By Bobby Bush
Airports are a necessary evil of air travel. Congested, expensive and always full of
people rushing to catch a plane that will most likely sit on the tarmac several hours before
taking off, there’s one airport that has become a beer hound’s haven. Orlando
International, gateway to Disney World and other family amusement destinations, hosts
one of the South’s best brewpub. Shipyard Brewing Company is the world’s first, and
so far only, airport microbrewery.
Englishman Alan Pugsley opened Federal Jack’s Brew Pub in Kennebunkport,
Maine back in 1993. Demand immediately exceeded supply, so Pugsley and partners
opened the second Shipyard facility in Portland the following year. In 1997 the Orlando
brewery and nearby pub (aren’t Florida alcohol laws fun?) opened with a 20 barrel
brewhouse and a steady flow of traffic through the Main Terminal.
So every trip to Orlando should start and end with great beer. Head brewer Ron
Raike and brewer George Murphy follow Shipyard’s delicious recipes to perfection.
Bartender Remo Romboletti does a fine job as well and is more than happy to share a taste
of his five brews. Goat Island Light was just that, a low alcohol (3.25%), low calorie but
flavorful ale. Export Ale, at 5.1% abv, was a “Canadian style ale of old.” Its clean crisp
taste come close to a hoppy pale ale. A 1988 English Champion Beer, Old Thumper Extra
Special Ale was a mild, fruity session beer with a pleasingly dry finish. An Irish Stout of
note, Blue Fin Stout, topped with thick brown foam above its dark body was thick, filling,
resembling a black walnut milkshake. Shipyard’s seasonal was Sirius Summer Wheat Ale,
a golden American-style wheat beer sporting a white, frothy head. Shipyard beers can
also be found at 35 other bars and restaurants scattered within a 50 mile radius.
What better way to start a trip to central Florida? Now, with a Sunday afternoon
to kill, and not much else of interest in Orlando, I struck out for the east coast city of
Melbourne. If you happen to take the correct route (toll road 528) the first time, the
sprawling barrier island town of Melbourne is only an hour or so away. But if you get
cute and spend time idling at stoplight after stoplight on construction-inundated Highway
192 through Kissimmee, it takes quite a while longer. And the scenery blows, mostly
construction and other irritated drivers like me.
But this particular trip held special meaning. Since my brewpub sleuthing days
began in the early 90s, I’ve anal-ly counted each one, keeping a record of each conquest.
As fate would have it this afternoon, Charlie & Jake’s BBQ & Brewery would make
number 400. That’s 400 US brewpubs and microbreweries in 26 states, not even
one-third of the total number of operating breweries, mind you, but noteworthy
Now that my chest thumping has caused some soreness and minor respiratory
problem, let’s move on to the real story here. Charlie & Jake’s opened in 1996 in a
neighborhood shopping center. The place reeked friendliness when I walked through the
door and pronounced this the vaunted number 400. Ouch, my ribs. Televised sports were
everywhere as transplanted folks from all states cheered on the favorite teams from afar.
Bartendress Stacey saw to my immediate needs. A sampler tray of seven beers, served in
tiny, straight glasses, was placed within arms length and my day began.
Brewer Cavanaugh Farr’s Wickham Wheat was American-style light, a good
session beer benefiting greatly from Cascade and Fuggles hops. Harbor City Gold, an
American Pilsner, complete with Saaz hops, had a surprisingly malty aftertaste while
Brown Bottom Ale was malty and offered a faint nutty flavor. Those three beers, along
with Indian River Red, comprise the four regular Charlie & Jake’s beers. As seasonals, I
tried Hog Heaven Hefeweizen, typically yeasty with unusual fruity body; the malty middle,
hoppy ending Gale Force Lager; and authentic Orbitor Oktoberfest.
My Bar-B-Q Turkey lunch was as delicious as the beer. Only one complaint- the
sampler glasses were too small. More, more, more.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush