Sunday, June 26, 2016

Brewery review: Ocean Sun Brewing (Orlando, FL)

Ocean Sun Brewing (23)I’ve been to quite a few breweries and brewpubs since I moved to Florida. They’ve ranged from abysmal to adequate to just plain good; though none have left me wanting for more the way Ocean Sun Brewing did.

I went with my friend Maggie who also visited Orlando Brewing Company with me. She lives in Orlando and though she’s not nearly the beer snob enthusiast I am, she seems to enjoy trying new venues, new styles, and expanding her palate – now that’s a good drinking buddy right there.
This was my first visit since they have officially opened and the taproom looks just as good in action as it did during setup when I last saw it. I like the spacious setup of the tasting/dining room. There are not one, but two lounge sections (one by the front door, and one in the back. The bar is quite big with lots of seating, though there are an abundant amount of tables for couples, families and large groups. In fact, Ocean Sun actually rents out their space for events. I’d love to have a business meeting here.

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I also like how the brewery itself is in the same space as the rest of the venue. It’s not walled-off or even separated by glass; it’s directly adjacent to the patron area (there is a small gate closing it off). I can’t recall seeing such an intimate setup like this; it makes me want to walk over to the brewing floor and look over the brewers’ shoulders.

So as far as logistics, atmosphere, and architecture go – Ocean Sun Brewing is doing it all right. That it’s located in a strip mall is also nice since it’s easy to access and there’s plenty of parking. But what about the beer? Well, as the headline to this blog indicates, it was pretty impressive. And I don’t just mean it was impressive for a newly-opened small brewpub; I mean the beer quality is impressive in general. I’m not saying it was World Class across the board, just that it’s much better than I was expecting and much better than any other brewery I’ve visited in Florida thus far (to be fair, I haven’t visited all that many breweries in the Sunshine State as of yet).

As always, I ordered a flight of every beer available on tap. There were 10 brews pouring at the time, and Maggie and I decided to split a flight of them all. We sampled them in an odd, random order; but I’ll briefly review them as they’re listed on the menu from top to bottom:
    Ocean Sun Brewing (27)Ocean Sun Brewing (25)Ocean Sun Brewing (26)
  • Sunburst Kolsch (5.2% ABV. 20 IBUs): Though it’s lager-like, Kolsch is actually a difficult style to brew and I’ve yet to see a small brewery make a great one. Ocean Sun’s take is pretty standard: overtly grainy, but at the same time spicy with maybe a hint of fruit in the background. Crisp and quaffable; this would be a fine beer for non-beer drinkers. RATING: 3/5
  • SoDo Saison (6.9% ABV. 43 IBUs): Before I sipped this I literally said “Wow, that’s nice.” Then I drank it and said “Wow, that’s really nice!” There’s a strong lemon presence in the form of taste and aroma, plus the classic saison peppery sensation. It didn’t seem to be quite as hefty as the ABV indicates; though I would consider it versatile: great for warm weather or to pair with a meal. I seriously considered getting a growler of this to take home. RATING: 4.5/5
  • Bumby Blonde Ale (6.7% ABV. 20 IBUs): Every brewpub has a blonde ale, but most are sessionable strength. This is a borderline “imperial” blonde (if such a thing exists). It’s quite sweet with a bit of Macintosh apple flavor to it (and no, it’s not acetaldehyde). Maggie picked up the fruity flavor as well and said this was probably the best beer of the flight. RATING: 4/5
  • 70 SPF Belgian Pale Ale (6% ABV. 35 IBUs): BPA is a style that’s difficult to get right. While I would not say this beer was bad, I will say it didn’t live up to my expectation. It was quite mild and lacking the familiar Belgian qualities you’d expect. Maggie also commented that it was a bit underwhelming, though we both thought it was easily drinkable. RATING: 2.75/5
  • Almost Level Pale Ale (5.2% ABV. 40 IBUs): An American pale ale with a strong piney/resiny aroma and flavor. Could maybe pass as a Session IPA, though it has more body than found in that sub-style. I liked the hop and malt balance; though it didn’t floor me. RATING: 3.25/5
  • Belgian Tripel (8.9% ABV. 33 IBUs): The only beer on the menu without a clever name, but that’s okay – it’s good enough that it’s memorable for its taste. This hits most of the notes for the style; estery, spicy, fruity; bubbly. It’s a tad boozy, but it’s not distracting. Maggie is a big fan of La Fin Du Monde and she thought this was a little similar to that beer. I liked it a lot and noticed it got better as it warmed. I bet a snifter of this in the winter would be great. RATING: 4/5
  • Onatopp Russian Imperial Stout (8.9% ABV. ?? IBUs): There’s a je na sais quois quality to the RIS style not found in other imperial stouts and this beer definitely has it. I was amazed how much this beer tastes and drinks like some of the best examples of the style: black licorice; chocolate; roasted malt; French roast coffee; and a slightly citrusy hop character. This might be the best beer being brewed in Orlando right now. Awesome! RATING: 4.5/5
  • Blue Bags IPA (6.7% ABV. 69 IBUs): Everybody is making either a New England or West Coast style IPA, so it’s nice to see a brewery kicking it old school with a classic East Coast-style IPA with a piney/resiny/herbal quality. This beer kind of reminds me of Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA; only a little stronger and tastier. The pale ale seems to be a junior version of this brew. RATING: 4/5
  • West Coast Red Ale (6% ABV. 60 IBUs): Ever had Stone’s Arrogant Bastard? Well, imagine a lighter version of it and that’s what this beer is. In fact, I prefer a less aggressive, more drinkable brew and this succeeds as such. I suppose you could consider it a Red IPA (which the BJCP considers a thing now). Cascade, Chinook and caramel work well together here. RATING: 4/5
  • 2Bucoo4u Black IPA (8% ABV. 60 IBUs): I remember when Black IPAs were all the rage, but they seem to have faded away in recent years. I haven’t had one that’s really amazed me in a long time, so this was a nice reprieve. There’s a lot to like here: citrusy hops; dark malt with coffee and chocolate flavors; and a velvety smooth body. This style isn’t for everyone (Maggie wasn’t too crazy about it); but true beer lovers will probably appreciate this brew. Excellent job, guys. RATING: 4.5/5
NOTE: Check out the lovely lacing on nearly every glass – that’s a good sign of quality beer!

Ocean Sun Brewing (2)
So the beer is really good; the venue is comfortable and convenient – is there anything not to like about Ocean Sun Brewing? Well, my only gripe (and it’s a minor one) is that there’s no in-house kitchen. That being said, you are able to order food from any of the nearby eateries and have it delivered (or bring your own, I suppose). In fact, they’re teaming up with The Gnarly Barley for a three-course brunch and beer session on July 10th, so check that out.

I look forward to seeing how Ocean Sun evolves over time. If they can keep the quality this high on a consistent basis they should be in it for the long haul.