Great Orlando Beer Festival lives up to its name
It’s the mantra of the real estate industry, but “Location, Location, Location” applies equally well to a successful beer festival. The organizers of the Great Orlando Beer Festival took it to heart by staging the event in an absolutely gorgeous setting – Cranes Roost Park in the town of Altamonte Springs.
To be more precise, the park lies within Uptown Altamonte, a residential, commercial and recreational development conceived more than 20 years ago by Altamonte Springs city leaders. The festival itself took place on the shore of Cranes Roost Lake along a European-style plaza that’s part of a continuous mile-long walkway with benches and covered seating areas. The beer-sampling tents stretched two to three city blocks on one side of the plaza, facing the lake and an amphitheater on which bands played during the festival. On the lower walkway, joggers, fishermen, families and other “civilians” mingled with the festival-goers under a pleasantly overcast sky that kept the temperature comfortable and the heat exhaustion at bay.
But, what about the beer? Anchored on one end by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and on the other by Effinheimer Beer, brewed locally in Minneola, Florida, sampling tents were manned by volunteers and brewery reps pouring a plethora of craft brew freely into sample cups. I did not see a single beer from MillerCoors or ABInBev. Many of my favorites were there – Boulder Beer Co., Cigar City Brewing, Brooklyn Brewery, Dogfish Head and Rogue. Some of the new-to-me beers I sampled were from The Bruery, Palm Breweries and Swamp Head Brewery. I also tried and really enjoyed my first rye beer, in the form of Terrapin Beer Co.’s Rye Pale Ale. Here’s a list of the breweries in attendance, although I’m convinced there were more, or at least it seemed that way.
The Great Orlando Beer Festival benefited the Friends of Fleet Peeples Park. The nonprofit group formed several years ago to assist in the perpetuation of the designation of Fleet Peeples Park, in the nearby community of Winter Park, as a dog-friendly off-leash park. I spoke with Joseph Brock, a board director for the group who manned its booth most of the day. He told me of a long-standing dispute between park supporters and Winter Park city commissioners and others who wanted to cut back the area of the 23-acre park that is available for dogs to run and play sans leash. It seems the FFPP’s efforts are paying off, but as part of its endeavors to keep the off-leash area open for all to use, the group is running a capital campaign to raise $100,000 to improve the facilities.
Fleet Peeples, by the way, “was an extraordinary resident of Winter Park who devoted his life to teaching the children of Winter Park swimming and water safety. He was well known for his love of the outdoors and animals,” according to the group’s website.
On a side note, many beer festivals and events benefit nonprofits and other groups that try to make the world a better place. Be sure to stop by and talk to their reps, and maybe drop a little folding money into their donation jars.
My only criticism of the festival is the lack of food samples. I think the organizers should try to get some local eateries to represent next year. It helps festival-goers who might have ignored any advice to come with a full stomach, and also benefits the local economy when someone discovers a new restaurant and later visits it.
The flip side, though, is the one food sample at the fest came courtesy of The Copper Rocket Pub in Maitland, Florida. Deep … fried … wait for it … BACON! And two varieties were offered – plain and Buffalo-style. Of course, I opted for the latter with a side of blue cheese dressing. I washed it down with some of the Southhampton Publick House Double White being poured at the tent. A perfect combination.
There were also some food vendors selling wares down on the walkway. After a while I just HAD to eat, so I sauntered up to the booth run by Sloppy Taco Palace, an Orlando restaurant. Best Tacos EVER! Full of seasoned meat, cheese, fresh tomatoes and other that somehow blended into a burst of taco greatness. The next time I’m in that part of Orlando around meal time, or probably any other time, I’m definitely visiting. The good news for beer road trippers is that its menu features several fine craft brews, as well as a typical assortment of macrobrewery offerings.
If you plan on taking a Florida road trip for beer next year, be sure to pencil in this festival as part of your itinerary.
Check out more of my photos from the festival here.