Jul 20, 2018

More Mid-Florida
September, 1999

By Bobby Bush

Florida has over 50 brewpubs, but it’s such a huge state, from Tallahassee to Key West, that you have to hit whatever’s near and hope to come back to another region on a future excursion.

My second stop in coastal Melbourne was not nearly as memorable as my first. Coasters Brewery opened in the Wal-Mart Plaza back in 1994. I doubt it’s been empty since. The place was jam packed, three deep at the bar. Televisions flickered on every available spot of wall. The dining tables were so crowded, people must have brought chairs from home.

What a shame for me (good for them), but there was no way I was going to enjoy this brewpub/tap room. In addition to 22 taps pouring domestics (budmillercoors), imports (Paulaner, Labatts, Tetley) and a few micros (Sierra Nevada, Samuel Adams), Coasters makes 1.5 barrel batches of their own beer. My fear increased after tasting Eau Gallie Golden Ale, a thin gold Bud-like ale with just a tad more hops character. Driftwood Pale Ale, with creamy (nitro?) head was thin with a sour bitterness that was not objectionable. Still somewhat leery, Dragon Point Porter was nearly perfect. Ah, its mahogany body was decked with thick brown foam, yielding strong roasted malt flavor and, appropriately, little bitterness.

Amidst the hullabaloo, with the porter in my hand, I noticed a small plaque upon the wall near my corner table: “I support the three basic food groups- bottle, can, keg.” Chuckling I left the Coasters din and headed back toward Orlando, seeking a renamed brewpub that I had visited some two years ago.

Once an old Mill Eatery, Bakery, Brewery, the revitalized Millennium brewpub, or so I assumed, was shuttered when I arrived. Its door, adorned with an official looking certificate, proclaimed its closure was necessary to “protect public health and safety.” I later heard that the new owners had added sushi to the brewpub’s menu and obviously failed miserably. Think of the possibilities: fresh beer and really fresh (er, smelly) fish.

Back to my Disney Resort hotel, I paraded over to Boardwalk to see how things were going at Big River Grille & Brewing Works, a Disney joint venture with Chattanooga, TN-based Big River. Although I’d visited this locale twice before, this particular stop was most enjoyable- it was not crowded, this being the rare, short-lived off-season. Having had all their beers previously, I went straight to dinner with a pint of Tilt Pale Ale, a likable session beer. Two vivacious young bartenders willingly answered my questions and provided tastes of their other beers. I chose to skip the feather weight Southern Flyer Light Lager, a tricycle brew, but found Gadzooks Pilsner smartly hopped and medium bodied. The seasonal Golden Lager was pils-like, a little lighter, I was told, than the regular Wowzer’s Wheat, which was not available at the time. Red Rocket Ale, copper in hue, was rich in hops flavor and bitterness, while the cask-conditioned Sweet Magnolia Brown, a ‘98 GABF gold medal winner, was malty and nutty, bolstered with sturdy hops effect.

Big River belies its fake fermenter sign near the entrance and sleek, metal-glass-concrete decor. Stop in when it’s not rush, rush and rush. You’ll find a friendly place with good beer and appetizing food. General manager Matt Easterly even invited me back to meet head brewer Geneiva McNeale. Hmm, a female brewer is a rare find indeed. I know of only three others, so....

I stopped by the next afternoon to interrupt young Geneiva in her brewing chores. She started in the industry as a lowly server at Big River’s Charlotte location, Rock Bottom, and worked her way up to brewer trainee before taking the brewer’s slot at the Greenville, SC Big River location. She been working Orlando’s ten barrel brewhouse since February, 1999. From her knee-high boots to the smile on her face, it was obvious she knew her system, and her beers, very well.

Geneiva does Mickey and Big River proud.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush


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