The Brew Life: Miami Gains a Respect for Craft Beer

©Chip Litherland/WhereTraveler

©Chip Litherland/WhereTraveler

Think “Miami,” and perhaps images that come to mind are exquisite cocktails—libations that are concocted with muddled exotic fruits, rare liquors and elaborate garnishes. Well, move over cocktails: The new kid in the 305 area code is a pint of craft beer.

“We’re the last brewing territory,” laughed Peter Schnebly, the owner of Miami Brewing Company. “Every place else got it before we did. We’re the slow adapters.”

Well, Miamians aren’t really known for getting any place on time anyway, so it’s probably fitting. Schnebly and a number of other beer lovers saw a gap in the Miami-Dade County market when it came to the frothy brew, and in the last five years, breweries have been popping up left and right.

“There really wasn’t anyone else doing it in town and as we traveled to other cities, we thought, ‘This is a great idea for something that Miami needs,’” said Gustavo Chacon, co-founder of Biscayne Bay Brewing in Doral.

And Miami spoke loud and clear that craft beers were a welcome addition in town. M.I.A. Brewing opened up in Doral as well, and in the art neighborhood of Wynwood, beer lovers head to Wynwood Brewing Company, J. Wakefield Brewing and the brand-new Concrete Beach. Over on the beach, Abbey Brewing Company doles out unique brews.

Since 2003, the name “Schnebly” was immediately associated with the family’s collection of Florida-inspired wines, made with exotic fruits that can only be found in tropical environments. However, Peter Schnebly said it was beer that stole his heart first. He had dreams of starting his own brewery in the ’80s, but because he was in the produce business, wine made more sense when he moved to South Florida with his family. However, his dream finally came to fruition in November 2011 after much research, licensing, starting the brewing process and then finally pouring Miami Brewing’s first beers.

“The theme behind Miami Brewing Company is to really make beers that belong to Miami or the Keys in spirit, taste, attitude, all the above,” Schnebly said.

Little known to Schnebly, the brewery was starting at the beginning of what would become a craft-beer craze in Miami. With an idea to just make a few beers to mix things up at the winery, Schnebly said, he now has a $2-million brewery on his hands.

“I wish I could tell you that I was smart enough to figure all this out and I saw it coming, but I didn’t see it coming like this,” Schnebly said.

Over in Doral, southwest of Miami, Gustavo Chacon said the germ of a brewing idea started in 2012 with his business partner. They teamed up with a professional brewer from Oregon, researched the area, and in 2013 started construction. Last August, they produced their first beers for Biscayne Bay Brewing.

Taking a nod from the heavy Latin influence in Miami, the brewery incorporates flavors such as classic Cuban coffee in its stand-out beer, the La Colada Porter. Using special grains that create a roasted flavor even before the coffee is added, the result is a full-bodied beer. Then, cafecito-style, the beer is mixed with milk, sugar and a cold-brewed coffee made on-site.

Wynwood Brewing Company is surrounded by industrial buildings spruced up by murals, a true arts-neighborhood location. Featured food trucks dole out food outside and inside; art covers the walls; and, beer lovers gather around board games and try out flights of the brewery’s creations. Started by Luis Brignoni in 2011, the first beer was Pop’s Porter, a nod to his father’s support in starting the business. Throughout the month, the tap room is host to comedy shows, happy hours, paint and pint nights, and other community activities.

In these beginning stages of the beer revolution in The 305, rather than being in cutthroat competition, the brewers instead have banded together in their passion. Chacon said that brewery owners see each other at bars, talk shop and will loan each other bags of grain or tools. They’re in this together.

“We try to help each other out as much as possible,” he said. “The attention isn’t focused on us right now, but the products that are coming from Miami are great right now. It’s going to be exciting to see how much better we can get.”

Originally published in WhereTraveler.

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