Nine years ago on Christmas, Johnathan Wakefield's wife presented him with a Mr. Beer kit — the same one-gallon, $50 contraption that has sent thousands of American men into their garages to play brewmaster. Even with his first batch, Wakefield, an accountant who'd tinkered in culinary classes, experimented with tropical flavors.
That first mango IPA "was horrible," he laughs now. "More like a mango slushie."
Things have improved considerably since then — so much so that Wakefield quit work at his family's North Miami marina, TNT Custom Marine, this summer and interned at Cigar City Brewing in Tampa. Now, the 35-year-old FIU alum and father of three has traded in Excel spreadsheets for a 15-barrel brewing system that produces about 465 gallons per batch. He will open J. Wakefield Brewing in Wynwood in March. The brewery, located half a block from Panther Coffee and two doors down from Gramps, will feature a speakeasy-style tasting room and an outdoor beer garden, plus kegs for bars and restaurants.
Wakefield's five flagship beers are Master Blaster porter, made with smoked coconut; El Jefe, a hefeweizen; CTC Brown Ale, inspired by Cinnamon Toast Crunch; Hops in Session IPA; and a Florida Weisse — like a light Berliner Weisse, but with fruit added to the beer instead of to the glass.
"When I throw coconut in a hefeweizen," Wakefield explains, "it's almost like a piña colada. Only 4 percent alcohol and perfect for the hot Miami weather." He also makes a mean pumpkin ale and experiments with Latin ingredients like dulce de leche and coffee.
With the recently opened Wynwood Brewing, M.I.A. Brewing, and the forthcoming Concrete Beach (from guys affiliated with Sam Adams and Magic Hat), Miami will have four serious craft breweries in 2014. It's not just a passing trend, Wakefield says. Now that Americans have learned to appreciate good beer, they'll never go back to Budweiser. He hopes all the businesses will embrace one another and "get Florida on the map as a great beer state."
"We are only at the beginning."
So far, Wakefield says, he's managed to avoid hazards of the job — hangovers and a beer belly. He typically drinks just a beer or two, and he's actually lost 15 pounds from hauling around sacks of grain and spending days over a 180-degree mash tun.
He laughs: "People tell me, 'You're the buffest beer brewer I know!'"