Big Belly Brewery

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A coaster's throw from the overhead arch marking Orlando's Church Street tourist Mecca lies Big Belly Brewery. Sandwiched on the second floor above long-time downtown draw Chillers and beneath the swaying palms of Latitudes Rooftop Grille, Big Belly is Florida's latest contribution to the craftbrewing scene. Both stairs and elevator lead to the center of the narrow, open room. At the left extreme, raised above the surroundings, lies the glass-walled Newlands Systems International (NSI) brewhouse, its four stainless steel fermenters with their copper bands shining brightly under the lights. Beyond the stacks of Briess malt, just past the cigarette machine, stands the small bar flanking a row of 18 tap handles. Faded red brick walls create a weathered, rustic look, contrasting slightly with the presence of the occasional silent TV and the pervasive Rock & Roll tunes from above. The dark wooden floors support small lacquered wooden tables across the center lounge area and lead to the small dining nook on the right. Narrow windows offer a view of the Church Street activities below and are a source of the scant natural light to reach inside. Natural dark-wood rafters span the space above, supporting tin ducting and electric fans. Among the bench seating and the tall tables beckons a shuffleboard table, directly adjacent to a wall-size mural of a Jack Daniel's label. A wooden barrel filled to the brim with peanuts provides a popular accompaniment to the tasty brews, as evidenced by the crunchy remains scattered abundantly over the floor below.

The Big Belly Blonde is a clear straw color with a very light, slight sweet malty flavor where just a hint of hops come through in the waning finish. The light body makes it very easy-drinking for newcomers to craftbeer and the crispness causes it to stand out from the bland adjunct beers commonly found throughout this peninsula. The Fat Amber appears clear amber in color with a rich, malty flavor that starts caramel sweet, moderated by a dry, chocolate-like character that leads finally to the mildly hoppy aftertaste. The Big Ass Brown sports a fine, creamy head over its clear, light-brown body. The maltiness begins in the aroma and carries into the flavor, accompanied by a smooth mouthfeel. The flavor balance shifts as the chocolate begins to come through and it finishes slightly dry. The bar is open from 4:30 PM through 2 AM daily.

The food menu revolves around appetizers, all of which are half-price during the 4:30 to 7:30 PM happy hour. Along with Chips & Salsa, Spinach and Artichoke Dip, and Quesadillas, are the thick-crusted Gourmet Pizzas. The kitchen is cranking from 5 PM 'til 1 AM. Smoking is allowed throughout the establishment and although the refrigerated air offers plenty of circulation there is little ventilation. For $3.95, the three six-ounce sampler set in pilsner-style glasses is a good starter. After that, the beers arrive in chilled pint glasses. Thankfully, its the music and not the televised golf that sets the mood inside - shorts are in, plaid is out! Opened less than one month, word is just now getting out about downtown Orlando's only brewpub (excluding Hops). The last of the Mill brewpubs has ceased brewing and is now disposing of its brewing system. Don't rely on others for help locating Big Belly, the Church Street "information" booth 50 feet away could offer no information on the existence of the cities latest attraction. The owners have operated the Chillers bar at this location for seven years, with a half dozen others scattered around Florida. This experiment with flavorful, albeit subdued, craftbrew is a welcome addition to the beer scene of the Sunshine State. All the house beers succeed in giving customers more flavors than they're used to finding in beers around central Florida. Time will tell how successful Big Belly will be in differentiating itself with the daiquiri bar above and the Wednesday "nickel beer night" crowds below. I recommend grabbing a few draughts and heading up the stairs to watch the sunset from the torch-lit rooftop deck with its rattan patio furniture. An experience so enjoyable, it must be against some Florida law.

Photos by Tom Ciccateri & Kim Linder

Big Belly Brewery
33 W. Church St.
Orlando, FL 32801
407-649-4270
map


Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri - April, 1999

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