Do You Detect a Draft?

Undeterred by Miami's history of hops flops, local microbreweries unleash a new round of beer pressure

The two young moguls perched over mozzarella cheese sticks and iced teas at a Hallandale Denny's are trying to explain why their business idea is going to sell to South Florida, perhaps the entire state, maybe even beyond. Their product: beer. By definition a festive beverage. On the other side of the keg, at least. On this end, it appears to be a serious matter.

David Wiest, a Fort Lauderdale resident who moved to the area twelve years ago and who bears an uncanny resemblance to Married...With Children patriarch Ed O'Neill, wants to elucidate a pitch in terms of their beer's physical selling points. "It's rich and full-bodied," he ventures, then adds in a nod to the subtropical climate, "not one that would weight you down."

After a few stabs at this marketing gambit, partner Vincent Prince waves Wiest off. "What we really want to do," he says, leaning forward earnestly, "is provide a good product for people in South Florida -- maybe you can work these words out for me -- that the people in South Florida will find a product that is -- what do I want to say? A really representative of South Florida. That's our goal. We want something that everyone can take pride in. Like the way the Dolphins once were: the pride of South Florida. Uh, maybe we shouldn't put the 'once' in there," he corrects himself. "That's really our goal."

A South Florida native, Prince grew up in Liberty City and now lives in Miami Lakes. "We think South Florida is really deserving of this product at this point in time," he continues, choosing his words carefully. "I think South Florida is, and has always been, a place where people can get away and relax and live at a slightly slower pace, and that's what we're getting at."

Prince pauses, but he's still not through. Having played the hometown-team card and the sun-and-fun card, he's looking for one more trump: tradition. "The architects of South Beach," he declares solemnly, evoking (by association if not by name) the likes of developers Carl Fisher and John Collins, "brought the aura of the beach, of being able to sit back and let your hair down. That's the spirit we want to capture in this product. We want people to think when they drink our beer that this is why people come to South Florida: They come with the attitude that they want to enjoy themselves. Even if they come for business, that at five o'clock they want to take their tie off and head for the beach! We want to produce a product that is consistent with that type of lifestyle."

Speech over, Prince leans back in his chair. "Maybe you can clean that up a little," he suggests.

If the sales pitch seems a little unpolished, it's not because Prince and Wiest haven't given their project a lot of thought. For the past two years, they've been trying to develop a microbrewery in Miami. Employed as financial managers at an aerospace company, they began visiting several microbreweries in the northeast. Next they paid a brewery in Auburndale $25,000 to develop a recipe and mix up a test batch of 3000 cases of Prince Gold. Plastering lampposts, walls, and coolers with their label, they test-marketed the beer in Miami Beach, Coconut Grove, Fort Lauderdale, and other Generation X and yuppie stomping grounds. The response was encouraging enough that they have persisted in their attempt to open Miami's first hometown brewery in twenty years. The primary stumbling block: assembling investors to supply the $700,000 needed to secure a site and commence construction. Though they've already passed what Wiest terms their "drop-dead date" (April 30), they haven't given up.

Money and marketing uncertainties aside, the duo faces other daunting factors in their quest to douse Dade with suds. A year ago, when customers were popping the tops on those first few Prince Golds, Prince-Wiest Brewing Company seemed to be the only new brewer in town. Now, however, at least three other microbreweries (i.e., ones that produce fewer than 15,000 31-gallon barrels per year) are under construction between Broward and Key West. All three are much closer than Prince-Wiest to manufacturing their first batch. In addition, at least four brewpubs (i.e., bars that make their own beer, usually on the premises) are planned for Dade County alone, at least three of which appear to be within a month or two of completion.

The relative explosion of beer-related activity in Miami straggles along behind a nationwide trend that has seen a massive growth in the so-called craft-beer industry during the past fifteen years. As of today, only two microbreweries are up and running in this state; neither is located in South Florida. About two dozen brewpubs are in operation, including one in Key West and one in Fort Lauderdale. None in Dade, though.

Not yet.
"Brewed in our traditional brewhouse," announces the label of the Miami Brewing Company's yet-to-be-manufactured Hurricane Reef Lager. "Hand crafted in small batches...in our traditional microbrewery." If this evokes romantic images of a nineteenth-century brick building whose smokestacks soar proudly skyward and whose vats are lovingly tended by dedicated, family-loving union men while a herd of Clydesdales paw the stable dirt out back...it shouldn't.

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