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  WHERE WE'VE BEEN

'Escape' with a beer at Disney

Presented for your consideration: A brewer accepts his gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival, turns to the TV cameras and exclaims, "I'm going to Disney World."

No, this isn't the Twilight Zone. The newest addition to Disney's Florida theme park, Disney's BoardWalk Resort, will include a brewpub. The Big River Grille & Brewing Works will join Big Rivers in Chattanooga and Nashville, Tenn., when it opens June 30 along with the rest of the BoardWalk Resort, a 45-acre waterfront village that will feature a hotel, vacation homes, a conference center, shops, nightclubs and restaurants.

The 4,200-square-foot brewery-restaurant will have a 10-barrel brewhouse on display behind glass. "We'll try to always have brewers working at night," said BoardWalk general manager Charlie Hardiman. "This being Disney, we always try to put some entertainment value, a little bit of 'show,' into it."

Outdoor seating for 50 patrons will open right onto the boardwalk itself. The interior decor will play up the "Big River" theme. "The ceiling will be midnight blue, with neon, giving an illusion of a river flowing overhead," Hardiman said.

Rob Gentry, vice-president and brewmaster for Big River Grille & Brewing Works, will oversee the brewing operations. The beer menu will include three flagship ales -- a Bavarian wheat, pale ale and red ale -- and two seasonals, which on opening day likely will include a stout and a raspberry pale ale. In keeping with the family atmosphere, a freshly made root beer will always be available as well. Plans call for the beer to be available elsewhere in the BoardWalk Resort. The food menu will feature casual pub fare.

Hardiman says he thinks the Big River brewpub will be "the perfect complement" to the BoardWalk. "This is a nighttime adult entertainment area, not really designed for younger adults but more for 40-somethings," he said. "I think it's a good fit for it."

The brewpub will make a nice addition to Disney's attractions, but beer fans in other parts of Disney World can enjoy quality beer as well, once they know where to look. Whether you are touring EPCOT Center or perched on a barstool at one of Disney World's hotels, you are never far from a quality beer. This shouldn't come as a surprise, once you consider that Disney World caters to kids of all ages -- in fact, it's the nation's No. 1 honeymoon destination. Prices won't kill you, either. As of this spring, they ran around $3.25 for a 12-ounce plastic cup or bottle and $4.50 for 20 ounces.


You won't find beer in the Magic Kingdom, but elsewhere you don't have to look far for imports or American stalwarts such as Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Anchor Steam.

If you had hoped to quaff a few in the shadow of Cinderella's Castle, however, you're out of luck. No alcoholic beverages are served in the Magic Kingdom, although parents forced to endure "It's A Small World" are probably in dire need of replenishment. It's probably just as well; no sense tossing down a brew and then tossing your cookies on the Mad Hatter's Tea Party.

Visitors to EPCOT Center will have no trouble finding tasty beer, much of it on draft. Imported beer naturally ties into the attractions at EPCOT's World Showcase, where you'll see people drinking beer from many lands as they travel through the various "countries." In keeping with the climate, most of the beers served are lagers, and, as a pourer assured one anxious patron, they are served cold. You'll find Dos Equis Lager in "Mexico," Ringnes Lager in "Norway," Becks in "Germany," Tsingtao in "China," Kirin in "Japan" and Moosehead, Labatt's and several Molson ales in "Canada." Beer served outdoors is served in plastic cups or by the bottle, and customers are free to walk around with it.

One of the nicest places to drink beer in Disney World is the Rose & Crown Pub & Dining Room in "England." Its exterior mixes three different styles -- that of a late-19th century urban pub; that of 17th century London's Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, with a brick-walled flagstone terrace, slate roof and half-timbered exterior; and that of a countryside pub, with a stone wall and clay-tile roof. Inside it looks and feels like a classy British pub, down to the carpet on the floor, and one former patron aptly described it as "an escape."

Guinness, Bass, Tennent's and Harp are on tap, with Dry Blackthorn and Woodpecker Cider in bottles, and the full bar features three single-malt whiskies. The staff have British accents, including a bartender who politely responded, "This is England, sir, not America," when a visitor requested a Killian's. There's seating outside under umbrellas as well as inside, and food choices focus on traditional English pub fare. Outside, beer is sold to-go in plastic cups, but inside, pints are served in glassware with the Imperial pint seal on the bottom, and the beer isn't as icy cold as you'll find in much of the rest of Florida.

The Biergarten in the German Pavilion features an entertaining show to accompany your dinner and 33-ounce steins of Becks. Although it's indoors, the Biergarten resembles a Bavarian village at twilight. Diners sit at communal tables in a courtyard-like setting while listening to oom-pah-pah music. The nearby Weinkeller sells an extensive selection of German bottled beer for take-home, as well as steins and glassware.

