker and Coney Island Lager, is augmented by more than 400 bottled brands. Product manager Kreis Holland says, “People enjoy knowing they can come here for their favorites, whether it’s an Alhambra from Spain or a Woodchuck cider from Vermont.”

Taps, with more than 350 beers available, offer samples, as do most brewpubs. “I like when people try something new,” Devito says.

“Nobody ever goes home saying, ‘I wish I had a Bud Light.’ ” He’s pushing the already idiosyncratic beer game by offering cocktails made with beer and liquor, such as Arrogant Bastard ale with tequila and hot sauce. Or you can ask Taps beer sommelier Jason Hulse for advice.
Hulse is a rare sort of expert. He is one of a select group of people who have gone through the Cicerone Certification Pro-gram, a national organization that educates servers about modern beers. “I’m trained to know everything: how beer is made, how to maintain it, what to pair,” he says. As the demand for such experts grows, there are more than a half-dozen certification institutes, such as the Doemans Academy and The Guild of Beer Sommeliers. Cicerone certification is now offered at UCF’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management.

According to Teege Braune, a bartender at beer-geek hangout Redlight Red-light in Baldwin Park, Orlando is a great beer town.

There is a whole lot of beer at World of Beer in Dr. Phillips. More than 450 kinds.

“Craft beer drinkers here,” he says, “people who have come from Seattle or Europe, have experienced beer from other places and look for them here. You don’t have to know a lot; you learn by drinking, and discovering new beers lets you discover new things everywhere. Beer has taught me about everything,” Braune says, quite seriously.

Blank Space Gallery & Lounge is a tiny place across the street from the downtown Orlando library, but co-proprietor Dave Desormoux still manages to offer 135 beers, bottled and draft. His partner, Bret Ashman, owns the Social Chameleon and the Milk Bar in the so-called Milk District near T.G. Lee Dairy. Blank Space is a combination art gallery, music space and downtown hangout that, Desormoux says, tries to counterbalance the sports bar scene. “People always wanted good beer,” he says. “Americans are like that—they want different things, they’ll try it.”

Desormoux takes his brews seriously, insisting on decanting bottled beers into a glass. “Nobody drinks out of the bottle here,” he says. “This isn’t a bunch of kids with sippy cups. You’d never tell a waiter to bring a bottle of wine and forget the glass.”

He sums up the appeal of beer in a succinct phrase.

“Beer,” he says, “is face-to-face social networking.”


Recommended Drinking

Joseph Hayes, Orlando magazine’s dining critic, sampled the following craft beers that came highly recommended at various brewpubs.

Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute IPA

Gabriel Rathweg, general manager at Draft, says this India pale ale, with its abundance of hops flavors, is “the best example of the brewing craft.” TASTE TEST: It’s a smooth, well-carbonated and lemony-crisp reminder of what ale should taste like. Draft Global Beer Lounge & Grill, 301 W. Church St., Orlando, 407-826-1872;


Jah*va Imperial Coffee Stout

Jason Hulse, a Cicerone-certified beer sommelier at Taps, points to the beers of Southern Tier Brewing Company as his go-to brews. Jah*va, made with Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee and the Pumking Imperial Pumpkin Ale (available in October) are the seasonal brews of choice. TASTE TEST: Chocolate malt notes blend with the mocha coffee taste; this is beer, dessert and after-dinner drink all in one.
Taps Wine, Beer & Eatery, 480 N. Orlando Ave., Suite 130, Winter Park, 407-677-5000;


Girardin Gueuze 1882

Redlight Redlight’s expert, Teege Braune, recommends one of the increasingly popular Belgian sour ales. TASTE TEST: It has a strangely funky aroma and slightly lemon-grapefruit tang, but it turns out to be an extremely refreshing beverage. Redlight Redlight, 745 Bennett Road, Orlando, 407-893-9832; redlight


G’Knight Imperial Red Ale

Dave Desormoux, one of the proprietors of Blank Space Gallery, has a personal favorite in this “super smooth,” malt canned (yes, in a can) by Colorado’s Oskar Blues Brewery. TASTE TEST: It’s practically wine-like, with a touch of brown sugar sweetness. Blank Space Gallery & Lounge, 201 E. Central Blvd., Orlando, 407-481-9001;


Life and Limb

Kreis Holland, product manager at World of Beer’s Dr. Phillips location, heartily endorses this easy drinking collaboration between Delaware’s Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada Brewing from California. TASTE TEST:  Made with maple syrup from  Massachusetts and birch from Alaska, it has a rich taste almost like dark rum. World of Beer, 7800 Dr. Phillips Blvd., Orlando, 407-355-3315;



A Fine Fla. Brew

Hand-crafted in Tarpon Springs, Saint Somewhere Brewing Co. ( makes the most of its surroundings to fashion Belgian-style saison ales that beg to be savored slowly. Using wild yeast and Florida ingredients like palmetto berries and hibiscus flowers, the brewery creates farmhouse ales with enjoyably complex layers of fruity
tastes that go exceedingly well with food. Available at Redlight Redlight, 745 Bennett Road, Orlando 407-893-983


Beer Pairings

Wine isn’t the only adult beverage that pairs with certain dishes. Dining critic Joseph Hayes recommends the following food-beer couplings. All the beers are available at Total Wine in Orlando.

For the quintessential American food, the quintessential American pale lager—Budweiser.




A bold, crisp pale pilsner will add a lemony edge to its subtleness. Go for the traditional Kirin Ichiban, or try Hefeweizen (right) from Oregon’s Widmer Brothers.



Spicy Mexican:
Pair with the slight sweetness of a malty brown ale, such as Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale  from New Hampshire.



Accentuate the smoke and spice with an amber lager like Yuengling (right) or Tocobaga Red Ale from Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing.




Fettuccine and Curry:
An India pale ale works to cut through the fats of the former, a creamy dish, and slows the spiciness of the latter. Try the highly rated East India Pale Ale from Brooklyn Brewery.




Grilled steak:
Make it even richer with Milk Stout. Colorado’s Left Hand Brewing Co. adds lactose sugars to the dark porter, giving it sweetness and body.


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