When Hop Culture Founder Kenny Gould got married in December in Vero Beach, I had the opportunity to check out some of the best places to drink in the area.

With one of the richest zip codes in the country, Vero Beach is known as a “sleepy little beach town,” says Mike Malone, co-founder of the local Walking Tree Brewery. Located two-and-a-half to three hours north of Miami and east of Orlando, Vero Beach offers a small-town community paired with treasured beach vibes.

In part because the city has a strict policy against building high rises on the beach.

“You can get out of the crazy big cities, come up here, and because we have a beautiful beach with hotels, it still feels quaint,” Mike continued.

It’s also probably why the local tourism board, Visit Indian River, describes the area as “sunrises not high-rises.”

Vero Beach’s seasons change a little differently—busy in the winter and dead in the summer.

“By May 30th, half the people in town leave, and they’re gone until Thanksgiving,” Walking Tree’s other co-founder, Brooke Malone, told me.

Which means you could take advantage of some epic summer travel in the Sunshine State.

Time just moves differently in Vero Beach, whether you’re losing time strolling around the local farmers market every Saturday, dipping your toes into the white-sand beaches, picking (and eating) fresh oranges at a local grove, or whetting your palate at one of the area’s best breweries and distilleries.

See for yourself. This is where to soak up the sun and, more importantly, the suds in Vero Beach.

Hop Culture’s Best Places to Drink in Vero Beach

Walking Tree Brewery

3209 Dodger Rd, Vero Beach, FL 32960 | (772) 2173-502

walking tree brewery best breweries 2023
Photography courtesy of Walking Tree Brewery

Started in 2016, Walking Tree dazzles in its size (literally, the brewery posted up in an old Navy hangar that’s 24,000 sq ft), variety of impeccable beers, and sense of community.

I met up with Brooke and Mike around 4 p.m. on a Friday. Quite a few beers, a shot of barleywine (yes, it’s a thing here, and yes, you can sip on it), and hours of conversation later, I felt like I understood why the residents of this sleepy little coastal town love Walking Tree.

The roots run deep.

By 7 p.m., the space was packed. I mean packed. All regulars posted up at the bar while a birthday party crowded into one of the long tables, and friends met up everywhere across the vast space—the place just buzzed with good vibes.

It all goes back to the culture Brooke and Mike created.

“Welcome to the most badass brewery in the state of Florida!” Brooke said to me when I first walked in.

And the beer backs it up. Mike ran a lumber yard for seven years before…turning over a new leaf and opening Walking Tree.

“We really focus on classic styles and quality; we are not a hype brewery,” he said. Instead, you’ll find beers like Babycakes oatmeal stout, which I tried on nitro during my visit and which won gold at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in 2021. This is the beer Brooke’s most proud of. “Hands down, we are crushing Florida with it,” she said.

Or Barnacled Manatee, a barleywine that won multiple Best Florida Beer Championship awards and a silver at GABF in 2019. And is Mike’s favorite. The bartenders at Walking Tree even started their own tradition, serving the barleywine in tall shot glasses: You hold the shot glass like a mug, cheers, tap the bar, and drink.

Somehow, after that 9.2% ABV barleywine, the next time I looked at my watch, three hours had passed. As the beer flowed, my conversation with Brooke and Mike rolled gently into politics, inclusivity, and engendering community in a typically conservative area.

Walking Tree has set the tone for Vero Beach, hosting a banger of a Pride party complete with an eighteen-foot dragon that Brooke built herself.

That’s just the spirit and magic of Walking Tree.

Mike told me the other day he poured his own concrete. And has needed, at times, to be his own electrician and plumber. Brooke and Mike have earned every square inch of this place. So, to see it fill up with crowds of people laughing and drinking on a Friday night warms the heart.

As Brooke introduced me to some locals at the bar, while we sipped on nitro Babycakes, a band started strumming. Every so often, I’d hear a raucous roar as Barnacled Manatee shots clinked.

Honestly, I didn’t want to leave. Walking Tree is just the kind of place you want to hang around all day and long into the night.

Seriously, if you are ever looking to see the forest through the trees in craft beer, I recommend branching out and stopping by Walking Tree.

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Indian River Distillery

3308 Aviation Blvd, Vero Beach, FL 32960 | (772) 538-3161

indian river distillery vero beach
Photography courtesy of Grace Lee-Weitz | Hop Culture

About a block away from Walking Tree, across from a Mobil gas station, you’ll find an unassuming building with a bright yellow sign. Indian River Distillery Owner Ray Hooker describes his distillery as “working towards highlighting old Florida,” he says.

