Beer Bash

They came, they drank, they collapsed

At 11:00 p.m. on the Abbey Brewing Co.'s eleventh anniversary, Brad Berkman, a middle-age man with bulging biceps and a shaved head, wobbled slightly at the bar and muttered, "I wanna smack someone in the face."

"No you don't," laughed Ray Rigazio, the Abbey's owner and operator, hugging the man. "You've never hit anyone in your life."

No one has ever been hit in the Abbey, according to Rigazio.

Location Info

Map

Abbey Brewing Co.

1115 16th St.
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Category: Restaurant > Brewery

Region: South Beach

Berkman smiled sheepishly — his bluff called. It was the only moment resembling conflict in the bar's 21 straight hours of celebratory drinking. The cramped wooden pub hopped with merrymakers of all kinds. Hipsters played Uno in the pews. Lovers fumbled in the fabric chairs lining Sixteenth Street.

Beginning at 8:00 a.m., $25 bought revelers a bottomless cup of Rigazio's delicious creations — Russian imperial stout, an amber bock, and a Belgian-style twelve-degree double, to name just a few.

When a code enforcement officer arrived sixteen hours into the beerfest, outdoor drinkers obediently filed inside, packing the 30-seat bar to a smoky, sweaty maximum. No one seemed to mind or notice. Drinkers peaceably wandered in and out for the remainder of the evening. Rigazio vowed to "just push on through" to 5:00 a.m. "Thanks for the hangover," said one bleary-eyed young man, clapping him on the back and heading home.

A crowd of happy locals swilling fresh pints is a rare event in Miami, where brewing tasty lager is a tall order. The Abbey is one of just 22 establishments serving its own beer in the state of Florida. New York has 59. California is home to 230. Of the four beer-centric establishments in Miami-Dade County, two are chains (Gordon Biersch, Hops).

And though the Abbey's beer is brewed in Melbourne by the Indian River Brewing Company, the recipes were all created by Rigazio. He begins by tasting all the individual raw ingredients "and then I just wake up in the middle of the night and say: That's it! Fifty pounds of this, fifty pounds of that."

Rigazio home-brewed for years while selling ads for the Yellow Pages in a New York suburb.

After personally concocting fifteen kegs of beer in his tiny garden apartment in Nyack, Rigazio threw himself a 350-person going-away party in 1993. The next day he packed his car and headed for Miami Beach, determined to open the city's first brew pub. Within a year he and a partner, Rich Dispenzieri, had maxed out several credit cards and borrowed from their parents to buy the Knotty Pine — a small dive not far from Biscayne Bay that happened to be the oldest bar on the Beach.

"We rolled the dice, man," said Rigazio, who spent an extra $1000 to turn the Pine's ancient shuffleboard into the bar.

Rigazio's friend and competitor Kevin Rusk joined him in the brew pub business when he opened the Titanic Restaurant and Brewery on Ponce de Leon Boulevard. The walls of the Titanic are lined with kitschy nods to the tragic steamship. A clock framed in a lifesaver sits above the bar, and ship schematics hang over the urinals. Floor-to-ceiling windows reveal the industrial entrails that pipe Captain Smith's Rye, White Star India Pale Ale, and Britannic Best Bitter to a shiny row of taps.

Rusk has dreamed of owning such a place since he left FIU restaurant school in 1986. In the years that followed, he witnessed four murders as co-owner of Tobacco Road in the late 1980s.

Though Rigazio and Rusk have both enjoyed ample patronage in Miami, a weird cadre of Florida laws has complicated their boozy renaissance. Florida is one of twelve states where brew publicans cannot sell their wares in jugs or kegs. Florida's craft beer can be sold only within the four walls in which it's brewed. Moreover, an archaic three-tier system mandates that brewers, distributors and retailers must all be different people.

Rigazio is a retailer, so he must buy his own beer from a distributor. Rusk cannot sell his beer to another one of his restaurants because he's a manufacturer. Ugh.

Despite the legal shackles, the pair has made a fine living and some good beer.

At 5:00 a.m., when all of his loyal customers had drunk themselves to bed, Rigazio set to work sweeping both sides of the street and hosing spilled beer from the sidewalk. "You don't want to shit on the neighborhood," he said, his sideways grin poking through a close-cropped beard.

 
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