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What Ales You? Orlando’s Craft Beer Scene

What Ales You? Orlando’s Craft Beer Scene

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Just in case you were wondering, the thirsty visitor to Orlando can find, without too much trouble, a few places to get a beer. Make that a lot of places. Orlando is alive with beers, served by a growing collection of ale houses, gastropubs and beercentric restaurants, offering brews from long banks of taps and creating menus pairing food with quaffs from the world’s great breweries. And local craft beers are pushing at the forefront of this foamy-headed explosion. Brew bars have replaced wine bars, which in turn displaced martini bars as the adult beverage location of choice, and it’s still possible and typical to get a pint of craft beer for four or five dollars.
Teege Braune, manager at Redlight Redlight Beer Parlour, is one of Orlando’s local experts. “You don’t have to know a lot about beer, you learn by drinking,” he says. Redlight Redlight is a sort of comfortably worn hangout, where pierced hipsters and grey-haired connoisseurs gather around the 23 drafts and roughly 200 bottle choices to hear live music while comparing notes. Braune’s favorite kind of beer is a sour ale made by Belgium’s l’Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien, highlighting how varied the brewer’s art, and drinkers’ taste buds, can be. “It’s a cross between vinegar and an old boot,” he says with a laugh. “And I can’t tell you how good an old boot can taste.” According to Braune, Orlando is a great beer town. “Craft beer drinkers here,” he says, “have experienced beer from other places and look for them here.”
The idea that beer has the ability to influence menus speaks volumes to the trend’s staying power. The trend shows no signs of fading, and its impact even has theme parks in on the movement. The Hogs Head Pub at Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Harry’s favorite public house) serves up butterbeer, both draft and brain-numbingly frozen, and its exclusive Hog’s Head Brew is a rich red ale made by Florida Beer Company near Cocoa Beach in Melbourne—proving that even wizards prefer their beer crafted. Whether you’re craving a crab cake with an India Pale Ale or a rich chocolate stout with your chicken entrée, beer and food go together. And finding these magnificent combinations is easy in Central Florida.
The mix is never more evident than at the Ravenous Pig’s sister pub, Cask & Larder, in Winter Park. The Spoon’s chef, Kathleen Blake, and James and Julie Petrakis at“the Pig” are leading lights in the local food movement, and both restaurants are nationally recognized (James and Julie have been nominated for the James Beard Foundation award for best chef—as a couple). Beer is part of the experience at these two gastropubs; Rusty Spoon’s taps serve up organic brews from around the country, while brewmaster Ron Raike at Ravenous Pig cooks up exotic formulations such as Ravenous Ruby Red Ale, made with Florida grapefruit, oranges and Indian coriander.
Certified beer sommelier Raike, one of a select group of people who have gone through the Cicerone Certification Program, is brewing in-house at Cask & Larder, which features ales, stouts & IPAs made from local ingredients, with one special beer aged in casks from Florida whiskey distillery Palm Ridge Reserve. “Explosion is a good word to use for the current beer scene,” says Julia Herz, craft beer program director of the Brewers Association of America. “Beer is food-forward—it is a food, after all—and goes well with so many things. The craft movement has reclaimed beer at the dinner table.”
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