Atop the heap of escalating Orlando beer destinations in the neighborly Audubon Park Garden district lies REDLIGHT REDLIGHT CRAFT BEER PARLOUR, an indisputably inspirational guiding light for the Sunshine State’s latent craft beer revolution. Making its inconspicuous debut inside a downtown Winter Park second-floor hole-in-the-wall in 2005, this intriguing beer pub truly welcomed Central Florida to America’s growing cultural movement.
Formerly a dormant ‘beer scene’ dominated by cheap Bud-Coors-Miller grub, forward-thinking owner, Brent Hernandez, changed the entire scope of business by allowing Floridians to discover craft beer at reasonable prices. Taking its name from Amsterdam’s famous De Wallen-based red light district (where sex shops, peep shows, coffeehouses and marijuana boutiques thrive), the dankly pristine premise also has a rustic pre-prohibition ambiance.
Occupying an unfinished maroon-walled concrete-floored roadhouse mall since 2012, the highly praised Redlight Redlight made Draft Magazine’s 100 Best Beer Bar list recently. Its aquamarine-lettered signpost and neon beer insignia’s (Cigar City, Sweetwater, Anchor Steam, Victory, Brooklyn, Founders, Wittekerke) adorn the unassuming glass-fronted white exterior. Inside, the raw industrial space is consumed by exposed beams, ducts and pipes.
Featuring 23 draughts and a leather-back menu loaded with 300-plus exclusive international bottled beers, its roomy 20-seat, concrete-topped, J-shaped bar gets packed slowly during my initial twilight rampage in mid-December ’13.
Enthusiastic beer slinging manager, Teege Braune, twice voted Orlando’s best bartender, serves as convivial host by pouring two interesting Belgian strong ales and one wintry German dunkel (reviewed fully in Beer Index) to this perusing northerner. His knowledge of fine wine and beer cannot be underestimated. A snarky poster next to my left side bar stool provocatively boasts “Fuck Art This Is Red Light,” a marvelously snide interjection that’ll form the context of this establishment’s daringly independent vibe and the basic sarcastic attitude surrounding the first beer I’ll drain as the moon comes up ’round 6 PM.
As my lips get captivated by the first drops of To Ol’s ultra-dry saison, Fuck Art This Is Architecture (Belgian Pale Ale), with its soured yellow fruiting and herbaceous brettanomyces-affected barnyard funk, Braune lets it be known that Redlight Redlight plans to use the mezzanine space above the bar for a small upstairs brewing operation. And a veritable cornucopia of beer styles are expected to be crafted.
While thoroughly enjoying an ’Immaculate’ hybridized collaboration called Cathedral Square/ He’Brew St. Lenny’s Belgian Strong Ale, with its candi-sugared yeast picking up tangy IPA-like pineapple, grapefruit and orange juicing over peppery hop resin, the beer-centric Braune points to the nearby Randall system. As it turns out, on the last Monday of every month, the pressurized cylinder gets used to infiltrate tapped beers with fresh adjuncts. Recently, Breckenridge Vanilla Porter was put thru crushed-up ginger snap cookies and made quite an impression.
Peter Bjorn & John’s melodically whistled pop gem, “Young Folks,” plays loudly as I consume Weissenohe Monk’s Christkindl Dunkel, a German dark wheat ale layering musky tobacco-roasted earthen rusticity above molasses-buttered nutbread and muted fruitcake illusions.
Though I’ll likely never find half the vintage one-off international bottled selections available, it’s good to see Florida no longer lacks serious craft beer enthusiasts. Hipster beer geeks unite!