Hooker has roots in the Sunshine State.

“My family is on the documents that signed a petition to make Florida a state,” he shared as we sipped on a moonshine and a cocktail called the Bee’s Knees. “I like Florida a lot.”

Enough so that the former landscape and pest control business owner left that behind to fill a hole in the market because, when it came to distilling, “There was nobody else here doing it,” he said.

Representing Florida in ‘spirits’ means highlighting local produce in their spirits, such as a crop of Valencia oranges from Schacht Groves in an orange brandy. Or a Florida Seminole Indian variety of corn called Jimmy Red in a moonshine.

Yes, moonshine!

I made the rookie mistake of taking a big ‘ol gulp of that clear spirit before Hooker showed me the proper way to taste—smelling first before taking just enough of a sip to coat the mouth.

Because of the high oil content in the Jimmy Red Corn, “your first taste of this should be like the hottest coffee you get from Starbucks first thing in the morning,” said Hooker. “But once it covers your tongue, you’re going to start picking up flavors.”

Such as a bit of umami and butteriness.

And the rum he makes uses mostly sugar cane syrup instead of molasses because that was the traditional sweetener early Floridians used. “Everybody grew sugarcane in the yard,” said Hooker. “Once a year, they would harvest it, take it to their neighbor’s house, squeeze the juice out of it … and boil it down until it becomes syrup.”

Overall, Hooker just doesn’t distill things the normal way.

He says, “It might not be immediately obvious, but I’m a little bit of a nerd,”

The first bourbon he made had forty percent malted raw wheat (uncommon in distilling). When I visited, he shared that in the back, he had a bourbon made with ten percent oats (super uncommon in distilling).

The gin, the spirit he’s most proud of, took quite a while to get right, and he’s still perfecting it.

Inside the taproom, a 4,000-sq-ft building Hooker saved from demolition, you’ll find devoted locals sitting at a bar Hooker built by hand. Turn your head any which way, and you’ll find more nods to Florida: a grizzly bear and elk caught by Hooker’s uncle, who worked for the Florida Wildlife Commission for thirty-five years; a gator nicknamed Little Junior caught by one of Hooker’s friends; a turkey and a deer brought in by different respective customers; and a rattlesnake also from one of Hooker’s buddies.

For a taste of old-world Florida’s spirit, don’t skip Indian River Distillery.

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21st Amendment Distillery

2055 13th Ave, Vero Beach, FL 32960 | (772) 404-7660

21st amendment distillery vero beach florida
Photography courtesy of 21st Amendment Distillery

21st Amendment Distillery Co-Founder Jeff Palleschi similarly taps into history—American history, that is—respecting a sort of blue-collar work ethic he feels became the foundation of the country he loves. At his distillery, Palleschi hopes that people can come in, sit down, chat, listen to some music, and have a nice craft cocktail. “I’ve always said we have more in common than we do not in common,” he told me as I sipped on a Bourbon Espresso Martini (because it was 11:59 a.m.).

The former Marine Corps member started getting into spirits in the military. After training exercises, Palleschi says they’d go back to the barracks and drink either beer, bourbon, or American whiskey. “So, really, the choices were beer, Jim Beam, or Jack Daniels,” he laughed.

Expanding his palate and knowledge, Palleschi says he fell in love with what bourbon did for the United States, calling the drink “our spirit.”

“Scotland has Scotch, Ireland has Irish whiskey, the Canadians have Canadian whiskey,” he said. “There are not many things Americans can claim, right?” But bourbon is one of them.

When Palleschi opened 21st Amendment Distillery, he wanted to capture a “Spirit Worthy of America,” one of the distillery’s mottos.

“I’m pretty patriotic, almost in a nerdy way,” he shared. “We’re making a product worthy of [America’s] hard work and history.”

Palleschi speaks referentially of those blue-collar workers in the early 1900s. “Every day they put on their hard hat, or they went down in their mines, or farmers woke up to work,” he said. “So, to me, it’s sort of plowing a field. It’s like they did that for us and planted all these seeds, and now we have these crops, and we’re so lucky to have what we have because of their hard work.”

You’ll find those nods to American history everywhere at 21st Amendment, from the taproom to the distillery itself. Near the bar, Palleschi plopped a working old-school cigarette machine that he found in an antique store; it reminded the Massachusetts-born businessman of buying packs from similar vending machines for his mom when she dropped him off at hockey practice.

Look above the front door, and you’ll find what Palleschi calls the “Wall of Fame”—flags from deceased veterans encased in local, handmade oak boxes.

