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.
Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri - April, 1999
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