Bill Downs talks timeline, location + what’s on tap
| By Kathryn Deen |
Raise your glasses! Let’s drink to Clermont’s new brewery.
The highly anticipated Suncreek Brewery is scheduled to open in
late June/early July 2018 (Update: Doors Open Sept. 18) in a newly constructed building in Downtown Clermont, at 790 W. Minneola Ave., next to Main Event Bar & Grill (formerly Wallace Grill).
We sat down with owner Bill Downs to quench our curiosity about the new brewery and tap room.
Bill brings several years of brewing experience to Suncreek, which will be an integral part of the City’s revitalization plan. Here’s what he had to say.
First things first. When will Suncreek Brewery open?
Hopefully by the end of June or early July 2018. (Update: Doors Open Sept. 18). Now that the building is under construction we’re feeling better about the schedule, but we’ve learned not to commit to dates just yet. Everyone is doing their best to get open as soon as possible.
We’re thirsty! What will be on tap at Suncreek?
Mostly ales and and a few lagers — IPAs, blonde ales, stouts… A lot of it’s going to be focused around citrus/orange and honey. There are going to be at least seven standard beers and then some seasonal offerings. With all of our beers, we try to brew toward the middle of the road with slight variations off of center. If you like a beer in that style, you should like ours.
Awesome. What styles do you do best?
The IPA and the stout. Our Moonlight Chocolate Milk Stout is a popular one. It’s one of my favorites. Hey There Sunshine is a New England IPA, and Sun Squishy IPA is full of Citra and Belma hops.
Anything off the beaten path?
We’ll have some crazy stuff in the smaller batches. We’ll offer a few whiskey-, rum- or tequila-barrel-aged beers — whatever we can get our hands on. We’re also experimenting now with some sours, such as a Berliner Weisse with fruit additions, like sour apple, strawberry, apricot and rhubarb.
That’s exciting. Do your beers err on the lighter or boozier side?
ABVs (Alcohol By Volume) range from low 4s to 8 and a few barrel-aged brews are in the 10-percent range. We’re focusing toward the low-ABV, more sessionable beers in the 4 to 6 percent range.
Good idea. Will you have any guest taps?
We’ll have a few guest taps and we’ll get a few popular brews from other local Central Florida Breweries and a few from around the state.
What sizes can we order?
We’ll serve pints, flights, growlers and crowlers. Pints will be from $5 to $7.
For here and to-go! Any offerings beyond beer?
We’re looking at cider, wine, local craft coffee, and maybe craft soda on guest taps.
Keep us posted. So what will the place be like?
It’s roughly 4,800 square feet between two floors. Our concept is based on showing people as much of the brewing process as possible. We’ll have a mezzanine that goes around two sides of the brewing floor so people will be able to walk around and see and smell nearly everything we’re doing down there.
We have an initial mix of three 15-barrel and two 7-barrel fermentation tanks with room for three additional 15 barrel fermenters later. When fully maxed out, we will have about 105 barrels of fermentation space.
The style is industrial. We’ll have a reclaimed wood back wall at the bar, some brick along the bar and to accent behind the draft tower.
We’ll also have dog-friendly patio seating.
We can see it now! Any plans for entertainment?
We’ll have a space for it. We are in talks with a few entertainers. We’re thinking about having live music twice a week, probably Fridays and Saturdays.
Fun, fun. Tell us about your neighbors in the new building.
We’re going to have Michael’s Ali Coal Fired Pizza next to us, along with Savoree, both from Winter Garden. Savoree has hand-crafted salads and sandwiches, and both are going to bring something special to their new Clermont locations. We hear that Michael’s Ali is building out their menu for the location.
We’ll be three separate businesses with no walls between us and a shared patio, like Crooked Can is part of Plant Street Market in Winter Garden. Our seating capacity is around 150 total, about 82-86 seats inside; the whole building can hold roughly 300.
Sounds like you’ll be in good company. Why was Clermont the right location for Suncreek?
I had the idea to open our first brewery in the Clermont area about four years ago… Then the director of Economic Development mentioned this new building coming downtown and that the developer was looking to turn it into something special. The City’s economic development team presented the master plan to us and how we could fit into it. We were then convinced that downtown was the perfect place for Suncreek.
What sets this location up for success?
I think it’s the City’s support and enthusiasm to the project — both City Hall and the citizens — that set us up for success. The City wants to turn Downtown Clermont into something different and exciting that would draw people there, so we are one of the first parts of that. There’s a lot more coming!
What they’re doing down here is going to be great for us. We now have a spur off of the trail (“Legacy Loop”) coming up right past the brewery. We’ll also have City street parking and a parking lot right across the street. I believe the City is also considering bike racks near our building.
Plus, they allow open containers downtown in a special city approved cup.
What’s Downtown Clermont like now and how do you see it changing?
It’s kind of sleepy right now. That was one of the concerns. But they’re condensing a 10-year plan into just three, and as that progresses you’re going to see a lot more people coming for dinner and then staying down here, as opposed to going elsewhere.
Clermont in three or four years is going to look a lot different than it does now — for the better. A lot of people are moving to this area, many from Orlando, kind of escaping to this side of town.
How does the brewery work into the City’s Downtown revitalization plan?
Breweries are novelties right now. A lot of people are attracted to them. Suncreek should attract younger people Downtown. Millennials are our largest demographic, but craft beer crosses all demographics.
People want something with a local connection to it. Craft beer brings a lot of people together who probably wouldn’t otherwise find themselves in the same establishment. It’s neutral ground.
More about you. When did you start brewing?
I started brewing beer in college around 1992. My first batch was a brown ale from a kit. It wasn’t very good. I think everybody’s first batch is a brown ale.
What got you into beer?
When I was 16, I moved from New Jersey to Pennsylvania, about 10 blocks from the Yuengling Brewery. Once I turned 21, we took the tour — a lot. So that was where the interest comes from.
I attended Penn State for computer science, but left to start an Internet Service Provider with a friend before graduating. Eventually I relocated down to Florida for a job in 2001. My soon to be wife (and co-owner), Shelia moved down here shortly after that. I began brewing again on and off for around 12 years.
About four years ago, we got serious about it and bought a small batch system to produce in a semi-professional way that we could duplicate on a bigger system.
What inspired the name Suncreek?
We’ve had several names but we always wanted something to tie in with Florida — so “sun” was always part of it, and as for “creek” — I do a lot of mud runs, Tough Mudders and things like that.
The original decision to open the brewery was during a Tough Mudder in Kissimmee a few years ago. After these races, they usually give you a beer or two and usually it’s a Dos Equis or Miller Lite or something not very satisfying for a craft beer drinker after you’ve just raced.
So as we were wading upstream in a creek, we said we have to start a brewery and sponsor one of these races so we can have our own beer at the end. It was kind of a joke at first. Now, one of my intentions is to sponsor a mud run.
Too cool! We’ll be in touch as your opening date gets closer.
Kathryn Deen is the founder and editor of Clermont Magazine, a Clermont resident and an award-winning professional journalist.