Windermere Brewing Company owners Joe Ata and Andy McGhee are passionate about beer — more specifically, quality beer.
What started off as an experiment in McGhee’s house has turned into a full-blown business, with the opening of the town’s only microbrewery a few weeks ago.
The 2,519-square-foot commercial building is a true-to-style brewery. McGhee said everything the brewery makes is done with authenticity, taking into account the history of the style and the main ingredients. The partners then create their own interpretations on production with unique artistry.
“When we decide we want to do a beer, we want to do it to the highest level possible that’s true to style but also is a showcase of what we can do here,” McGhee said. “We are not only passionate about great beer, we are passionate about the lake lifestyle we get to enjoy in our iconic lakeside town. We are about living and celebrating life whether it’s out on the water or with a local craft beer in your hand.”
Everything has a purpose in the brewhouse.
Windermere Brewing Company operates a seven-barrel fully automated brewhouse with enough cellar space to initially hit an annual production capacity of about 2,000 barrels.
“While we are small in the grand scheme of things, we will be mighty with great beers poured fresh in the taproom,” the owners said. “Our system automation will allow for our brewers and production team to focus on quality, consistency and recipe development.”
The two said they have evolved a lot and going to a commercial system versus brewing at home is a huge step that requires a lot of reliance on their trusted head brewer, Aaron Anderson, a 30-plus-year veteran of the industry.
“Crafting a beer starts with a theory of what we want to build,” McGhee said. “We sit down with our head brewer and discuss ideas and use our knowledge of base ingredients and recipes before building style and interpretation into it.”
Anderson said the brewing process is biologically simple and requires just four raw ingredients: water, malt (grain), hops and yeast.
“It has been a staple of developed societies since antiquity,” the head brewer said. “Thus, the discovery of beer, yes, ‘discovery’ not ‘invention,’ is arguably one of the most important technological advances ever made by humankind, right up there with bread. In fact, many societies still refer to beer as ‘liquid bread.’”
Anderson said the brewing process begins by making a “mash,” a mixture of hot water and grain.
The mash is steeped over time to extract the fermentable starches. Then, the liquid is boiled for sanitation as well as the evaporation of unessential water.
Hops, a bitter-tasting cousin of cannabis, are added during boiling to balance out the sweetness of the starches before saccharomyces cerevisiaea, a one-celled fungus, is added to break down all the carbohydrates and proteins in the mixture and transforms it into beer.
After about a week of fermentation, the beer is removed from the yeast. Anderson said the yeast is temperature-sensitive and thus begins settling to the bottom of a vessel as soon as the vessel is cooled. There is then an additional week of maturation time during which the rough edges are rounded, the flavor stabilizes and the clarity improves.
Once the beer is finished with fermentation and maturation, it is time to force carbon dioxide into the liquid solution — carbonation.
McGhee said one of his biggest inspirations is that there’s still a lot of work to do to show people what beer can really be.
“Most people only know what they see on the shelves, your domestics, which is pretty much all the same flavor,” McGhee said. “We see a lot of those people come in here. Our core demographic (is) very much so the people that will go and get their 12-pack of light lager, for example, and then come in and realize that we have better lagers. We can use that to start to have those conversations about what beer can really be, and for us, it’s really about promoting the fact that beer is more than just beer.”
According to the Brewer’s Association, there are more than 500 different styles of beer and more than 250 craft breweries in Florida.
The local brewery currently has seven beers but 12 taps.
The owners said the taps eventually will be filled with individual styles, some of which are reserved for seasonal use and others for possible experiments. However, the location will always have about six taps for flagship beers.
“We like to brew beer that we like to drink, but at the same time you have to balance that with business decisions,” McGhee explained.
The owners said they try to appeal to everyone’s palates.
The brewery’s most popular beer is the Watermann — Helles Lager. Watermann is an easy-drinking Bavarian-style lager crafted with all German malt, hops and yeast. The beer is light, crisp and refreshing.
Perhaps the most unique beer is the Blissful Ignorance — Hibiscus Sour. This beer is a traditional German-style sour beer, with a fruity and tart punch from a post boil addition of dried hibiscus. The beer is tart, crisp and refreshing.
Windermere Brewing Company currently is planning for its first Oktoberfest, during which it will offer different styles of German lagers. The process starts relatively early; beers need about 30-45 days of solid lagering time.
Not only are the two Windermere residents committed to quality, but they also recognize the importance of community, environment and responsibility.
The on-site brewery taproom emulates a “born from the lakes” mentality with a quintessential lakehouse vibe both inside and out.
The owners said they want to vibe with what the town is — and not just Windermere but any lake town.
“We sell fun — that’s what we do,” McGhee said.
The two believe a brewery can have a big impact not only as a business but also as a community partner and environmental steward.
“We have pretty pristine lakes,” McGhee said. “It’s part of our job as a business, (which) can have a big footprint when it comes to waste, to mitigate those things to the best of our ability and to show that we’re being responsible when it comes to this place we call home.”
The brewery also has a charitable arm and plans on rolling out new plans soon where every quarter a charity is selected as a partner.
The owners’ future plans for the brewery include solidifying the local tap room in Windermere with the help of programming already rolling out.
The brewery hosts Tacos and Trivia on Tuesdays, is planning for Bingo on Wednesdays and hosts a run club on Thursdays. Every runner who finishes gets his or her first pint of beer on the house.
The outdoor area in the back of the brewery features a series of games, as well as water taps and green space for furry friends.
“I look at it this way — there’s a beer for everyone,” McGhee said. “You just have to find it.”