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FROM BOY BAND TO BEER

Boy band Hanson, all grown up, debuts a new beer at Epcot's food and wine festival.

Fans started lining up at 6 a.m. to see Hanson talk beer.

Yes, beer. Yes, Hanson. The towheaded brothers behind the earwig MMMBop have come to the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival to play music for the past five years. But this year, they had a brilliant business tie-in.

They were legal now, way legal, producing a brand of pale ale aptly named Mmmhops. The beer is making its Florida debut at the festival, sold in cups at the Fife & Drum kiosk at the American Adventure pavilion and in bottles in the festival center.

That's where Isaac, Taylor and Zac gathered in September for a "beer seminar" and to sign bottles for fans. The brothers formed their beer company in 2013, their 21st year as a band (get it?). The song MMMBop has almost come of age, too, they said.

"If you play that song backwards, it says 'Drink more beer,'" middle brother Taylor quipped to an adoring crowd of hundreds.

Confession: I was fangirling with them. I merrily accepted an interview with the band, because my Hanson hang-up is no big secret. In the 1990s, Hanson was mine. My David Cassidy, my Justin Bieber, my One Direction. My friends and I wrote them mail with glitter stickers down the side. I was sure I'd marry Taylor. Can we call that institutional knowledge?

Alas, time has passed: Isaac is 33; Taylor is 31; Zac is 28.

The Hansons are all married with a combined 11 children. They've produced 10 albums and toured the world. Surely they needed a hobby, or at least a drink. Backstage, I tried to find an elegant way to ask Hanson if the beer meant they were in the baby stages of a midlife crisis.

"I don't know if this is what you're extrapolating," Taylor said, my eyes shooting with cartoon hearts. "But I think that if you look, there are a lot of people our age and younger that are really passionate about the craft beer scene. For us, part of what we're able to say with our interest in beer is, we're much like many people of our generation. ...

"Sometimes what you're really excited about happens to be on the right curve, where it's lining up with the cultural movement. And in this case, I would say that's very much true."

They partnered with the Mustang Brewing Co. in Oklahoma and started producing a pale ale with Zythos, Centennial and Willamette hops, plus a potent 7.5 percent alcohol content (it really mmm-bops you). They formed a beer and music festival in Tulsa called Hop Jam.

The beer is available around Oklahoma and the Midwest, and online. They say there will be more varieties.

"A good pale ale is an anchor to put in the ground and build around," said Taylor. "Ours is the kind of pale ale that we think introduces you to higher flavored beers."

The brothers' interest in beer feels legitimate. They're into brands like Sierra Nevada, Sam Adams, Dogfish Head and 3 Floyds. They tossed around terms like "malty," "triple IPA" and "IBU," or International Bittering Units.

As for the name, they're not worried it's gimmicky.

"We always felt like if we want to move forward, we need to take our past with us," Taylor said. "You can't wipe things out. And we're proud of MMMBop."

It was nominated for Grammys, licensed in everything from The Hangover Part III to Despicable Me 2. And the brothers are sincere when they talk about the message, that it can help people navigate life, even through those prickly thirties.

"That song talks about how, over time you'll discover that very few things in life last and that you have to consciously define that for yourself," said Zac, who was 11 when the brothers recorded the song. "When we see the audiences at shows and see these people who have been with you for 20-some-odd years, it rings true what that song is saying. But I think the beer ... it's like the toast to that."

"To the ones who really care," added Isaac, quoting the song.

Well, I cared. I bought two bottles of Mmmhops for the Disneyfied price of $15.45 and cracked one open at dinner.

It was a little bitter going down. But the longer it lasted, the more it kept opening up.

Contact Stephanie Hayes at shayes@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8716. Follow @stephhayes.

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IF YOU GO

Drink some Mmmhops

The 19th annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival runs 9 a.m.-9 p.m. daily through Nov. 10 at Walt Disney World. Included with daily admission: $94, $88 ages 3-9, 2 and younger free. Some events may also require a special event ticket. Food and drinks range from $3 to $8 at each stop along the tour of countries. Epcot at Walt Disney World, 1515 N Buena Vista Drive, Lake Buena Vista. Call (407) 939-3378 for more information or go to disneyworld.com/foodandwine.

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