Breweries, brew-pubs and micro-breweries have become big business in Central Florida in recent years. Nearby Tampa Bay has more than two dozen and is fast developing a reputation as one of America’s great craft beer centres. But Orlando isn’t far behind, and, with the huge number of visitors we have here, enterprising couple Chris and Laura Solar have come up with a wonderful idea to experience both some of the city, and plenty of the city’s new beers.
At the current count, there are at least eight significant breweries in the metro Orlando area, from Winter Garden to Winter Park, and Longwood to the Mills 50 district. They cover quite a large area, even by local standards, hence having your own tour guide like Brewlando is the ideal way to sample a good selection of them in the space of a few hours.
Chris and Laura take turns to be the guide and/or driver for each trip, with their own 10-passenger van emblazoned with the eye-catching Brewlando logo, and they feature both afternoon and evening tours each weekend (at $30/person, over 21s only), or they can put together your own custom-made five-hour tour to the brewery selection of your choice.
It was an idea that came to them on holiday. Chris told us, “It really started when we took a trip to Ireland, and we did an organised tour of a number of pubs, which gave us a great look at a variety of places without having to drive, so we thought it was a pretty good idea. We thought, ‘Hey, why don’t we do this!’ We have a lot of friends who love craft beer and we initially thought about touring the many craft beer bars we have in town now. But then we noticed all the breweries popping up, and that pretty much clinched it for us, as it seemed a more logical idea to tour the places where the beer actually comes from. Tampa’s scene has been booming for almost the last fifteen years so we thought it was about time we did something similar for Orlando. We enjoy tasting and showcasing the city’s breweries, so it seemed the ideal way to do something different and highlight our own beer scene.”
For those who haven’t been to America in recent years, or who still think beer here is all about Budweiser and Miller Lite, there is a vast array of craft beers that have blossomed all over the country, and they all provide something different in the way they brew or the ingredients they use.
Florida breweries have become notable for using a lot of citrus products in their beers for some different flavour varietals, while the city’s biggest beer-maker, the Orlando Brewing Company, is entirely organic in its approach, using the German beer purity law – or Reinheitsgebot - of 1516, albeit with a handful of ‘violator’ beers that are allowed to break the strict rules.
The Orlando Brewing Co celebrated its 10th anniversary this year while the newest brewery on the tour, Ocean Sun, opened only three months ago, so there is also a lot of diversity there, too.
“It doesn’t get any fresher, in beer terms, than going to the brewery where it is made,” Chris added. “And, with the choice we have, we can put together a variety of different tours, usually featuring three in a typical four to five-hour tour.”
Intrigued by the idea of a guided tour in an area we thought we knew pretty well, as well as a visit to several breweries we didn’t know at all, we signed up for a Saturday evening tour with another three couples, including a pair of new arrivals from Argentina and a Scottish couple. We met up at the World of Beer bar/restaurant in the Dr Phillips plaza just off Sand Lake Road and, after a few introductions, we were off in the Brewlando van, each with our own little bag of bottled water and pretzels for the journey. The tour price basically covers the transport and brewery talks en route to each stop, plus the little goody bag and a souvenir beer glass at the end.
What you spend (and drink) at each brewery is entirely up to you, but your official Brewlando Tours wristband and sticker also provides a $1 ‘happy hour’ discount on all pints at each place, so it is great value overall.
Our tour visited the big Orlando Brewing Co, the Ten10 Brewing Company in trendy Mills 50, and the Ocean Sun brewery on Curry Ford Road to the south-east of downtown Orlando. Three very different companies with three very different styles, but all with a great array of craft beers to try.
Orlando Brewing is very much the big outfit of the three, with fully 23 beers to choose from, including Olde Pelican English Pale Ale, a Right On Red, and a Grateful Pumpkin Ale. They boast a big tap-room, but don’t serve any food, hence you need to either eat first or wait until Ten10, which does have a full menu to go with its array of 16 ales, which include an excellent Plum Fennel Farmhouse and Havakow Milkstout. The hoppy IPA-style beers are currently hugely popular, and Ten10 offers several.
Last stop was at Ocean Sun, with a huge tap-room bordering its brewery, which is on show through large glass windows at the end of the room. It features some more traditional ales and lagers, plus a handful of offbeat offerings, like its chocolate-flavoured Primrose Porter Nitro and highly malted Russian Imperial Stout.
The big benefit was that at each stop we were able to order a flight of four samples per couple and then decide if we’d like to try a pint of one of them. With so many to choose from, it was hard to select just one, hence the flight option was a great idea.
Eventually, Chris and Laura brought us back to World of Beer and the end of the tour. We had covered some 40 miles, driven through downtown Orlando, got a taste of the Mills 50 scene and discovered somewhere completely new in Ocean Sun, in an area we would never have visited otherwise (Orlando Brewing is also quite difficult to find just south of downtown, hence it was so handy to have our own tour guides).
We travelled in great comfort and highly convivial style, with fellow beer aficionados and great hosts in Chris and Laura. It is definitely a novel way to sample yet another facet of Orlando’s growing range of attractions, and we’d certainly do it again. There are at least another five breweries to try, too!
If you have any questions about Orlando or any of the other wonders of Florida, be sure to go online and ask Susan and Simon on the ATD forums.
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