Flavorful beer is not as prevalent in the Future World section of EPCOT, where one exhibit in the Life Pavilion, called "Goofy About Health," portrays a sorry victim of alcohol abuse. One place where you'll always find a few regional craft beers is in the Land Pavilion, at the Beverage House in the Sunshine Season Food Fair. Anchor Steam, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Leinenkugel are available by the bottle, as well as Woodchuck Cider. Similar in style to a shopping mall food court, this is also one of the cheapest and most diverse places to grab a quick meal. The American Adventure area sometimes offers craft beer -- in February, Louisiana was the featured state, and regional offerings included specialty coffees, jambalaya and bottles of Dixie Blackened Voodoo for $3.75. A few outdoor stands offer Sam Adams Boston Lager.

To find the widest beer selection in Disney World, you should visit Pleasure Island, an entertainment complex that features comedy shows, live music, dancing, an adventurers' club and more. This is the home of the Fireworks Factory, which offers Factory Ale (a light ale contract-brewed by Orlando's Beach Brewing), Samuel Adams, and Killian's on draft and more than 30 micros and imports in bottles, including beers from Nor'wester, St. Stan's, Abita and Saxer. The stacks of beer cases near the bar give you an idea of how beer-friendly a place it is, although the frozen-drink machines for concoctions such as the Atomic Mudslide and the Detonator Dacquiri may throw you off. The Fireworks Factory is decorated explosively, as its name implies. Parts of walls appear to have been blown off, yellow-and-black "danger" strips and firecracker posters decorate walls, gunpowder stains the floors. Ribs are the specialty, along with barbecued chicken and steaks.

Although there's a fee for admission to Pleasure Island, visitors who want to patronize the Fireworks Factory alone can arrive by separate entrance and forgo the fee. At the Rock 'N' Roll Beach Club, which has black-lit air hockey and pool tables and live rock bands, bottle choices include Guinness, Bass, Harp, Red Stripe, Anchor Steam, Sam Adams, Rolling Rock, St. Pauli Girl and Becks. Other stands and bars elsewhere at Pleasure Island sell Dixie Blackened Voodoo, Heineken and Pete's Wicked Red Ale by the bottle.


Several hotel bars serve interesting beer. One even offers yards of ale -- though we don't usually think about drinking Bud Light 'by the yard.'

Several hotel bars offer decent beer, and you don't need to be staying at the hotels to visit them. The Crew's Cup Lounge in the Yacht Club has the best selection, with Sierra Nevada, Pilsner Urquell, Watney's Red Barrel, Samuel Smith's Pale Ale, Guinness, Heineken, Red Stripe and Blackened Voodoo, all in bottles, and Sam Adams Boston Lager on draft. Rowing is the theme at the nautical-inspired pub, and a scull hangs from the ceiling. Also in the Yacht Club is the Ale and Compass, a tiny, cozy place right off the lobby that's reminiscent of a room in a private club, with big lounge chairs in front of the fireplace and a few low pub tables. The Territory Lounge in the Wilderness Lodge serves a tasty, refreshing honey-wheat ale, also from Beach Brewing, from one tap. The lounge is one of the most attractive at Disney, with Arts and Crafts-style furnishings, Old West paraphernalia in shadow boxes and paintings of wildlife on the walls, and huge carved bears holding up the back bar. The lounge pays tribute to the Lewis and Clark Expedition with a huge map of their travels on the ceiling.

Juan and Only's Cantina, a Mexican restaurant at the Dolphin, serves up a variety of Mexican bottled beer, including Tecate, Bohemia, Negro Modela, Carta Blanca, Corona and Dos Equis Amber and Lager. The restaurant's Only's Bar and Jail has decor inspired by old Mexico, and jail-cell bars hang over the bar seating.

Most of Disney's other bars and restaurants offer at least one flavorful bottled beer, but some have better selections than others. For example, we were intrigued to learn that Narcoossee's, an octagon-shaped and open-beamed restaurant at the Grand Floridian Resort, serves Yards of Ale. Upon investigation, however, we discovered the draft beer choices were limited to Budweiser, Bud Ice and Carlsberg.

As its brewpub plans prove, Disney's beer savvy is far beyond that of many other theme parks. A notable exception is Paramount's Kings Dominion in Doswell, Va., north of Richmond, which has the Williamsville Brewery on its premises. The brewery is located inside the Border Cafe, a Mexican restaurant. On tap, you'll find four regular Williamsville beers -- Not Heavy, a light ale; Studley Ale, a golden ale; Cabo Pale Ale; and Border Porter -- and seasonals, which this year will include a brown ale, mango ale and perhaps a shandy. Five other restaurants in the park serve Studley Ale. The park's Alpine Deli features several local microbrewery beers in bottles along with mainstream choices.

As for other amusement parks, Six Flags parks do not serve alcohol, while Paramount's Carowinds serves Budweiser and Miller Lite. And at Busch Gardens -- well, just take a guess.

This story orginally appeared in All About Beer Magazine in 1996.

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