The story of a brewery taking its distribution to Florida has traditionally followed a path that begins with nerve-racking and continues to apprehension. For large regional brewers in the recent past, our market has been a tough nut to crack, both in terms of volume and client base. It took years for breweries such as New Belgium and Founders to make their way to the Big Orange. Such a fate has not befallen one of America's first Latin American microbreweries, 5 Rabbit Cervecería, a small operation out of Bedford Park, Illinois.
Owner Andres Araya has taken his Latin-inspired beers to Florida, making this his third state to acquire distribution. It's being managed by Cavalier Distributing, which has brought in Sixpoint Brewery, Two Brothers Brewing Co., and Mission Brewery, among others.
This past Sunday, Araya -- alongside Cavalier's Miami man, Cesar Vazquez -- visited the Coral Gables pub the Local to sort of officially introduce the strengths of the 5 Rabbit brand to the area. With a four-course, kegs-and-eggs beer brunch, the Local hosted a grand tasting to feature the beers coming out to distribution.
First, there's the background on 5 Rabbit. It's been a relatively unknown name on the local beer scene, but the small distribution belies the strengths of craft in which this brewery operates. Araya, who is originally from Costa Rica, is no stranger to the beer scene, having worked in production and logistics at Cervecería Costa Rica for years. As fate would have it, he wound up at the prestigious consulting firm Bain & Company in Chicago, which led to an encounter with the acclaimed author and beer authority Randy Mosher at the 2010 Chicago Craft Beer Week, and once the two got talking, it was only a matter of time until the beer gears began cranking.
"Mosher has been involved since day one," Araya said. And it shows.
As the first course made its way out of the kitchen, we were greeted by a pint of the citrus-forward 5 Lizard wheat beer, a take on the traditional wheat that replaces bitter orange peel with lime peel and incorporates assionfruit purée in a package that comes out to only 4.3 percent ABV. This should be called the mimosa-killer. Paired with guava-cheese french toast, the effervescent and superdrinkable beer came together with the sweet and fruity dish.
"We set out to make layers of flavor," Araya continued, as the next beer, Fabulosa Porter, came to the table. "Flavor and drink-ability. We want to be able to have a pint or two."
The creamy brown porter, which differentiates itself by being more of a cappuccino-like porter than a smoky or astringent English one, presented itself with the thickest half-centimeter of beer foam that would not go away, making for a beautiful and flavorful glass all the way down. The Local brought a peppery sausage-gravy-smothered buttered biscuit to the table, and with the beer, it created a trio of spiciness, flakiness, and smoothness.
Pork-belly eggs Benedict followed, as did an enormous plate of chimichurri-style steak and eggs paired with the surprisingly strong Super Pils (a massive 7.2 percent ABV juicy pilsner) and the strong dark ale 5 Vulture (brewed with ancho chilies and unrefined sugar). Both of these beers maintained the theme of flavor and drinkability to an almost unbelievable degree.
Pork belly tops eggs Benedict.
Of all the states in the union, why Florida? "We spend time here; it's like our second home," he admitted. "We thought our beers would work here.
"The Latin American market is hard to tap into... Everything about the culture holds richness, and we want to bring some of that richness into beer and see what comes out. That cultural lens is unique."
Ultimately, Araya said, it's about transforming what people have been traditionally drinking and changing their palates from being a nationalistic one (drinking the beer of your country) to one that is about flavor. "We're doing beers that we think are interesting. We find beauty in the extremes. For people to be passionate, there will be people who just don't get it. I'd rather have someone love the beer or hate it, but to get a 'meh' from someone... That's the worst.
"The goal is to give people depth to their drinking."
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5 Rabbit Cerveceria is available now on draft in select Miami-Dade bars and will open to statewide take-home distribution at Whole Foods, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, and Total Wine & More toward the middle of September.
Doug Fairall is a craft beer blogger who focuses on Florida beers and has been a homebrewer since 2010. For beer things in your Twitter feed, follow him @DougFairall and find the latest beer pics on Instagram.