Last week, I reviewed Orchid Island Brewery, a new citrus-inspired brewery in Vero Beach. I had the chance to chat with co-owner Alden Bing and talk about his new distinctly Floridian brews.
What is your background before you got into craft beer? You are a banker, correct?
Yeah. (laughs) I’m trying to get out of the monkey suit.
What beers got you interested in craft beer?
My wife and I fell in love with craft beer at a Mellow Mushroom in Asheville (North Carolina). Bell’s Two Hearted Ale was a gateway beer. That was in the fall or winter of ‘07. In ’08, we were engaged. For my bachelor party, my buddies and I went to a place in Ft. Lauderdale where you could make your own beer. We made a batch of a Two Hearted clone for the wedding.
After that, I started tinkering around in my garage. I was homebrewing for the past 6 years. Then I started playing around with fruit growing in my yard.
Orchid Island made a name for itself with citrus flavors. Why did you decide to make that a signature for your beers?
Sebastian Inlet to Ft. Pierce, that is called Orchid Island. Historically it’s grown indisputably the world’s best grapefruit, the best citrus. Indian River County is like Sonoma or Napa is for grapes. A lot of the land has been pushed over for building hotels and condos, but there are some farmers that want to hold on and keep farming.
Do you have a good working relationship with some of those farmers?
I’m from the area, and I have a lot of close friends in the area that happen to be farmers.
You signed with Brown Distributing. Other than your tap room, where can your beers be found?
The Kilted Mermaid in Vero Beach and the Vero Beach Hotel. As we stabilize our production and get more beer out, we want to grow from a nucleus and drive traffic to our tap room. We’d like to also put it in places like Red Light Red Light in Orlando, give it to people that appreciate beer but are also critical. It will be good to get soundboards and get good feedback on how we are doing.
What are your favorite kinds of beers?
Lately I’ve been leaning towards IPAs and sours. They make for an easy association with citrus. I’m currently brewing a saison with brett (yeast). That’s probably where my interest has been. There are breweries in Massachusetts that are harvesting yeast off blueberries. And I’ve been discussing with labs in Indian River County to cultivate local strains off citrus.
I noticed that your beers are IPAs, very hop forward.
Centennials, citras, chinnoks, cascades, all of those are very citrus forward. It’s a good synergy. Plus, I think in our market in Vero Beach, it’s not quite there yet for sours, but it will take a little time. There’s running a company and also staying true to yourself. If I look at the business side, selling IPAs are where the money is.
But where my heart is tends to be more farmhouses, saisons. Originally those flavors were harvest driven, depending on local agriculture. I’m intrigued by, in the wine industry, people use the word terroir to describe the flavors of the local region. I’m very interested in that. You look at some of those, and the vintage may change from year to year depending on the flavors.
Have you thought about collaborating with breweries to accentuate your fruit flavors?
Yeah. We have a small 3 barrel system. We wouldn’t be able to accommodate a big event. We’ve talked to breweries about collaborations and subsidizing production.
Because we’re using the name Orchid Island, we need to build the brewery in a way to celebrate the name and the reputation that’s already here. As far as the brand is concerned, I’m very OCD about it. I’m trying to be esoteric about building. People locally are all aware of the Orchid Island reputation.
Your beer names tend to come from citrus you use and the region in general, right?
I try to add as many layers of naming as possible. Star Ruby is a grapefruit. Jungle Trail was an old road that farmers would take fruit on and off the island. It’s still there. I think another beer I want to do is with a white grapefruit called Duncan. That’ll probably be the common thread with our beer names.
How do you feel about the future of craft beer in Florida?
I’m really excited that there’s excitement about craft beer. I hope to see people be responsible about growing. I see people all of a sudden with 30 barrel systems. What if they’re making bad beer? It would be the 90’s all over again.
As craft beer booms, many people are interested in getting hired as brewers themselves. What advice would you have for these people?
Just understand what goes into making good beer. That’s really it.
Finally, and I’m asking this because I love orange, but are you making more orange beers?
Yeah. There’s this really cool strain of fruit called honeybell. It’s only in crop during January. For a long time it was a legendary fruit. The legend was that there were only a couple of trees that grew it and the citrus farmers hoarded it for themselves. Then it became more available commercially. In January they come into harvest and I’ll be using that. It’ll be supplied by a local farm.
Drink Florida Craft,