Winter Park Distilling Company sure has come a long way in a short time.
The boutique boozer started making its distinct — and it should not go without mentioning, very high quality — bourbon, rum and vodkas just over six years ago. Until recently, the operation was housed in a small warehouse space on Solano Avenue with all the charm of a self-storage unit.
When I visited for a tour a few years ago, founders Paul Twyford and Andrew Asher gave me a tour of the facility, which included a space in the back of the building with an open garage door next to the railroad tracks. It seemed to me that anyone wandering along the tracks could pop in when no one was looking and sample some alcohol from the plastic tub. Also back then, Twyford and Asher, along with Asher’s wife, Francesca, who’s now an official part of the ownership team, were doing almost everything themselves, including putting the liquor into bottles, capping them and slapping the labels on by hand.
Now they’ve moved to a more substantial and more accessible facility. They can distill more product, and they can even sell it from a small kiosk window— well, some of it, but we’ll come back to that. And there’s even a bar in a comfortable, loungey space that I found immediately welcoming and attractive. When I first walked in I thought, “This is a place I’d like to hang out in and enjoy a cocktail.”
Well, it’s fine to hang out in, but the cocktail part is a problem.
Because of liquor law restrictions, Winter Park Distillery can’t pour the liquids it distills. And thanks to lobbying from major retailers, the State of Florida limits the number of bottles the onsite store can sell. The number varies depending on labels, but let’s just say you’re not going to be able to stock an active liquor cabinet. And each purchase must be registered in a logbook, like you were trying to purchase Sudafed or some other controlled substance at a pharmacy.
But that doesn’t mean the bar doesn’t serve anything alcoholic. That’s where the term brewstillery comes in. Because along with the elaborate stills in the back room, the owners installed several serious beer brewing tanks in the front. And that’s where they’re cooking up some delicious beers and ales to be tapped at the bar. Paul Smerge is the brewmaster.
The bar is officially called the Bear & the Peacock Brewery and Taproom; the animals in the name stem from the distiller’s two big sellers, Bear Gully Classic Whiskey and Genius Vodka, whose label sports a colorful peacock. (All products are named for or honor Winter Park landmarks or icons.)
The Brewstillery occupies a section of a really nice complex that was fashioned out of a former auto body shop. It features a communal lawn for sprawling about. It has to be one of the coolest repurposed spaces in the area. Nicely done.
Asher hasn’t given up hope that the prevailing laws might someday be changed to allow some sippage of the liquors at the bar. And he’s contacted several food truck operators as well as Cuisiniers Caterers to have food available.
So while we hope to have the opportunity to sip a Winter Park version of a Manhattan at the Bear & Peacock someday, we’ll have to make to for now with some well-crafted beers and wines for now.
Winter Park Distilling Company and the Bear & Peacock Brewery are at 1288 N. Orange Ave., Winter Park. It is open daily. The phone number is 407-801-2714