We recently visited what I would call a hidden gem, Orlando Brewing, just outside of the downtown Orlando area. They recently celebrated their 10th anniversary and are one of only a few certified organic hand crafted brewers in the country and currently the only one in Florida. They brew in accordance with the German Purity Law of 1516. Their ales range from light & easy-drinking IPA's to deep, dark, robust porters. The beer is fresh and never pasteurized.

Orlando Brewing began when a group of regulars bought the brewing equipment when their favorite microbrewery closed up. Originally they operated out of a store front surrounded by body shops, window tint shops, etc. They brewed their first batch on November 22, 2001. After a couple of years, as their following grew, they eventually grew out of that space and moved into their current location.

They are located in a warehouse district near the Orlando Amtrack station and a small sign by the road directs you to their tap room where you can sample their beers. They also offer great brewery tours, which I recommend, Monday through Saturday evenings at 6pm.

There were about 15 different beers on tap the evening that we were there and we enjoyed sampling several. All were what I would call well rounded beers and were very easy to drink. While there were what appeared to be a few tourists around the bar, there were also a number of local regulars who know a good thing when the see it. The atmosphere was lively in the well decorated room with music playing and the lights dimmed a bit. They have live entertainment on most weekends too.

We were surprised to find out that the bar staff takes the “will work for beer” saying to heart. The bartenders literally do just that (plus tips). We later found out that many of the folks working in the brewery are also volunteers who work for beer (and yeast in the case of the home brewers).

Gene, our tour guide and one of the owners, was very informative and interesting. Besides the usual brewing process speeches most tours provide, Gene explained how organic beers differ from the mass produced beers that you might find on your grocers shelves. He also went through the history of the brewery.

Even though you can find their beers in several hotels and bars around Orlando and Disney as well as most Orlando area ABC stores, I highly recommend taking a break from the parks and stopping by for a pint or two.

You can learn more about Orlando Brewing on their website.

Recently Suwannee Refugee sat down with Veronica Villines, owner of the Independent Tampa.

How did you choose Tampa as a second site for The Independent?
My former husband John Vellines and I opened up the Independent in downtown St Petersburg in April 2005. At that time St Petersburg had no specialty beer bars, so the place took off immediately. Shortly thereafter, we began looking for a second location, and were looking for locations in Tampa, Sarasota and Orlando as possibilities. John was running the bar and I was a full time attorney. I wanted to get out of the legal business and run the second location. Tampa was the best option being so close to St. Petersburg.

Why Seminole/Tampa Heights as the location as there are probably more profitable locations around Tampa?
The obvious option for the location for a bar in Tampa was of course South Tampa. However, I was bothered by the fact that South Tampa businesses had major issues with the residents regarding noise and parking. The area also has more of a younger, rowdier crowd than we normally cater to. I have alot of friends in Seminole Heights who are beer brewers and beer “geeks”. They kept telling us about how the area was starving for a neighborhood bar serving up craft beers. How could I argue with that? We found a perfect location, and voila! The neighborhood supports the business, and we are also getting alot of traffic from people coming to Seminole Heights as a destination (to check out The Independent, Refinery, and Ella’s Folks Art Cafe.

You have a large and eclectic beer selection. How did you choose only beer and not liquor or wine?
We lived in Munich Germany in the late 1990?s where we were immersed in the beer garden culture. After that, John was in the beer business (sales and marketing) in New York City working for a Belgian beer company, and then he sold craft beer when we moved to Florida. Therefore, we wanted to capitalize on his knowledge and enthusiasm for beer. I am also a wine lover, so we do have a selection of quality wines at both bars. We are not interested in selling liquor. I think it would distract from the main attraction, which is the BEER!

You food selection is also eclectic. What was your thoughts behind that?
I had never been in the restaurant business other than as a server (the St Petersburg Independent does not serve food), so I did not want to get in over my head. However, our semi remote location in Tampa dictates that we offer some food to our customers. When designing the menu, I wanted to keep it simple, focusing on quality, and I wanted the food to go with beer. The first things that came to mind were soft pretzels, cheese plates, bratwurst, etc. The sandwiches have evolved based on my staff input as well as the customers’ input. We get alot of compliments on the food, and our lunch business is picking up, so I think it is working out well. We just started doing beer dinners which I think we will do quarterly. Our last one was with Cigar City – featured five of their beers and we served up four courses specifically designed to compliment the beer.

What can you tell our readers about the Independent that they don’t already know?
Our mantra “Bieres, Vins, Music, Thought” means that we promote Independent beers (international and craft beer), Independent wines (small non-commerical vineyards), Independent music (ecclectic music such as Indie, jazz, world, bluegrass and alt country) and Independent thought – we have tried to create an atmosphere promotes conversation.

There are so many weekly and monthly events happening at the Independent Tampa site, like dart tournaments, first Saturday Jazz, and third Sunday Bluegrass to name a few.

