The 13th Annual American Craft Beer Week, a celebration of U.S. small and independent craft brewers, takes place this year from May 14-20. It's an opportunity for brewers to share their diversity, creativity, passion, and of course beer, with ale aficionados across the country. Central Florida hasn't always been a hub for craft beer, but the growing number of fantastic nearby breweries have become an undeniable force in the local bar and liquor markets. Orlando's Craft Beer Week specials end this year with Beer 'Merica, an Orlando Weekly event showcasing the rising stars of the industry. Here's a closer look at some of the breweries you can find at Beer 'Merica.
Bringing Craft Beer to Conway
Historically, the intersection of Curry Ford and Conway roads wasn't a hotspot for unique nightlife or dining experiences. Recent restaurant and bar additions have kicked the neighborhood's cool quotient up a notch, but one bar has been quietly adding craft beers and cementing its status as the neighborhood hangout for five years. Established in 2013 by lifetime Conway resident Tracy Cehovin and her husband, Roque Pub sought to add some flavor to the local taps.
"Ten years ago it was really hard-pressed in our neighborhood to go out and get a good glass of wine or a craft beer," says Cehovin. "And when we opened we wanted to create a place where everybody could hang out, whether you're drinking a really amazing Belgian beer or a PBR or a special release from a local brewery."
Roque is also committed to staying in touch with the community its owners were raised in. "One of our big philosophies is being able to stay in touch with all our local schools and charity organizations, and staying local and supporting neighborhood businesses," Cehovin states. It's an outlook that's served Roque well and is expressed in their comprehensive menu—there's a beer for everyone, from light domestic cans to full-bodied IPA drafts.
The future for Roque Pub—and the evolving Conway corridor—looks bright. "People are always going to drink beer. That is not a fad that has ever died or ever will die," stresses Cehovin. "People just now are discovering that there are a million beers out there and there's always a beer for your taste, no matter what you're drinking."
Deadly Sins Brewing:
Hedonistic Hops from the Heart
Tom Adams was homebrewing for years before the idea for Deadly Sins Brewing took hold. Cross-country trips with his girlfriend, a fellow homebrewer, allowed him to experience a wide variety of beers using different brewing methods and distinct flavor profiles. By the time their cleverly named brewery opened its doors in 2016, Adams was ready to put his brewing heart on his sleeve and commit to quality beers that were a true labor of love.
"We put a lot of thought into the name and thought process, and we're trying to make really outstanding beer, not just creating run-of-the-mill stuff to get it out there," says Adams. "Once I get my feet underneath us, we'll do a special release of each of the Deadly Sins. So you'll have a Lust, a Wrath, an Envy ... we didn't want to erode that theme, so we'll release them on a yearly basis."
Deadly Sins already offers excellent beers that are worth a second swig. Their flagship juicy IPA is called The Grove, and it's a citrus-forward, easy-to-drink IPA. Their Berliner Weisses have been popular now that summer is heating up, and their cheekily-named Sidechick Blonde is another easy-drinking blonde ale.
Adams is a fan of his own beers, but he encourages Central Floridians to drink locally as much as possible: "The beer that you're going to have at the brewery is the freshest and best quality that you'll get anywhere. There are great brands from Cali and the Northeast, but I don't think people have embraced local brews as much. So that's what I hope we can drive towards, especially for Craft Beer Week."
Orange County Brewers:
Hip Beers in the Heart of Downtown
Downtown Orlando is known for its boozy block-rager weekends, dance clubs, and fine dining, but for a long time downtown nightlife didn't party with uniquely brewed beer. Michigan native Jeremy Roberts changed all of that when he moved to Florida and teamed up with Brewmaster Amanda Roberts, who cut her teeth on an apprenticeship at Sea Dog Brewing Co. and has been whipping up tasty suds ever since.
Some of Orange County Brewers' standout beers include the top-selling Ultimate Warrior Citra IPA, the Gangster Love Double IPA, their unique Green Tea IPA that blends green tea and orange peel for an earthy balance, and their Perculator milk stout—cleverly named after the '90s hip-hop anthem "Regulate."
Downtown was once a craft beer desert, but brewing expertise and one-of-a-kind blends make Orange County Brewers a true oasis for IPAs and beyond.
Ocean Sun Brewing:
True-to-Style Beers on the Central Florida Ale Trail
Five-year-old brewpub Ocean Sun Brewing was already on the map a year ago as an Orlando beer destination. Their commitment to serving clean, simple beer without the trappings of complex fruit flavors or intense barrel aging gave them a strong foothold within their brewing niche. Their beer's simplicity and quality has helped them convert more than one hesitant patron to a craft beer believer, and over the past year Ocean Sun has seen more and more of their beers distributed at venues around the city. The addition of the Central Florida Ale Trail—a map of notable local breweries that lager lovers can follow to discover new destinations—has helped the Orlando brewing community grow together and connect with other people who share their love of kicking back with a cold one. Ocean Sun Brewing generally releases one new beer per month, so there will be no shortage of options for you to sample when you stop into their Curry Ford location.
Turning Domestic Draught Fans into Craft Beer Buffs
When Anup Jetwha moved from Kenya to Kissimmee in 2012, he saw a void in his local liquor stores—they had dangerously low levels of craft beers. So he grabbed the opportunity to stand out and started a store that supplied a wide collection of craft beers, from local brews to imports to international specialties. Jetwha's sharp eye for business was on target, and his own love of trying new beers has earned him a client base that trusts his taste.
