Why I Fell in Love with the Central Florida Ale Trail

Sometime last year, my husband and I started going to breweries after we found out we were expecting. It’s not as weird as it sounds–breweries are like the less-caffeinated version of the coffee shop. People come in, they sip on something, and they often stay for hours. Some breweries have even turned into perfectly acceptable workspaces, and you can find people tapping away on their computers with an IPA next to them. For us, we wanted to get out and see as much as the Central Florida area as we could before a little one came along, so what better way to see the state than to tick off its breweries, one by one?

Central Florida has a couple of brew tour options in the way of the increasingly popular “ale trail” model. Though we’ve been following the stops in the Gulp Coast Passport (which covers the St. Pete/Clearwater/Tampa area) and the Central Florida Ale Trail (Orlando and the surrounding suburbs), there are plenty of ale trail options in the region. So far, we haven’t hit them all, and life has thrown us a lot of curveballs along the way, but we’re adjusting and ticking them off as we can. The maps are free, and you can pick them up at any one of the breweries on the trails. There are over twenty breweries on the Ale Trail, so you won’t run out of options quickly.

Central Florida Ale Trail map

Our adventures have taken us all over the region, from industrial complexes in the middle of nowhere to a farm with goats hidden off the highway to beachfront shops on the Gulf side to brew pubs and distilleries right down the street from our house. During my pregnancy, of course, Ryan did all the drinking, but plenty of the bars have excellent non-alcoholic options (my favorite is the organic ginger beer at 3Daughters in St. Petersburg, right across the street from the trendy vintage market hall, Brocante, which is only open the first weekend of every month). In what follows, I share a few of my favorite moments from our adventures together, which span the time before Riley to now, our new life with him.

Deadly Sins, sometime last year

At Deadly Sins, a relatively new brewery tucked into an industrial complex near downtown Winter Park, we sat at a table with a group of strangers. They were all high school teachers and coaches. We talked about education, we drank their light-bodied blonde ale and we played Cards Against Humanity. I think we even exchanged phone numbers in the hopes that we’d hang out again. Neither ever called the other, which probably never surprised either of us. It was perfect the way it was. I left happy and tipsy and satisfied with things. The house was dark and quiet when we got home, and I imagined life would always be this way.

Deadly Sins flight

Redlight Redlight, 6 months

For the first few months, we didn’t go to that many breweries. Life was just speeding by. But one sunny Sunday afternoon, I floated the idea of popping over to Redlight Redlight to get a stamp and do something fun to break up the day. The Redlight Redlight Beer Parlour, which opened long ago in 2005 and has an impossibly hard-to-read font above its door, is in an unassuming strip-mall in a suburb of Orlando called Audubon Park. Not much happened here that day, although I do remember that Ryan had a flight that featured their impossibly delicious saison, which is brewed with ginger. Though I don’t remember what we talked about, I remember we laughed a lot and left when the sun was setting.

Wolf Branch, 8 months

We had spent the day in Mount Dora, which is kind of a misnomer in Florida because there aren’t any mountains here. But it’s an adorable little town with a super-cute downtown full of antique stores, Cuban restaurants, and bars. We thought we might look for a one-of-a-kind dresser for Riley, but instead we ate Cuban sandwiches and ordered cappuccinos from a coffee shop on a side street. There weren’t any other patrons in the coffee shop, so we sat at a shabby-chic white bistro table and outlined our artistic goals for the summer. The barista loved to talk to us; he wouldn’t stop chatting us up about how good his Nitro cold brew coffee was. Neither of us ordered it, but he wasn’t too bothered since we left him a good tip when we left. We stopped at Wolf Branch, which is in downtown Eustis, on the way home. Ryan had a flight and then we walked across the street to the lake, where there was a children’s choir performing and a row of food trucks and carnival games. We watched the sun set behind the lake’s horizon.

Inner Compass Brewing Co, 1 week old

We were new parents. Really, really new parents. It had been a difficult week, the kind of week that turns your entire life upside down and makes you question every decision you’ve ever made about anything. We had had no sleep, still felt as if we had no idea what we were doing, and craved, secretly and then out-loud to each other, our old lives. We tried to blend both.

Ivanhoe Brewing Co,, Sanford, FL

We packed our new son up in his carseat, folded up his new stroller, went to his one-week-old checkup at the doctor’s office up north at Lake Mary, and then drove the short distance over to Sanford, where we stopped at Inner Compass. The brewery is tiny, with just a few seats inside at the bar and a few picnic tables with umbrellas outside. There, I had the first beer I’d had in over a year, and we toasted to surviving the zero week, days 1-7 of a new life. Riley slept the whole time and I remember feeling different because it was the first time I’d pushed a stroller around in public.

Ivanhoe Park Brewing Co, 3 weeks old

We went to Ivanhoe Park on a Friday afternoon a few weeks later. We wanted to feel like regular people again, so we decided to pack up the family and head out for a drink. We met a couple there with a sweet one-year-old boy who was playing with a rubber toy in his dad’s lap while his parents drank pints together. They came over to say hello to us, and congratulated us on getting out of the house with a newborn. We swapped parent stories. I’d never done that before. Before they left, wishing us well on our new journey, the mom told me I looked really great for just having had a baby. I had the Guavacation, a salmon-colored sour beer infused ever-so-slightly with guava juice.

Bear & Peacock, 2 months old

We used to go to Bear & Peacock all the time during our first two years in Florida. It’s walking distance from our house, after all–you just go down the brick-lined streets, cross behind the Winter Park tennis courts, pass over the train tracks, and voila! The grass we like to sit in is fake outside, but I actually love it because bugs don’t make the turf their home and it isn’t as itchy as regular grass. We had started settling into a routine by now, every few hours marked by a feeding or a nap or laundry, and we made plans to go to Bear & Peacock on a Saturday afternoon. By the time the afternoon rolled around, however, we realized we hadn’t done everything we needed to do and Ryan needed a nap and there were so many chores to be done and it was supposed to rain anyway. We decided we couldn’t make it happen. So instead I went out while Ryan was napping, bought a growler of Hopsta, one of my favorite IPAs in this region, and brought it home. We had our own happy hour on the front porch while Riley napped in the swing and the humidity rolled in.

So, compromise and flexibility–and doing our best to keep a tiny, tiny bit of who we were before. Two months in, that’s what I’m learning about parenthood.

All visits to the Florida breweries have been covered by the writer herself.

Post and photographs by Kristin Winet.

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