Infinite Ale Works holds the title of being Ocala’s first craft brewery. The brewery and its staff celebrated seven years of making beer in the Brick City and have constantly worked to live up to their tagline of “traditionally inspired and infinitely creative.”
The brewery has been through a few changes and has a number of projects in the hopper. We recently sat down with Infinite Ale Works owner Tom McDonald to learn more about what has been going on with Ocala’s first craft brewery. Here are ten things to know about Infinite Ale Works:
Infinite Ale Works is now offering food options in a “test kitchen” format. Tom says that the addition of food options has allowed them to open the brewery tasting room earlier during days when lunch is served (including weekends).
The brewery has hosted their first beer dinner with the kitchen and hopes to do more of these types of events in the future. Infinite’s food manager, Aaron, loves to incorporate Infinite’s ales into the food, including a Berry Gose jelly that he serves with a brie sandwich on the limited lunch menu.
Infinite Ale Works has several barrel-aged variants of West Floridian and Into the Dark Roast. Tom spoke excitedly about the brewery’s various barrels currently housing these two beers, including bourbon, maple syrup, and vanilla extract along with a few surprises.
The brewery is solidifying their seasonal lineup of beers. Tom shared that Infinite is aiming to release a solid rotation of customer favorites this year, and it all started with Fuzzy Peach Gose in the first part of the year, followed by Berry Gose. Those two will be followed by one more beloved seasonal gose (read on!). Then, in the fall, expect Buzzfest Octoberfest and bookend the year with West Floridian Christmas.
The next seasonal beer will be… Infinite Ale Works Watermelon Gose! This one was
“always the favorite gose in the tasting room,” according to Tom. The beer will be canned and released soon.
The brewery is hoping to send more limited and special beers into distribution this year, including Shaky Hands New England IPA. As Infinite exercises their creativity, Tom expects to send more limited and one-off beers into distribution.
For the curious – the namesake of Apeiron IPA is the Greek work for “infinite.” While the rest of Infinite’s lineup is pretty straightforward, people often ask for help understanding this one.
Infinite Ale Works is looking at a new facility locally in Ocala. While many of the details on this announcement remain under wraps, Tom and Kristin did tell us that the brewery is looking for a new space in the Ocala/ Marion County area.
Infinite Ale Works packages beer in both glass and aluminum cans. For the most part, bottles remain the favorite package for higher-gravity brews. Look for Into the Dark Roast and West Floridian to remain in glass bottles, while the brewery’s seasonal and limited beers will likely go into cans.
The most-loved and best-selling beer at Infinite remains West Floridian, a Belgian-inspired quadruple with a 9.5% alcohol presence. While this fact is surprising, Tom talked about this in a previous interview. He said, “We heard things like that all the time,” Tom remembers. “’A Belgian quad in this area?’ people would say. But this area is no different than anywhere else except that they may not have had the exposure of trying new things. Give the beer to them and they’re like ‘Wow. That’s what that is? That’s good.’”
Infinite Ale Works is available on draft and in cans and bottles throughout Team Cone’s 22-county distribution footprint. The brewery is located on Magnolia Street, near downtown Ocala.
International Stout Day has been a hallmark of November for the last seven years, the same way that IPA Day has become a big part of August each year. These “beer holidays” are a great day to branch out and try something new, something you may not have tried otherwise.
Be careful, and do not underestimate stouts – they can carry a larger alcohol presence, depending on which style of stout the brewer decides to brew. Even the beers listed in this article begin at 5.2% ABV and rise all the way up to 10.2% ABV – so drink slowly and share with friends, if you like. Or if sharing a bottle is not an option, bring enough for the whole party.
Here are a few suggestions of beers to warm your November – on International Stout Day and beyond:
Swamp Head Brewery Udderly Calm (5.2% ABV): Gainesville’s Swamp Head Brewery chose this milk stout (stout brewed with lactose, or milk sugar) as the wintry entry in the Migrational Series of beers. Imagine candy bar chocolate, milk chocolate, and chocolate cookies in beer form, then wake up and enjoy a can of this dessert-forward limited beer.
Coppertail Brewing Captain Jack Stone Crab Stout (8.3% ABV): One of the few of these stouts that can boast a bit of Florida in every bottle, Coppertail Brewing’s Captain Jack’s Stone Crab Stout starts with a boatload of Florida Stone Crabs. “Our Brewmaster Casey drives to Key West and loads up a couple of hundred pounds of fresh-caught stone crab from the legend himself, Captain Jack. Meanwhile back at the brewery, the crew times the brew day just right for Casey’s arrival. Minutes later the crab is added to the stout boil.” These crabs give a briny edge to the roasty, earthy, and chococlatey stout that bears the name of the legendary Key West boat captain.
Infinite Ale Works Into the Dark Roast (9.0% ABV): Dark, black, and viscous, Infinite Ale Works’s Into the Dark Roast brings layers of coffee and roasted malts to bear on the palate in this sipping beer. Into the Dark Roast is available all year long, but it is especially delicious in the dark months of Florida winter, where the air is cold and the nights are long. This stout is at home with a piece of chocolate cake or a robust cigar – for best results, bring some to share with friends.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Narwhal (10.2% ABV): When the beer dictionary is written, and the entry about imperial stouts is written, Sierra Nevada’s Narwhal will be the picture that illustrates the style. Inspired by the mysterious creature that lives in the depths of the oceans, the Narwhal is a beast that loves to share its nuances of espresso, baker’s cocoa, roasted grain and a light hint of smoke. Narwhal brims with malt complexity and a warming alcohol presence that can stand up to even Florida’s winter chills.
Abita Brewing Office Party (6.8% ABV): Just like an office party brings people out of their shells to celebrate the holidays, Louisiana’s Abita Brewing Company’s Office Party Stout brings all of the different flavors present in dark beer out to play. Generous amounts of cocoa nibs, cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg are added to infuse the spirit of the holidays into this limited release.
As the mercury continues to rise and afternoon showers make walking feel like swimming, the beers of winter and spring aren’t always as refreshing as they are in their own season. Enter the beers of summer – the light, sessionable, and refreshing thirst-quenchers. These are the beers that are at home anywhere from a bonfire to a cookout to a pool party, and they will be here for you throughout the summer.
While India Pale Ales (IPAs) are currently the hottest style in craft beer, their older and wiser cousins – the pale ales – are ready and waiting for their turn in the beer cooler this summer. American pale ales are one of the oldest styles in craft beer and though they are inspired by British pale ales, American brewers love to put their own spin on the style.
The original American pale ale, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, was brewed in the 1980s and slowly grew in popularity until it became distributed nationwide and brewed on both coasts. Americans’ fascination and love of these hoppy and relatively low-alcohol beers continues today. Combined with their history and low-alcohol quality, their thirst-quenching nature helps make these some of summer’s perfect beers.
Here are a few inspired summer pale ales to check out this season:
Swamp Head Brewery Stumpknocker Pale Ale (5.6% ABV)- This summer pale ale is made by fishermen with the outdoors in mind! Named for a little fish with a big attitude, Stumpknocker packs the hop aroma and flavor of a huge hoppy beer miniaturized into a pale ale. Light in body and big on taste, this easy-drinking pale ale is a regular resident of boat coolers everywhere. Knock one back and see for yourself!
Samuel Adams New England Pale Ale (5.5% ABV)- Bringing the hoppy flavor to any cookout! The Boston Beer Company debuted their New England IPA in 2018 and 2019 sees the release of IPA’s little brother – New England Pale Ale. Bursting through the can with juicy hop flavors of mangoes and peaches, New England Pale Ale brings new layers to any summertime table. If hoppy beers aren’t your favorite, check out this style of beer since hop aroma and flavor are more on the side of “juicy” than “bitter.”
Infinite Ale WorksTrails Pale Ale (4.8% ABV)- The best of old-world tradition and new-world innovation! The same yeast that makes Infinite Ale WorksWest Floridian Quadruple is used to make Trails Pale Ale giving the beer the fruity aroma and flavor that Belgian ales are known for. The brewery calls the beer “an easy drinking and refreshingly hoppy fusion of American hops with a distinctive Belgian yeast character.” We call it a great twist on a refreshing pale ale with some of the great fruity flavors that make Belgian beer so interesting.
Dogfish HeadAmerican Beauty Pale Ale (6.5% ABV)- Made for music-lovers by Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in collaboration with the Grateful Dead and their fans everywhere! American Beauty, a pale ale inspired by the Grateful Dead, captures the spirit of the band’s 30 years of touring and recording. The beer is made with granola (an ingredient selected by fans of the band), wildflower honey, and all American hops. Check out this sweet beauty of an American pale ale today!
Check out our BEER FINDER page to see where any of these summer pale ales can be found! No matter what beer you choose to enjoy, please enjoy responsibly. Cheers!
Team Cone is proud to work every day towards our goal: maintaining a World Class organization. We know that the breweries who supply us with beer all strive for the same goal.
Each year, the Best Florida Beer Competition accepts entries from Florida’s breweries and judges them, awarding medals to the top three scoring beers in each category.
We are proud and excited to congratulate these breweries on their awards at this weekend’s Brewers Ball, where the Best Florida Beer Competition awarded medals to professional brewers. All awards were handed out by Best Florida Beer Vice President Jason Toft (pictured).
We recently sat down with Infinite Ale Works co-owner and co-founder Tom McDonald to talk about the story behind the brewery and plans for the future. Pull up a stool and listen in:
Tom McDonald started his life in the Florida beer community not as a brewery owner but as a co-owner of Pi on Broadway. Pi was one of the first eateries to pour craft beer and show its flavorful attributes to Ocala. The story of Infinite Ale Works begins with Tom’s beer curiosity and a Pi customer who was passionate about Belgian beer. “We had a gentleman come into Pi a lot and was very passionate about his homebrew and about brewing,” Tom said. Jim Ritchhart, a homebrewer and Belgian beer enthusiast, helped drive Tom into brewery ownership and starting Ocala’s first craft brewery.
“I try to align myself with people who are passionate about things,” Tom says of Jim. “So, we talked and then opened up a brewery.”
While Tom says it in a matter-of-fact manner, it was no easy task to open a brewery – when he expands on it. “We opened on St Patrick’s Day of 2014. The first year, we were waiting for our TTB license, so we served 40 guest taps. We rolled out our own drafts the following year. 2015 was when we started making our own beer,” he remembers. When Infinite opened and started making its own beer, Tom remembers the downtown community taking notice. “People were excited to see something new that was only three blocks off The Square. They were willing to make the walk to the brewery.” Infinite Ale Works had found its customer base, and that base continues to grow. “Our customers are a mix of people,” Tom posits. “Really, they are just people who want to try something that is quality and is made locally.”
Much of the inspiration for Infinite’s beers is born from Jim Ritchhart’s love for Belgian beer. “Jim has been to Belgium a dozen times and brews a bunch of Belgian beers.” But, Tom says that after the brewery got started, they didn’t want to limit their creativity to one style. “Once we got everything started, and with everything that was exploding in the beer scene at the time, we didn’t want to pigeonhole ourselves into a small tiny corner in the world of amazing beers, we looked at the big picture and figured that we love great beer.” That decision inspired the brewery’s tagline which helps steer the ship: “Traditionally inspired but infinitely creative.” Tom smiles. “We love Belgian-based beers, but we definitely step out and do other styles, too. We like to explore, we also like the traditional historical styles as well. We have our Belgian Wit, Witfinite, on draft – that won a silver medal from Best Florida Beer Competition. We also have a New England IPA, called Chaos OJ, and we have a sour version as well. We also brew a Belgian Pale, Infinite Trails, but it has the same yeast as West Floridian Quad (a big 9.5% ABV Belgian dark strong ale). It’s a lighter, slightly hoppier beer. It is twofold for us: when it’s hot out, we want something lighter, plus [Infinite Trails] also acts as a yeast propagator for West Floridian so it can do the big work we need it to do on the big quad.” Tom says that the brew staff does not like to limit creativity, but at the same time, they also try brew beer that their customers enjoy. “We like to step out of the box and try a lot of cool stuff because we like variety, but we also like our Belgians, and our Belgian quad is one of our best sellers.” The fact that their West Floridian is one of Infinite’s best-selling beers seems a bit uncanny in a world where India pale ales and light lagers seem to be hogging spotlights. “We heard things like that all the time,” Tom remembers. “’A Belgian quad in this area?’ people would say. But this area is no different than anywhere else except that they may not have had the exposure of trying new things. Give the beer to them and they’re like ‘Wow. That’s what that is? That’s good.’”
