By Bobby Bush
There are brewpubs in old churches, brewpubs in bowling alleys and brewpubs in defunct banks. But there's only one brewpub in an active US airport. Founded in the 19th century shipyard town of Kennebunk, Maine back in 1992, Shipyard Brewing Company prospered, growing to the point that a 100 barrel brewery was established in 1994 in Portland, Maine just to keep up with demand. In '97, under the guidance of owner Fred Forsley and brewmaster Alan Pugsley, Shipyard reached far south to Orlando, Florida to establish their third brewpub. And Florida native Ron Raike was just the man to make it work.
Feeling trapped in a University of Central Florida computer engineering masters program, Raike suddenly took a mid-term left turn into brewing. He's had no reason to look back. Crowned the Southeast's Homebrewer of the Year in 1995-96, brewing came much more naturally to Ron than 0s and 1s.
With Ron as its first and only brewer, The Shipyard Brew Pub, opened in 1997. Technically a microbrewery with an adjacent pub, Florida's arcane beer laws require that kegs be transported downtown to a distributor and then back to the terminal bars. In spite of all that wasted effort, Shipyard thrives in the hectic airport environment. Working with a 20 barrel system, Ron keeps five beers on tap at The Shipyard Pub, which is just across the tiled hallway from the glass-walled brewery in terminal A, and Shipyard Brewport in terminal C.
Four of the five beers are Shipyard standards. Shipyard Export, the bar's best seller, is a medium bodied, sweet foretasting and low bitter finishing American Golden Ale. Light Ale is just that, light and an interesting bicycle beer. Old Thumper, judged the 1988 English Supreme Champion beer, is brewed with a recipe licensed from England's award-winning Ringwood Brewery. It is an enticing hybrid, falling somewhere between an English Strong Ale and an ESB, while Bluefin Stout, served nitro creamy, is a smooth, dark and foreboding classic Irish stout. Seasonals include an American Wheat-style Summer Ale, Fuggles IPA, UK-style Shipyard Brown Ale and the stronger, dark Winter Ale. Shipyard brewed just over 1000 barrels in each of the last two years.
Unfortunately, personable bartender Remo was taking the day off when I visited, but young Brett was performing a credible feat before a busy lunch crowd. I caught Ron in the brewery just before he and co-owner Forsley, down from Portland, headed out to look at possible sites for the brewery. Shipyard's lease expired and a downtown move is inevitable. No more airport brewery, but there will still be great beer in Orlando. [Right now (June 2002) its there via the Portland, Maine mother microbrewery].
Big Belly, a downtown establishment, ceased brewing in early January. Excusing a few scattered Hops brewpubs, there's one more Orlando brewpub of note. Big River Grille & Brewery on Disney's Boardwalk has a new brewer since my last visit. Geneiva McNeale departed about five months prior. Based on the beer on hand and a quick conversation with her replacement, Rich Michaels, Big River is in good hands. Rich began brewing professionally in 1994 in Troy, NY before moving to Founders Brewing in Grand Rapids three years later.
He's made the Chattanooga-based corporation's standard recipes taste pretty darn good. Southern Flyer Light Lager is crisp, sharp and the brewpub's best seller. Gadzooks Pilsner is hoppier, while Rocket Red Ale is malty with floral Cascades hops effect. Sweet Magnolia Brown (chocolate and toffee flavors) and Tilt Pale Ale (earthy with semi-bitter aftertaste) round out the tap selection. Tilt Cask - smooth, milky and hoppy - was a pleasant surprise, especially for a real beer-challenged, tourist town like Orlando.
I've said it before, but it bears repeating. There's more to Orlando than Disney World. Drink good beer while the kids go Goofy.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush