Miami's latest about-to-open brewery, Concrete Beach Brewery, is finally closer to opening after some delays. Short Order was invited for a rare behind-the-scenes look at the construction underway in Wynwood, and a chat with president and craft veteran Alan Newman.
We meet under the slim shade outside Panther Coffee in Wynwood, the bustling and cacophonous interior forcing us into the warm summer sunshine. Newman has the air of an artisan, complete with funky circular yellow-rimmed glasses. Over some iced coffee, talk begins to focus on why he's in Miami, and what this brewery operation means for the community at large.
First, some background. Newman founded and worked for Magic Hat Brewing Company for 17 years, having started the company in 1993, and left the brewery in 2010 due to "financial reasons," as he says. According to Vermont's Seven Days, "the financial crash of 2008 thwarted his plans to merge Magic Hat with Seattle-based Pyramid Breweries, [and] he was contractually forced to sell his shares in the company."
It was then that Newman felt compelled to leave the brewing world altogether, focusing on a book tour and the lecture circuit. Longtime friend and Samuel Adams face Jim Koch, it appears, could not let his talented friend go off into the night. So what started as an endeavor with Stacey Steinmetz to try their hand in a different industry, Alchemy & Science became a subsidiary of Boston Beer Company.
The sub-company owns and markets other craft beer brands, including Coney Island Brewing Company, Angel City Brewery, The Traveler Beer Company, and now Concrete Beach Brewery.
"I'm a culture guy," Newman says. "Miami fits my mission, and I love it. It makes sense to put it here... I've been coming down to Miami for almost 60 years...Wynwood is where I'd end up coming out to drink."
What's to be expected from this new Miami experiment? A 20-barrel brewhouse (meaning that for each time they brew, they can produce a batch of beer at about 630 gallons in volume) complete with a unique circular indoor/outdoor "social hall" that will feature split seating and a stage to promote entertainment such as musicians, poetry readings, and small theater groups.
"We call it the social hall," Newman replied, correcting our use of the term taproom. "It'll be somewhere to educate [people] and offer a wide variety of beers...to crush their misconceptions on what beer is."
"It will be tour-centric and bilingual. Everyone will be speaking multiple languages, as that's what the area is."
Multiculturalism is a principle element in what Concrete Beach is trying to accomplish in Wynwood, besides putting out world-class beer.
"We have to turn on the Hispanic market, and focus on the culture that is here. We need to embrace them."
Which is a small, but growing market. According to Craft Brewing Business, 38 percent of Hispanic consumers indicated that they consume craft beer at any time. That market is taking ground from the mainstream brands, but still has work to do as 58 percent of Hispanics aged 21+ report drinking domestic beer and 55 percent of Hispanics drink imported beer.
"We need to turn people on to beer with flavor...The only way it will happen [converting people to craft] is through local breweries."
With the coffee drained and the sun taking its toll, we headed down the street to the under-construction brewery. Large metal roll-up doors make up the street-facing facade, currently featuring gravel pits, bare walls, and welders installing equipment.
Head brewer John Carpenter showed us around the facility, highlighting the easy-to-use spent grain dispenser for local farmers, the massive horizontal fermentation tanks, and the gorgeous two-story brewing system complete with a control room that overlooks the soon-to-be outdoor beer garden.
"We're hoping to push out 5,000 barrels a year from this system," he said.
Newman told us what he's looking to have produced at the beginning. "I'm a real believer that the customer decides our flagship. The public decides what they like and don't like."
"We'll definitely have an IPA, and a malty beer...We want to be playing with pilsners, but not the corn lagers," he said, saying that the style has been tainted by what gets put out by the "big guys." A fresh pilsner is an amazingly flavorful and refreshing thing.
By design, there will be a focus on beers that don't necessarily conform to what the hardcore set are into, following the literal flavor of the month. They're seeking to "do some things that are out of the beer geek world, things you can drink with a balance of flavor."
That isn't to say experimentation will be out; quite the opposite. Carpenter showed off the pilot system and explained that there's quite a few tanks set aside for smaller experimental batches.
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With a tentative October opening (barring any other setbacks), Concrete Beach Brewery aims to join the growing Miami brewing network, currently comprised of Wynwood Brewing Company, The Abbey Brewing Company, Miami Brewing Company, fellow up-and-comer J. Wakefield Brewing, and M.I.A. Brewing.
It's a good time to be a beer geek in South Florida.
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.