Do You Detect a Draft?

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

Which is why South Florida's new brewers are frothing to get out their product. "We look at our market as West Palm to Key West," declares Luis Lopez, marketing director of Miami Brewing Company. But, he adds, the company is also eyeing the Caribbean, the rest of the southeast United States, and Japan.

Lopez and others might want to curb their expansionist appetites and heed a cautionary tale from a comrade upstate. In June 1992, Beach Brewing Company caught the microbrewery wave early. In a small, 1250-square-foot brewery set up in a banquet kitchen at an Orlando Holiday Inn, the company began producing three types of beer and selling them in kegs. "Before we started, we went around to all the larger bars and restaurants, and about 50 said, 'Yeah, we're ready to go! Put our order in!'" Beach vice president Brian Baldasano recollects. But when Beach came knocking with its kegs, Baldasano adds, only two of those 50 businesses bought.

In its first six months, Beach Brewing sold 750 kegs, in its first full year (1993) only 1000, and Baldasano quickly learned that beer doesn't sell itself, particularly if it is microbrewed: "The distributors committed very heavily to selling the product -- they were, like, 'We can do it! We're your number-one team!' But they haven't opened one account for us."

Beach Brewing's minuscule staff had to "hit the pavement," Baldasano recounts, training waitstaff at restaurants and bars about the finer points of microbrewed beer and demystifying their brew for the general public. "We found out that it was an educational process, that there was only a small market share of people who knew anything about microbrews. Most people are scared of the product if it isn't golden pilsner," asserts the brewer. "Florida is a beer-ignorant state." This past year, Beach saw its sales ascend to about 2800 kegs; 1995 projections are 500 kegs higher.

To his neophyte brethren in South Florida, Baldasano offers this sip of guidance: "It takes time. Put enough money aside for marketing. Create yourself a niche with some special style of product or a certain marketing message A ours is that we're Florida's first microbrewery." He's happy to give advice to any new brewers, Baldasano adds. "There's plenty of room for growth!" he says cheerily.

Just don't ask him about his special yeast.

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