This just in: Orlando's craft beer scene has improved drastically in the last few years.
Yes, Orlando's burgeoning stable of craft beer bars and brewpubs makes the news so often that "news" may not be the right word for it anymore. Some might even feel the constant backslapping over how good – even great – our city's beer scene has become is a little bit trite. A true craft-brew hub would be more demure about its beer bona fides, right?
But many of us beer geeks remember those dark days of ordering an IPA at Miller's Ale House, only to be greeted with a bartender's blank stare until we sighed, ordered a Coke and accepted diabetes' trembling embrace because Bud Light just wasn't an option. Never forget how far Orlando has come, local hopheads. Never.
It's in that spirit that we call attention to the splendid neigh-brew-hood quietly forming along Virginia Drive. The Mills 50 district is certainly no stranger to the drinking and nightlife sections of Orlando's newspapers and magazines, but you may have missed the latest additions and goings-on.
There's the Brass Tap at Mills Park, satisfying the sports-hungry with a phalanx of plasma TVs and scores of craft beers on draft. There's that burgers-and-brews stalwart, the Hideaway, and there's Nora's Sugar Shack for your six-pack and bomber pick-ups. The Thirsty Topher's petrified oak bar has been the gold standard for craft beer this side of Corrine Drive.
And of course there's Virginia's shiny new toy, Ten10 Brewing. Since the brewery's soft opening this past summer, head brewer and owner Mike Wallace has built an impressive lineup of beers – mango IPAs, altbiers, red ales – and an even larger local following.
"The response has been great. We could barely keep enough beer flowing at first, but now we're in a groove," Wallace says. "Opening a brewery has been my dream since I was in high school home-brewing with my friends."
This cluster of businesses provides craft-beer lovers with myriad options within walking distance to get their suds on. According to Thirsty Topher co-owner Ron DiDonato, that bar-to-bar hoppability has been sorely lacking in Orlando's neighborhoods.
"Virginia Drive's a safe, relaxed, yet fun little strip," DiDonato says. "People around here have wanted an alternative to downtown for a good time for a while. Ever since we opened Topher, we've wanted this neighborhood to become that place."
DiDonato and company may be closing shop on Alden Road on Nov. 15, but that's only to move closer to their peers: The Thirsty Topher will reopen next year at 601 Virginia Drive.
"We love this neighborhood, this street – everyone's been so welcoming to us," DiDonato says. "It's not a cutthroat environment; we aren't competing for anything. We take care of each other. We all support each other."
DiDonato believes Virginia Drive's best days are still to come.
"Orlando's going to become the Nashville of craft beer in the South," DiDonato says. "And Virginia will be the backbone of that scene."
So keep your eyes peeled, Orlando beer nerds. The suds, they are a-changin'.
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