A Rare Opportunity
As more and more folks discovered Infinite Ale Works’s beer, the brewery continued to grow. After their reputation for Belgian-influenced beer increased, a friend of Jim’s was coming to town for a beer event and decided he wanted to collaborate with Infinite on a beer – this friend happened to be Urbain Cotteau, the head brewer at Belgium’s De Struise Brouwers. De Struise is well known for their unique ales, especially Pannepot – a quadruple like Infinite’s West Floridian. Tom remembers the experience of working with Urbain: “We collaborated because Jim was friends with the brewer. We did a quad because it was Jim’s favorite beer. They collaborated on what kind of beer they wanted to make. It was definitely different…” Tom remembers. He recalls that “Jim, Michael Koonz (our head brewer at the time), and Urbain were back there knocking it out, and the three of them had completely different approaches to brewing. Jim and Michael were fresh up from the homebrew world with this brewing legend in there, and they were nervous and everything had to be just so, and Urbain was like ‘Ah, it’s beer, it’s fine.’” The casual attitude from someone with over 20 years of brewing experience was somewhat of a surprise to the brewers. Tom says once the brewing was close to finished, “there’s some runoff left after the mash, and Urbain says, ‘put it in a bucket out by the street and we’ll collect some local yeast.’ So we did. We put it out in a bucket by the street with cars going by, and he didn’t care. We fermented it out, kegged it up, and let it ferment in our pilot fermenters. It was pretty good. We had to pitch some additional yeast, and it was probably mostly the yeast we pitched, but it still tasted different from the other beer. The finished beer would be called “EXXXactly (picture below).”
“The point was that Urbain had been doing this commercially for 20 years and he says, ‘Ah, it’s just beer. Good beer will shine through,’” Tom remembers.
Thanks to this collaboration, drinkers were able to taste West Floridian fermented (in part) with yeast from West Florida.
What’s in the hopper for Infinite Ale Works
During the brewery’s first operating year, they operated as a beer bar, pouring from 40 taps. In the second year of business, Infinite Ale Works brews were only served in the taproom, which allowed for some evaluation of which beers would be better sellers. Tom says he had to consider the area when making decisions. “We still are in a rural distribution market, so we think about things like not scaring people away from trying something new, but then the opposite side is I’ve given West Floridian to macro drinkers and they usually love it. And then we have a beer like Infinite Trails, which helps us propagate yeast for West Floridian, there’s that practical side of it, too. We try to look at things that will sell and that we can produce in volume.” Once the brewery transitioned into making their own beers, they were able to cut a trail for the kind of beer they wanted to brew.
Once they knew the kind of beer they wanted to make, Infinite Ale Works decided to go into distribution with Team Cone and to sell beer beyond the taproom. Tom believes, “Beers are going to continue to move toward drinkable beers that people can drink a lot of. We’ll see a breakout of some niche products. Our West Floridian and our Into the Dark Roast are both that.” While these beers are niche products, they are definitely the ones that the people are clamoring for, so these are the beers that will be distributed in 375mL (12.5oz) glass bottles. While cans are popular, Tom acknowledges, “You don’t see a lot of breweries doing the size that we’re doing. Everyone seems to be looking at cans, so we’re trying to distinguish ourselves with bottles. We’ll have our own niche on those and look at the other end – something lighter for drinking on the boat or by the pool.” While bottles have different implications in a supermarket or beer store, bottles are a more traditional vessel for beers such as Infinite’s. “We’re going to start with bottles, and as we grow we will look at the market. There is a lot of canning competition out there,” Tom admits. “There are only so many cans of pale ale and IPA that shelves can support. I’m not hating on any of those, but we’re behind the curve on that, so we are going to stick to what we know and try to do something at the other end of the spectrum.”
While distribution has been successful for Infinite, Tom aspires to seeing Infinite’s beers around the state. “[We are] currently distributed in 22 counties with Team Cone and also 6 counties in Orlando over to Melbourne. We would like to be in the whole state, but it has been harder to get into distribution for sure. Literally, yesterday we were talking about changing tactics and changing what we’re doing right here to draw attention to us.”
