The microbrew storm has blown through greater Orlando, Florida, like a Category 5 hurricane, leaving a trail of delicious beer in its wake – the Central Florida Ale Trail to be exact – which has 17 (and counting) breweries on its must-visit map. Here are a few of those thirst-quenching stops (and a couple outliers) recommended by local experts.
Crooked Can Brewing Co.
Not sure what kind of beer you like? No worries. The staff at Crooked Can Brewing Co. in historic Winter Garden can guide you.
"They'll let you taste different things and get a feel for your palate," says Lourdes Gee, concierge at the Villas of Grand Cypress, Orlando. "Their bartenders are great at finding the right fit."
What's right for you depends on your goal. The copper loveliness of McSwagger's Own Amber Ale is perfect for sipping in the outdoor courtyard, while the McStagger Imperial IPA, at 9 percent alcohol by volume, is perfect for slipping off your bar stool. Crooked Can also rotates in seasonal beers and bourbon-barrel-aged brews.
The brewery and taproom fill one end of the Plant Street Market and share a roof with specialty shops, bistros and food artisans. Its monocle-wearing mascot McSwagger graces every can and embodies the brewery's classy-casual atmosphere. Crooked Can is open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Some beer connoisseurs demand that their brews follow the Reinheitsgebot, the centuries-old German beer purity law that limited beer-makers to only four ingredients: water, yeast, hops and barley. Orlando Brewing honors the ancient brewing regulations, while managing to produce dozens of beer styles. It does occasionally release beers that break the rules, under The Violator Series.
Orlando Brewing is one of only a handful of U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified organic breweries in the South, a point of immense pride for the staff. For a tongue-lashing, try the Grand O' Hopry Double IPA. For a brew as dark and thick as the witching hour, go for the Papa Midnight Imperial Stout.
Orlando Brewing hosts live entertainment on its outdoor stage, including open mics to showcase your beer-influenced crooning. Orlando Brewing is in the SoDo District, just a bottle toss away from the historic Orlando Amtrak Station. It's open Monday through Thursday from 3 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 1 p.m. to midnight, and Sunday from 1 to 9 p.m.
Dead Lizard Brewing Co.
Hidden like a camouflaged chameleon among the gray warehouses of the 33rd Street Industrial Park is the Dead Lizard Brewing Co. Step inside to see this lizard's true colors, which range from straw yellow IPAs to dark brown stouts. The decor is mostly bare-bones concrete block, metal and ductwork, with a large window to see the brewing vats.
Most of Dead Lizard's beers are lizard-themed, of course, though very much alive with offerings like Komodo "KoKo" Dragon Chocolate Stout and Purple Skink IPA. For the adventurous palate, try the Key Lime Chameleon Cream-Sic-Ale (Nitro), which tastes like an offering from a beer-infused ice cream truck.
The brewery has live music inside the taproom on weekends for lounge lizards who like a little entertainment with their beverage. Dead Lizard is open Tuesday through Thursday from noon to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from noon to midnight, and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. It's closed Monday.
Ten10 Brewing Co.
Ten10 Brewing Co., a young brewery in the Mills 50 District north of downtown Orlando, is the epitome of a local spot and not just in the sense of patrons. The brewery prides itself on using local ingredients, sourced as nearby as next door.
[Read: The 6 Best Places to Shop in Orlando.]
The brewery belongs to a tightly knit business district. George Aguel, president and CEO of Visit Orlando, the area's official tourism organization, explains, "Ten10 Brewing uses a wide variety of ingredients from other local businesses and uses wine barrels from Quantum Leap Winery to ferment and age their beers." Ten10 Brewing reciprocates by serving Quantum Leap wines. It also donates spent grains to nearby small companies such as Gezellig Cookies and Olde Hearth Bread Co. Olde Hearth’s pretzel is on Ten10’s menu. Try it with the beer cheese.
Ten10 Brewing beers range from Black Bombers in the Night, a flavorful schwarzbier, to the powerful stout, The Lebanon. A favorite is Chronically Mismanaged, a coffee red ale but thankfully not the brewery's actual management style, as the staff is friendly and knowledgeable. Ten10 Brewing is open Sunday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Two Henrys Brewing Co.
If you're staying in the Disney Springs area and you're in love with breweries that incorporate history and local ingredients, drive about an hour due west to Two Henrys Brewing Co. in neighboring Plant City. Its namesakes, 19th-century railroad tycoons Henry B. Plant and Henry M. Flagler, opened up Florida to northern visitors. That railroad history is reflected in the town's name and the beer label.
The brewery is also a working blueberry farm, and the fruit figures into many of the brewery's beers and hard ciders, such as the seasonal Belleview Biltmore Blueberry Vanilla Wheat or the piquant Roasted Jalapeno Blueberry Porter.
"If you like blueberry and spicy beer, this is the place for you," says Richard Tribou, travel editor for the Orlando Sentinel. "If you're not sure, go and try one." If you're not a blueberry fan, there are plenty of other frothy options. The location is also home to Keel & Curley Winery, so nonbeer drinkers have options, with and without blueberries. Accentuate your buzz with live music every Friday and Saturday night. The brewery and winery tasting rooms are open Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Sea Dog Brewing Co.
Originating in Maine, Sea Dog Brewing Co. now has seven breweries across the continental USA, and one of them is conveniently 10 minutes outside Disney Springs on Palm Parkway.
[Read: 7 Great Orlando Theme Parks.]
Sea Dog brews in a traditional English style with English malted barley and British yeast to produce a variety of award-winning beers such as Windjammer Blond Ale, Bluepaw Blueberry Wheat Ale and the nautically named Old Gollywobbler Brown Ale.
Its plush mascot, Barney, a Great Pyrenees dog with a yellow sou'wester fishing hat, graces the logo and also appears in costume at the brewery, which fits well with the nearby theme park motif. Sea Dog is not on the Central Florida Ale Trail, but while on vacation, if your tail gets stuck in the "mousetrap," it's a refreshing nearby getaway.
Sea Dog is open Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to midnight, and Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to midnight.
To experience more of what Orlando has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.
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