Written by Suwannee Refugee
http://suwanneerefugee.com

We pulled up to Little Giant Brewing Company, which is currently located in an industrial area of Sarasota. The Brewer/Proprietor, Mike Wagner, was discussing his latest brew in process with a couple of guys from the local homemade sausage company, Geier Sausage Company.

Mike is definitely running a true startup brewery – what every guy dreams of, and the type of place where one feels instantly at home. But Mike is no home brewer. He studied at the prestigious Siebel Institute, followed by work and further study in Germany from some of the “big boys” in the industry. Also, being from the Chicago, Mike has an excellent background in brewing, including a stint at Tampa Bay Brewing coming, before he finally ventured on his own.

He plans to expand into a new location soon – adjacent to the local baseball stadium. Imagine how cool it will be to pull into his tasting room, attend a spring training game, and then follow it up with a celebratory round at Little Giant’s tasting room.

The brewing style of Little Giant is traditional and quaffable – Mike wants to make beer where people will want to drink not just one, but enjoy it all evening. You may not find the wacky and crazy here, but you are guaranteed to find something you really want another one of – and now.

On our visit, we had the opportunity to sample their Overhead Peeler Porter, a British-style robust porter, as well as MacDaddy’s - an excellent Scotch Ale. What struck us the most is the drinkability of beer – it was hard not to go back for another. While we enjoyed his beer, Mike was hard at work brewing an Alt beer – again in traditional style.
Today, Little Giant Brewery gives tours and is available at select events. Mike is looking forward to opening the new location, which will offer a hospitality room, and full retail services, including growlers and kegs.

The passion of Little Giant Brewery is obvious – not just in the quality of the beer but also in the spirit of what a small brewery should be – true to the spirit of brewing and more interested in beer than anything else. And the end of the day, all that truly matters is the quality of what ends up in the glass.

Slainte.

The recently opened Gainesville House Of Beer is just what Gainesville needed: a craft beer bar that focuses on draft beers. While the bottle menu is very nice, the main attraction is the impressive 40 taps. Among the 40 taps are beers from local breweries such as Swamp Head, St. Somewhere, Cigar City, Bold City, Inlet Brewing, and Florida Beer Company. From there, the selection expands across the United States and the globe. The four taps dedicated to pouring nitro beers is also very impressive. The other 36 taps are always rotating and have enough variety to keep any beer geek happy. You can even sample any of the beers on draft before diving into a pint of it.

The atmosphere is very nice and relaxing. There are plenty of tables and seating along with a nice sized bar. The walls are covered in beer décor and the six TV’s make it an excellent spot to watch your favorite team while enjoying some great craft beers. The bartenders are very knowledgeable about all the beers they carry and make sure to serve you in the proper glassware. They do not have a kitchen but sell pretzels, chips, and peanuts for you to snack on. Additionally you can bring in your own food or order from one of the many nearby restaurants that will deliver it there for you.

Their prices are some of the lowest in town and they have great specials all of the time. Overall a great beer bar that does everything right, I will definitely be back multiple times.

Submitted by William Deloach

Titanic Restaurant & Brewery is located on the edge of both Coral Gables and South Miami, next to the University of Miami. Titanic is a combination of a microbrewery, a restaurant, and a showcase for live entertainment.

The interior has a nautical theme featuring dark woods and deep colors. Posters and pictures of the Titanic are featured on the walls. TVs are mounted throughout the interior for the sports fan.

We recently made a stop at World of Beers in Sarasota. While they have a large selection of bottled beers, they have quite a few interesting brews on tap.

World of beer doesn't serve food however there is a pizza place 2 doors down that delivers there and we noticed several customers who had ordered in takeout.

I learned a valuable lesson recently. We all get into ruts and it’s difficult to venture out of our safe zones. While there is nothing wrong with sticking to what works and makes you happy, it’s a big world out there and there is a lot to be gained from expanding your safe zone.

Jacksonville has been on of those cities that I visit once or twice a year but have never really worked to find any of the hidden gems. When we are there, we primarily stick to the western side of town since that’s where we’re working and staying. Just like other places that we visit, we’ve developed a list of a few places to eat and we’ll hit them visit after visit.

This year, we got out of our comfort zone and experienced some really cool spots to grab a bite and/or a beer. Thanks to a combination of Twitter and Google, we found plenty of places that we had never visited before.

One of these spots was Brewers Pizza in Orange Park. I’ve driven past it a bunch of times since it opened a couple of years ago. We noticed the sign last year but never stopped, figuring that we’d hit them “next time.” If you’re anything like me, “next time” is synonymous with “one of these days.” That really translates to mean that something has to happen to cause me to break my regular routine first. Had a Twitter friend not mentioned it, it probably would still be in the “next time” bucket.

By pure coincidence, that same Twitter friend happened to be at Intuition Ale Works the following evening while we were there. She gave us a few recommendations, some of which were on our radar and some completely new to us. We ended up eating at one of them, Kickbacks Gastropub.

Another great place that we happened upon was Bold City Brewery. It’s a fun place to hang out and coincidentally, we ran into folks that we talked with a couple of nights earlier at Intuition.

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