In the back of the house, Palleschi keeps a panel of dog tags close to the door. “Anybody that serves…we stick that up there, and they’re a part of what we’re doing here,” says Palleschi.

Similarly, with his stills, Palleschi named both in honor of veterans—one called Jennifer and the other Dale.

The first memorializes Jennifer Harris, a Marine and friend of the family who was the first female killed in Afghanistan. The second pays homage to an Army Corporal and son of someone close to Palleschi who died during an ambush. Each still has a plaque with a Purple Heart and Bronze Star. “Those are very special to us,” said Palleschi.

There is something pretty special going on at 21st Amendment Distillery. During the almost three hours I spent with Palleschi, he said hello to almost everyone who walked in the door, on a first-name basis with most.

When it comes to the spirits, “I like to think outside the box,” shared Palleschi.

In the espresso martini, the distillery’s third or fourth most popular cocktail, you’ll find coffee aged in a once-used whiskey barrel that continually rotates for thirty days, picking up oaky characteristics from the barrel.

Palleschi says he hopes to turn whiskey in those barrels soon to mimic how the spirit traveled in barrels back in the day. “When whiskey was coming down the Mississippi River into New Orleans, a lot of times storms would keep boats on the water … sometimes for thirthy days,” Palleschi said. “Well, what people found on the other end in New Orleans was, holy cow … the whiskey is late, but it tastes better. And part of the reasoning was that when it’s on the water, and moving in the barrel sloshing around … it’s touching all parts.”

Cocktails rotate with Palleschi even investing in a system for what they call “Taptails,” or cocktails on tap.

Behind the bar, you’ll find something called a Squarrel. The ten-gallon tank has interchangeable staves, so you can put spirits into it, changing the types of wood to get different flavors.

Most recently, Palleschi says they put their agave in the Squarrel, changing the harsher clear liquid to a mellow, oaky pot of gold. “It’s terrific,” shared Palleschi. “Caramelly and un-fricking-believable.”

But the beauty of 21st Amendment is that you can be any drinker you want to be.

“If you want, [you can] use our best whiskey and mix it with Coke,” said Palleschi, who wouldn’t personally drink whiskey that way (he likes his with a big ice cube in the summer and neat in the winter).

If you want something super fruity, like the best-summer-selling cocktail called Sundress with fresh watermelon juice, go for it.

If you’d rather share one of seventy-six bottles (so chosen after the year 1776) of a 117.7 proof, four-year-aged, rare-release bourbon whiskey from 21st Amendment’s Commemorative Distillery Series, do it! Palleschi gave me a taste from bottle number forty-six that pleasantly popped on my palate like the numbing spice of a Szechuan peppercorn.

Whether you’re a seasoned drinker or new to the game, like me, Palleschi and 21st Amendment will warmly welcome you in, encouraging you to drink a “Spirit Worthy of America.”

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American Icon Brewery

1133 19th Pl, Vero Beach, FL 32960 | (772) 934-4266

american icon brewery vero beach florida
Photography courtesy of American Icon Brewery

Housed in the historic Vero Beach Diesel Power Plant, American Icon has become the local go-to brewpub in the area. Pumping out classic beer styles from hazies to amber lagers to blonde ales and everything in between, American Icon pairs those ales and lagers with drinking-friendly grub.

Whether you want to munch on pub wings, a soft pretzel, buffalo cauliflower, burgers, or pizza, American Icon has all the bases covered.

Look, American Icon won’t wow you, but this sturdy steed will get the job done.

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Kilted Mermaid

1937 Old Dixie Hwy, Vero Beach, FL 32960 | (772) 569-5533

kilted mermaid vero beach florida
Photography courtesy of Kilted Mermaid

The best way to learn about the best place to drink is to ask someone who lives there.

“If you’re in town for a while, you need to make sure that you stop at the Kilted Mermaid,” Walking Tree Co-Founder Brooke Malone told me.

According to Brooke, the Kilted Mermaid is a “funky, weird, awesome place … [with] bad**s craft beer, wine, and fondue.”

The quirky pub has become something of a safe and welcoming watering hole for the entire community.

Brooke shared that Kilted Mermaid owners Linda Moore and Rick Norry run one of the most Queer-friendly businesses in town.

“You need to please make a point to stop at the Kilted Mermaid,” Brooke urged me one more time before I left. “I’ll give you my cell phone number. I’ll meet you. You need to see the work that we’re doing here.

She didn’t have to tell me twice (although she did!). If the co-founder of one of our best breweries of the year says it’s one of her favorite places in town, then you should probably go there.

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