When choosing beers for his store, Jetwha prefers smaller craft breweries that produce unique flavor profiles over their larger competitors. He's sampled 95 percent of all the beers in Partin Liquors himself, giving him an especially refined beer palate that helps him match customers to their new favorite drink. He also does special orders for clients so they can have far-away favorites for their next party.
For Craft Beer Week, Partin Liquors drops the price of higher-end six packs to encourage domestic light beer drinkers to try something new without the sticker shock. Jetwha also has collaborations with bourbon heavyweight Knob Creek and other local Orlando breweries on the horizon, so keep an eye out for big things from this small craft beer store.
Dead Lizard Brewery:
Alive and Well with the Central Florida Brewers Guild
The team at Dead Lizard Brewery and Taproom has scurried up the brewery ladder and enjoyed increased distribution since last year's Craft Beer Week. They're still making waves at their Taproom with more than ten original brews at a time, as well a specially featured Beer of the Week. A popular recent addition is their 3-2-1 Liftoff Light, a honey kolsch that's easy on the palate and perfect for summer. Aside from personal growth, Dead Lizard has noticed and appreciated the expansion and greater organization of Orlando-area breweries.
"The Central Florida Brewers Guild has gotten a lot more organized over the last year," says Dead Lizard owner Patricia Dine. "Craft beer is definitely still growing. We've seen a huge explosion with everybody cooperating with new breweries who are trying to get up and running, sharing resources and helping everybody."
Dine wouldn't have it any other way. "We've been welcoming them and letting them know: the more, the merrier. The more breweries you get in a certain area, the more you draw people in and create a destination." We'll cheers to that.
Food & Beer Pairings in Southwest Orlando
Bloodhound Brew was a late-night DJ and drinking hotspot until an enterprising family saw room for something more and purchased the space last year. Gavin Patel and his family flipped the bar toward craft beer and food pairings, bringing in new customers with healthy appetites.
Their location in Orlando spurred a lot of the change that Patel and his family made. "We're down by the theme parks, so we have a very diverse potential customer base with all of the tourists," says Patel. "A lot of the big chains in Orlando will have more standard, mass-market taps, but we have 30 draft lines and another 30 or 40 in bottles and cans, so we can focus a bit more on some of these great craft beers." Bloodhound also has a full menu of fresh food made in-house, including steak, crab legs, lamb, and more—all just waiting to be paired with the perfect specialty brew.
Some of Bloodhound's best-selling drafts are Kona Big Wave, Purple Skink by Dead Lizard, Jai Alai by Cigar City, and rotating varieties of Sweetwater, but their extensive tap selections mean new beers are coming in all the time. Stop by this family owned and operated spot, and you might find yourself hanging out near those theme parks a little more often.
The Lucky Lure:
The Quirky Ivanhoe Bar That Could
"Everybody thought we were nuts," laughs Mike Blaise, co-owner of The Lucky Lure. "Too far north of downtown, too far south of Winter Park. No air-conditioning. No parking."
That list would send most Florida bar owners screaming for the hills, but Blaise and the rest of the Lucky Lure team believed in their concept and in their neighborhood. "When people realized what we were doing during the construction process we'd have all kinds of people from the neighborhood coming by, walking their dogs and checking on it, cheering us on, and we got quite a support group that way."
The Lure's unique outdoor-only space can get hot, but it provides an opportunity for refrigerated, canned craft beers to really shine. "We're probably the bar in Orlando with the largest canned beer selection," says Blaise. "A few years back there was a stigma with canned beers, then all the craft brewers started doing it. We offer close to 100 different beers, and most of them are craft beer."
Blaise and his team gain a lot from the friendly relationships they've cultivated with their beer reps and customers, lending an open ear to patron requests and giving their reps the freedom to suggest whatever fascinating flavors they come across.
The Lucky Lure is one of the Beer 'Merica After Party hosts on May 19th. But they're worth checking out anytime, says Mike Blaise, as long as you're ready to relax: "It's a good place to melt the stress away. Come enjoy our vibe, and bring your vibe with it."
The Hammered Lamb:
From Six Tap Brews to Craft Beer Leaders
The Hammered Lamb is one of Orlando's must-see bars. From their inventive food menu to their infamous Brunch Bloody Mary Bar to their gorgeous outdoor patio overlooking Lake Ivanhoe, it's no wonder that they frequently have a line falling out the door. But The Hammered Lamb has also kept up with the craft beer times, responding to customer requests for a larger variety from smaller breweries. Five years later, they are now up to twenty taps solely dedicated to craft beer.
"A lot of our regulars know that we have a pretty good beer selection, so we have been attracting people who like beer," says Hammered Lamb owner Jason Lambert. "We've hired a pretty knowledgeable beer staff over the last couple of years, so we have guys that are really into beer and know what to bring in."
Lambert and his team's hard work is paying off: "Our craft beer sales have gone up, so I order more of those now. It's definitely a plus for us," he says.
The Hammered Lamb is one of the Beer 'Merica After Party locations on May 19th. Special brews from the event will be available on tap, so it's just a stroll across the street to keep the Craft Beer Week fun flowing.