Changing tactics has been successful for Infinite in the past. One of the biggest changes Infinite Ale Works made was two years ago when they brought on Swamp Head Brewery’s founding brewer Craig Birkmaier as head brewer. Craig immediately set to work changing procedures to increase efficiencies and making other subtle changes to the brewery as well. Tom recalls that Craig “really helped us achieve the commercial level of consistency that we were looking for. We had originally scaled up our homebrew recipes, but Craig has been a huge asset. You can also see his influence on our tap list as well.” One of those influences has been Infinite’s Mosaic Session Saison, a light-bodied and hoppy table beer with low alcohol content and noticeable hoppy aroma and flavor.
As Craig came on to the staff at Infinite Ale Works, he began to work on their brewing processes, but his love for Infinite’s repertoire of beers made him a perfect fit. “I’m a traditionalist,” Craig asserts. “I really honor and love the ability to do traditional beer styles and to make them well. Once you can do that, you can start playing and almost do anything else you want.” While he continues to make the traditional styles well, Craig says his two greatest points of pride are West Floridian and Infinite’s fall seasonal. “The thing I’m most proud of is West Floridian – it’s not my recipe, but I have made many changes and learned how best to brew it. In terms of my favorite beer, I hate pumpkin beers with pumpkin pie spice, so we made a different pumpkin beer. We took 75 pounds of pumpkin and roasted them with brown sugar at Pi on Broadway. Then we made a saison with sweet and bitter orange, coriander, and grains of paradise with a dry-spiced (like dry-hopping) the beer with sage. That one was my favorite.”
The Tasting Room: Many Moving Parts
While achieving consistency and keeping distributors full with beer to sell has been a challenge, Tom talks of another challenge closer to home: the Infinite Ale Works tasting room. “One of our biggest hurdles since we opened as a taproom… has been working to keep 6-8 of our own beers on tap. We still have quite a few guest beers; there’s probably a dozen.” It is quite a job for the brewery staff to keep the taproom supplied with unique beers made in-house, but the creative side emerges to fill a few extra taps, Tom reports. “Right now we have a session saison on tap that has been hopped with several different hops so you can see how the different hops shine and the effects of the hops on the beer. We also have our Belgian wit, our Raspberry Belgian wit, and then a sour version of our Belgian wit. We also have a pilot system, and we crank out about one barrel batches.” “We try to keep 18-20 of our own beers on. For our anniversary, we will have all of our beers on all 32 taps.” After all the work to open and continue growing, in a few short weeks Infinite Ale Works will celebrate four years in business.
Tom smiles and says that four years is only the beginning, though. “As we grow and expand, we want the tasting room to have a feel like you’re in the brewery.” While the current tasting room may not have that feel, that may mean a new home for Infinite Ale Works, but don’t fret – Tom knows that Ocala is where the brewery is most at home. “As we talk about growing and expanding, [the feel of the tasting room] is a consideration. [Expansion] is something we’ve talked about for a couple years, but we want to stay downtown.”
In addition to growth, Tom says that he looks forward to seeing more creative beers coming out of the brewery, too. “We’d like to grow our barrel program; we’ve had a lot of success with barrel-aged West Floridian. We also do a snickerdoodle barrel-aged Dark Roast that’s pretty phenomenal, and that should be coming out in February. Those are two aspects that we want to push and we’ll keep trying new stuff.” Tom also lauds the brewery’s pilot brewery, so new batches can be brewed on a small system and tested in the tasting room before launching to a wider audience.
Keeping Infinite moving
Tom says his team keeps growing and keeps him coming to work. “We have an awesome team here. We’ve grown that team over the last two years and we are doing some restructuring so we can continue. It’s a pretty awesome team and a close family. We have Sam as the taproom manager. Juan and Kyle help Craig in the back brewing beer, and we have Travis, our sales manager. That’s our roundtable of people; that’s definitely the future for us – growing the family and adding more like-minded beer people.” And also, he adds, “Working with beer is cool.”
Looking to the future after learning so much from Infinite’s humble roots, the question floats to Tom: “Any tough lessons from brewery ownership?”
With no hesitation and a wry smile, he replies, “Every day.”
For more information on Infinite Ale Works beers, click over to our Beer Finder and find a friendly draft list with Infinite beer near you.