You will have to forgive Jeff Herbst if he gets a little worked up sometimes. The man is passionate about everything that he does. You have to be passionate to juggle three of the most demanding pursuits imaginable: refinishing vintage furniture, brewing small batch craft beer and being a landlord in uptown Mount Dora in a 1920’s era building.
Despite the numerous frustrations, all three of Jeff’s passions yield beautiful results. The crown jewel of Herbst’s uptown empire is the Mount Dora Brewing Company, the first and only business producing beer in Someplace Special. Opened in 2010, the Brewery, as it is known by locals, features two things that Mount Dora doesn’t have enough of – live music and locally made beers.
Perhaps the best way to get acquainted with the Brewery’s offerings is to order a flight of beers, that way you can taste each of the 6 varieties and decide which you like best. The beers made on premises range from a blonde ale to a dark porter. Many of the brews reference colloquial Mount Dora land marks including the Pistolville Porter, named for the uptown section of Mount Dora where the brewery resides. Due to the restrictive nature of alcohol distribution laws in Florida you won’t be able to try any of the Mount Dora Brewing Company offerings at other local establishments or festivals, a point that sticks in Herbst’s craw. He would like to serve his brews all over the town, but there is no “farm to table” when it comes to heavily regulated alcohol sales.
Next door to the Brewery, Herbst has opened the Rockin’ Rabbit, named for the large hybrid rocking- horse-rabbit that is carved from hardwood and sits in the middle of the dining room. Billing itself as a Café, the restaurant is adorned with the woodworking instruments of the trade and historical phots of the Herbst family, whose tradition of crafting home brew beer dates back to Jeff’s grandmother in the early 20th century. The café features breakfast daily as well as lunch and a surprisingly sophisticated dinner menu. Out back of the Rabbit lies the real hidden gem of Uptown, the beer garden featuring lush landscaping and backyard games for entertainment. Scattered tables with umbrellas offer shade during the hot summer days and enough shelter that you can wait out a rain storm without getting soaked.
Another of Jeff Herbst’s passions is music and that defines the Brewery feel. With local acts, the occasional regional band and the ever present Brewery Boys just about every night at the Brewery features some sort of live entertainment. The Brewery is about as rustic as Mount Dora gets. The unfinished beams and cracker style clapboard ceiling and the copper beer vats share the space with old time woodworking tools. There’s nothing contrived about the aura of this building. There’s hardly a bare space on the walls that isn’t filled with some memory or photo of a good time.
Uptown Mount Dora, the gritty little brother to Mount Dora’s famed downtown district, has undergone a lot of changes over the years. Catering more to residents than to tourists or visitors, the businesses that line Highland Street are more functional than fancy. They are also less seasonal and not as dependent on the steady diet of festivals that feed the downtown machine.
There’s been a streetscape project done in uptown, it’s partially completed, with a continuation planned to follow. The beautification project’s improvements ends just a few blocks from the Brewery, but Herbst is in no hurry to see it completed. He doesn’t want to lose the parking spots in front of his business to the wider sidewalks and parallel parking that he says will inevitably claim the public right-of-way in front of his menagerie of businesses. There’s a Stained Glass Studio, Oriental Medicine Shop with acupuncture, and a beauty salon in his complex. He’s been there since 1978, refinishing furniture and slowly growing the Uptown that he loves. But, he bristles at the rules and regulations on businesses, pointing out that many of the zoning requirements don’t make sense for a nearly 100-year-old building.
With the craft beer craze showing no signs of slowing down and the rapid growth and expansion of the South East side of Mount Dora, the Brewing Company is in the catbird seat to remain an anchor around which to build the future of the 1st District. While, for the time being you will have to visit the Brewery to enjoy the Mount Dora-centric beers, maybe one day Herbst will expand his empire to include the Mount Dora Bottling Company. One can only hope that Jeff Herbst is around for another 35 years playing out his passions on the corner he lovingly built.
Joe Runnels, Writer (firstname.lastname@example.org)