If you’ve visited Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom over the past couple of years, you may have noticed something a little … unusual … and I’m not talking about the ghost of deceased welder “George” on the Pirates of the Caribbean experience. Whereas you might have watched your dad sip on a cold, familiar Bud when you trekked to Orlando a kid, now you can stroll into bars like Leaping Horse Libations or the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and order beers with names like Funky Buddha Floridian Hefeweizen, Cigar City Florida Cracker Belgian-style White Ale and 3 Daughters Beach Blonde Ale.
These beers all originate within about three hours’ drive time from the Magic Kingdom and pretty much sell as fast as breweries can make them. Their inclusion at the world’s most popular theme park (as well as the hotels, restaurants and attractions that service it) marks a major shift in Florida’s beer landscape and indicates an embrace of Florida craft beer that seemed practically foreign at a place like Epcot just a few short years ago.
“Florida was always known as a beer wasteland,” says KC Sentz, co-owner of the fantastically popular Oakland Park craft brewery Funky Buddha.
But now, “Everybody’s opening their eyes to what this new world of craft beer can be,” says KC’s brother, Ryan Sentz, who owns the operation with him.
In less than five years, the local and national reputation of the Florida beer scene has gone from non-existent to cult-like. At least two Florida beers (Cigar City Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout and Funky Buddha Maple Bacon Coffee Porter) are among the most sought-after in the country, and when you travel around Florida’s 183 licensed breweries, you’re likely to hear the same refrain: Florida is America’s fastest-growing state for craft breweries. Though the Florida Brewers Guild can only confirm that with no more than 25 breweries in 2007 and slightly more than 50 in 2013, it’s “one of the fastest,” the distinction is somewhat insignificant when you consider the bigger picture: something is happening in Florida and it’s not only unprecedented locally but unique.
“A lot of national brewers are skipping states to get into Florida,” says Cigar City COO Justin Clark. “They see this is a state worthy of putting resources into.”