Redlight Redlight Beer Parlour Reigns Over Orlando’s Craft Beer Scene

Redlight Redlight Beer Parlour

Ask any craft beer devotee in Orlando what his or her favorite local bar is, and you’ll probably hear “Redlight,” abridgedly referring to Redlight Redlight Beer Parlour.

The establishment eschews macro brews entirely, and stocks around 300 bottled and canned beers, pours from 26 rotating taps, keeps two beer engines for cask-conditioned ales, and even brews some tasty beverages of its own. Redlight’s awe-inspiring selection includes some vintage, sour, and relatively rare beers. Combined with the formidable knowledge of the owners and staff, it’s a highly respected fixture of the robust local craft beer scene and has garnered national attention.

Consistently included on the annual Draft Magazine list of 100 best beer bars in America, Redlight was co-founded by Brent Hernandez. Of its origins and name, he says, “In 2005, the owners of the bar I was working at wanted to sell. They approached me and two friends of mine and asked if we wanted to buy the bar. We promptly said yes. One of my original partners is Dutch, and the name is a nod to the Red Light District. Our original space was upstairs, but it felt like you were in a basement bar in Europe.”

Redlight is no longer in that space and has occupied a few locations in its decade of operations. But it seems to have settled into a perfect home in the city’s Audubon Park neighborhood. There are only independent local businesses in this Orlando Main Street District, plus a prevailing emphasis on artisanal food and drink. The industrial but historic atmosphere of the building and the prominently featured, well-stocked glass refrigerators encircled by the bar blend a timeless quality with a contemporary urban feel.

Hernandez started the enterprise with a preexisting passion for craft beer and home brewing. At a time in their lives when most people cheaply chug Natty Ice and Yuengling, he first became interested in higher quality beers in college.

“I never cared for beer, all I had tried were big macro beers. In college, I discovered some imports and brands like Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams. I started home brewing in 2001, and that got me started reading about beer and trying all kinds of beers. Belgian beers were the first that blew my mind.”

Today, Redlight is locally renowned as the place to go to learn about craft beer, explore its intricacies, and expose yourself to new styles and breweries. This is largely thanks to all the bartenders’ sommelier-like depth of knowledge and eagerness to talk shop and make insightful beverage recommendations.

This knowledge and enthusiasm have served Redlight well from the start. Hernandez says, “I think one of the reasons we’re still here is the fact that we know our beer. When we opened in ’05, there were only a few bars in the area selling any craft beer … But we were the first to go all in with craft beer. We had to hand-sell everything we had! So, we had to know about it to convince people to stay at the bar instead of going down the street for something more familiar.”

But he considers the mission much larger than one bar’s survival. “Honestly, I think all craft beer bars should focus on education. Craft beer sales are growing every year, but are still a relatively small portion of all beer sales. We still have a long way to go, especially in Florida.”

Still, proselytization occurs one thirsty patron at a time. Some people wander in and order a Bud Light without any inkling that it might not be available. Rather than snickers or directions to another bar, though, the uninitiated get a recommendation geared toward their palate, explains Redlight’s beer manager Mandy Pro; a bartender might suggest the Reissdorf Kölsch, a pale, light, gentle brew with only 4.8 percent ABV. Others who come purposefully seeking to expand their horizons are often first served the bar’s best seller, the Milk Stout Nitro from Colorado’s Left Hand Brewing Company, which is dark and rich, but also sweetly flavorful and enjoyably creamy.

There’s also a small but expanding brewing setup at Redlight, and Hernandez and his team have been increasingly experimenting with their creations. His pursuits are influenced by his interest in sour beers (particularly Italian sours), and he cites Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, the first all-sour brewery in the U.S., as a favorite producer. Along with sour beers, he focuses on wild ales and Belgian styles though he hasn’t limited his efforts to these varieties.

“We recently won a bronze medal for a wood-fermented sour Belgian-style stout at the Best of Florida Beer Competition,” Hernandez shares proudly.

“I’ve been using a lot of wine must in recipes. Right now, we have two beers fermenting in oak with wine musts. One is a Belgian-style golden ale with Sauvignon Blanc must, dry-hopped with Nelson Sauvin hops; the other is a dark Belgian-style with Malbec must. Neither will be sour, although I may sour a few carboys’ worth after I keg the bulk of it.”

It’s exciting to watch the bar that has done more than any other to invigorate Orlando’s craft beer scene get in on the production side of the business. For residents and tourists craving great beer, Redlight is a must-drink destination, whether you’re after something made on-site, at other Florida breweries or from the far reaches of the country or the globe. Or a few of each.


Redlight Redlight Beer Parlour

Eric Mohrman is a freelance travel and food writer. Coincidentally, he enjoys traveling, eating, drinking, and writing. He lives in downtown Orlando and invites you to connect with him on LinkedIn.

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