You’ve heard of beer and food pairings. How about beer paired with authentic Florida experiences? Join us as we explore the state through the flavors of Florida’s craft beer culture.
By Stephen Kubiak
Just 20 miles away from fantasy of Walt Disney World and metropolis of Orlando, Winter Garden is a world apart. It’s a sleepy Central Florida town where cyclists quietly glide by on the West Orange Trail bisecting the downtown area and day shoppers walk along Plant Street looking for deals. It’s a place that owes its existence to citrus, but what’s left of that industry is entombed at the Winter Garden Heritage Museum.
Three locals with pride for their small town’s heritage and charm have cultivated a new product made with water, barley and hops to lure visitors to the area.
“When people think of the Orlando area, they tend to overlook Winter Garden,” said Ryan Gossett, assistant general manager at Crooked Can Brewery.
Opened in 2015, Crooked Can has helped revitalize Winter Garden, making it a destination for those looking to slow down, take it easy and have a great beer. The love of beer not only inspired the brewery founders, but the brewery’s quirky name - which they came up with over a couple of cold ones.
“When working on all of these plans and ideas for a brewery, you tend have a few beers,” said Gossett with a smile. “When that happens, things tend to get a little crooked.”
The “can” in Crooked Can comes from fact that the brewery uses only cans and kegs, with the rare exception of limited bottled releases, in its beer production. Canning, Gossett notes, is the best way to protect beer from light and oxygen.
Crooked Can Brewery, with its mascot “McSwagger,” were born with a little help from the city.
“Winter Garden was very supportive,” said Gossett. “The city helped turn what was basically an old abandoned apartment complex into something inviting, something that would create and generate more buzz for the city.”
That buzz has helped bring beer aficionados to the city, but has also exposed locals to craft beer.
“You get a lot of locals in here because the brewery has become the new ‘local bar,’” said Gossett. “They come in and they don’t understand that the beer is brewed here, that it’s locally made, it’s craft. One thing I love about my job is how much education is put into what we’re doing.”
And you’ll need a little education, or a beer flight that comes in its own airplane-shaped tray, when perusing the brews, as there are plenty of styles to get you crooked.
High Stepper, a hoppy American IPA, and McSwagger’s Own, an American Amber, are two of the brewery’s most popular brews that are canned for distribution. For a truly local taste, the Citrus Kicker IPA highlights Winter Garden’s citrus roots by adding local orange and grapefruit zest in order to bring out the citrus notes of the hops. The brewery also puts out limited edition bottle releases, like their potent Bourbon Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout.
Being a young brewery hasn’t stopped Crooked Can from popping up in some high-profile places. Restaurants at Disney Springs, like Morimoto Asia and Ragland Road, seasonally carry specialty brews made by Crooked Can.
“We only had one brewery in Orlando in the longest time,” said Gossett. “Now, you have over six in the area and more on the way. The beer scene in Central Florida is still fresh, still trying to figure things out, but we’re all about trying new things.”
Beyond being the only brewery in Winter Garden, what makes Crooked Can truly unique is its building.
The Plant Street Market, a long brick building guarded by towering, mossy oak trees sitting along the eastern edge of downtown Winter Garden, celebrates all things local and artisanal. The indoor marketplace is home to over 20 purveyors selling everything from whole bean coffee to fresh juices, loose leaf teas and handcrafted chocolate. There's a butcher, a baker and, yes, a candlestick maker. Inside, the vendor stalls beg to be explored. The smells of baking breads, grilled meats and oven-fired pizzas permeate the long corridor, prompting hungry shoppers to stop and see what’s cooking. Once you get past the homemade jewelry and jars of local honey, you’ll find Crooked Can at the tail end of the market.
“It was the vision of the owners to create this open-air, farmers market concept that represented the community,” said Gossett. “It showcases Winter Garden as the hidden gem it is and what the city is all about.”
When you go...
What: Plant Street Market
Where: 426 W Plant St, Winter Garden, FL 34787
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