I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I started liking beer. (I lied, it was a house party in Columbus. I was tipsy on smirnoff ice, tried some PBR, and didn’t hate it.)
I’ve come a long way since then.
Ultimately, it was a birthday weekend spent craft brewery hopping in Tampa with John a few years ago that finally solidified my love for great beer. Tampa’s beer scene is amazing – unique breweries are nearby no matter where you are – but that influence is slowly creeping further in to Central Florida.
Should you find yourself thirsty in between Orlando and Tampa, give one or all of these breweries a visit and support a local brewer in the process.
For ambiance: Crooked Can Brewing Company – Winter Garden, FL
This is my favorite brewery in Orlando. The beer is delicious (the Cloud Chaser is my favorite beer), the location is inside of a local market, there’s a huge outdoor seating area, AND one of the market vendors inside is a pizza shop. The first time I went was for a book club meeting and I ended up staying well into the evening. This place has nailed it with great beer and a good vibe, and as a result it’s easy to spend a whole day there. It’s also right in the hustle and bustle of downtown Winter Garden, which is a super cute area full of coffee shops, restaurants, and charm.
What makes it different: The location inside Plant Street Market. After you’ve finished your beer, you can wander through and check out other vendors throughout the open concept space. It’s a unique setup and there’s pizza next to the brewery, so what’s not to love?
Beer to try: Cloud Chaser Hefeweizen
For community (and free samples): Brewhub – Lakeland, FL
If I had to describe Brewhub to a stranger, I’d call it a brewery co-op. But the brewery itself prefers the term “partnership.” Basically, brewers small and large can come to the facility to brew their beer, get assistance with production, and more. Beer lovers like myself congregate in the spacious tasting room where there’s plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. The service is great, they have a wide variety of beers, and samples are both unlimited and free. If you don’t know what you like, the bartenders are there to help you find something – whether it takes one sample or seven. They also have a food truck. Do you need me to keep convincing you? Brewhub is right outside of Lakeland next to I-4 and it’s absolutely worth a stop if you find yourself in the area.
What makes it different: FREE SAMPLES! Also the unique partnership concept where Brewhub makes their brewing facility available for use to smaller breweries who either need more space or are working on distributing their beers and just don’t have the capacity for it at their main location.
Beer to try: Keybilly Key Lime Island Ale
For creativity and pizza: Brewpop Brewery – Auburndale, FL
Before visiting, I had no knowledge of parti-gyle style brewing, but it’s Brewpop’s main brewing method. The owner, Jerry, loves talking about his creations and his passion for what he does is palpable. He’s not out to please everyone. Brewpop is more about creativity, beer as art, and experimentation than it is developing and perfecting a few core beers. In addition to creative beers and endless choices, you can also get wood-fired pizza. Nothing makes me happier than a brewery that can master good beer and good food without sacrificing quality of one or the other.
What makes it different: Jerry, owner and head brewer, has revived the lost art of parti-gyle brewing. It’s a method of brewing in which the same mash is used to create multiple beers. The first run is typically a high ABV (10-12%, so bring your DD!) with the third or fourth runs at 3-4%.
Beer to try: Grizzly Honey OR If Your Bud Had Balls (let it warm up a little, then taste – it tastes like beef jerky)
For variety: Two Henry’s Brewing – Plant City, FL
I love this brewery because of all the options. It’s actually both a brewery AND a winery (Keel & Curley) that originally started as a blueberry farm, so you can go there with your friend who doesn’t like beer. They also added a food menu in 2016, so now I can officially recommend this as a lunch stop for anyone day-tripping to one of the gulf coast beaches. If it’s your first time visiting, definitely try one of the beer or wine flights so you can get a proper sampling of all the options. Because of its location (which will feel like the middle of nowhere to Orlandoans), the brewery serves as a gathering space for friendly locals and out of towners, and the occasional characters only add to the charm. If you’re wondering about the name, it’s an homage to Henry Plant and Henry Flagler, two prominent figures in Florida’s history.
What makes it different: The brewery and winery combo, along with the unexpected location. A hoppin’ brewery is probably the last thing you’d expect to find in the middle of Central Florida farmland, but it exists!
Beer to try: The Biltmore Blueberry Vanilla Wheat