Central Florida’s craft beer scene has been booming for several years. As both a cause and an effect, new microbreweries have popped up across the region. They’re highlighting how beer can be just as complex as wine and converting people who thought they didn’t like beer into fans. Among these producers is The Hourglass Brewery, which is establishing itself as an innovative standout with its many world-class beers.
“The oldest brewery in Longwood, FL”, Hourglass started in 2012 as a three-barrel operation, serving a few beers in a 12-seat tasting room. Fast forward five years, and this local business has grown into a 10-vat operation with a dedicated barrel aging room, over 30 of its own rotating beverages on tap, a canning line, statewide distribution, and a taproom that holds 240. And there’s an expansion in the works.
Since 2015, Matthew Gemmell and Michael DeLancett have shared billing as head brewers. It’s clear within minutes of conversation that both are well versed in the history, current trends, and future of brewing. They have that ideal combination for artists in any field: respect for the rules and traditions, plus an urge to experiment and push the boundaries of their craft. Having two captains on one ship doesn’t seem to complicate things, either; they offer each other inspiration and, when needed, reality checks in the conception phase.
DeLancett and Gemmell use only natural ingredients and are dedicated to finding the perfect one from the right source every time. While they love to buy local, they don’t limit themselves. The two regularly get ingredients from around the world, enjoying the search for that piece of the puzzle that adds the exact flavor or quality they want for each recipe. They also seek out exotic and unusual ingredients to work with.
Each ingredient is treated with utmost respect. The head brewers are involved in every step, including the prep. This may mean peeling, hand-juicing, and drying the rinds of 40 pounds of local honey bell tangelos, as they recently did for their tart, citrusy, smoothly spiced Honeybell Wit, a Belgian-style witbier (wheat beer).
Or, it may mean hand-shucking hundreds of oysters and mussels for an oyster stout. This lesser-known variety was developed in the UK in the 1930s and is something you’re unlikely to find elsewhere in Central Florida or most of the country. If it’s still available when you visit—look for the enticing name “Sexy Grandma”—try it if you like the roasted, slightly bitter flavor of a stout, and wait for the subtle but surprising salinity in the finish.
The brewers’ attentiveness pays off in every Hourglass beer (or, at least those that make it to the public). Across a range of styles, each one shows off the rigor of its production and the brewery’s strict standards with its rich color, lively aromas, and nuanced flavors.
Hourglass beers tell a sensory story. And storytelling is important to Gemmell and DeLancett, given the sources of their inspiration, the styles they make, and the names they give their creations.
The pair likes to make historical recreations and take cues from cultural traditions. For example, there’s often a cream ale on the menu in tribute to a now-obscure style popular in America in the 1800s. It’s a lightly golden, cold-conditioned beer, comparable to a pale lager or kölsch, that doesn’t contain cream.
Or, at the time of this writing, Hourglass has a paters bier called 820 A.D. This “father’s beer” is a style consumed by Trappist monks. Known for producing hefty brews with high alcohol content, the monks historically also produced low-gravity paters biers with less alcohol for themselves, not the public. These offered nourishment without getting them too drunk to perform their monastic duties. Hourglass’ name, 820 A.D. refers to the year plans were drawn up for the Saint Gall Monastery brewery in modern-day Switzerland, which became a key blueprint for abbey breweries.
For a more contemporary reference, there’s DeLancett and Gemmell’s ode to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, consisting of four sour beers. Violet was their first sour, a blueberry beer named after Violet Beauregarde, the character who morphs into a giant blueberry. It won a gold medal at the 2017 New York International Beer Competition (where two other Hourglass beers won bronze medals, and Hourglass was named “Florida Brewery of the Year”).
The line also includes Augustus, a sour amber ale aged for two years in barrels previously used for a chocolate stout; Veruca, a sour nut porter; and Gene, in memory of Gene Wilder. Made with more than a dozen kinds of berries, Gene was originally going to be called Snozzberry, but another brewery beat them to the name. It is fermented in wine barrels with a combination of wine yeast, brewer’s yeast, wild yeast, and souring bacteria, and has a pronounced tartness and Cabernet-like color. Wine lovers should taste this one.
Sour beers are an emerging trend domestically, though Belgians have been drinking them for centuries, and all beers were soured to some extent in the days before modern sanitation and temperature controls. Wild yeast and certain bacteria are introduced to create a sour flavor and tart bite. It’s a risky procedure requiring a carefully controlled environment, as these microorganisms are highly resilient, resistant to cleaning, and a threat to all other brews. Plus, there’s a gamble that the beer will not turn out as intended after months or years developing them.
Hourglass is pioneering the sour renaissance in Central Florida under its Sourglass label. Gemmell and DeLancett produce a notable number and variety of sours, including sour IPAs, Florida Weisse, Gose, Saison/farmhouse ales, and others with their own blend of wild and traditional yeast. Their facility has a dedicated barrel room and 20-barrel egg oak fodder. That’s a wooden fermenting vessel that facilitates long maturation times, with a valve for easy tasting to monitor progress.
All the above barely scratches the surface of the exceptional, varied beers from Hourglass. Visit the taproom, which has a nostalgic geek culture décor, at 480 S. Ronald Reagan Boulevard in Longwood for access to more than 30 of its beers on tap, as well as 16-ounce cans and bottles. A handful of popular beers are available year-round, but most of the selection changes regularly. Flights of five beers are a convenient way to sample more products.
You’ll also find some bottled guest beers and ciders, plus wines from Orlando’s Quantum Leap Winery if you’re not a beer drinker. But before you reaffirm that about yourself, give the knowledgeable bartenders a chance to learn about your taste and make a recommendation. You probably just haven’t found your beer yet. It’s out there, and if you’ll find it anywhere, it’ll be at The Hourglass Brewery.