Abbey Brewing Co. Turns 18; Owner Raymond Rigazio Talks About Changes

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In a city that sees more openings and closings in a month than many places do in a year, it's rare for a bar or restaurant to make it to the 18th-anniversary mark. But Miami Beach's iconic Abbey Brewing Company is about to do just that later this month, which is serious cause for celebration.

June 30, the brew den will host an anniversary party complete with drink specials, a pig roast, and lots of other fun stuff on tap (so to speak). To mark this notable occasion, we spoke with owner Raymond Rigazio about what has changed in the past 18 years, what it's like being a brewmaster, and which patron he misses most.

See also:

- Best Bar Renovation: The Abbey Brewing Co.

Short Order: What do you have planned for the anniversary party?

Raymond Rigazio: In addition to the drink specials, one-hour open bar, and pig roast, we will be giving the first 300 Abbey patrons a complimentary commemorative event cup with the date, time, logo, and location of our event. This has been a tradition since year one. I know at least one Abbey patron who has collected all of the cups to date!

How has Miami Beach changed since the Abbey opened?

When I first opened the Abbey in the spring of 1995, there was a park -- a miniature version of Flamingo Park -- where the Regal Cinemas building and parking garage sit today. The corner west of the Abbey, where McDonald's resides, was a vacant lot. My friend Hoover wanted to sell Christmas trees from that lot during the holiday season to supplement his income. Yes, I can honestly say there have been many changes on the Beach, just steps away from the Abbey.

How has the Abbey changed?

The vibe at the Abbey has remained the same after all these years. The Abbey still attracts down-to-earth, chill patrons who are into pints of craft beer and good conversation. It's a true blessing. The space is a bit larger, and we now offer a full line of craft bourbons, single-malt Scotch, mescals, tequilas, and other fine spirits, but the atmosphere and laid-back vibe have remained intact.

How have you evolved as a brewmaster?

I consider myself a brewmaster in training. The brewing industry has evolved over the past 18 years, and with this evolution, new and cutting-edge techniques have been born. There are several new inventions for extracting just the hop aroma into beer, and dozens of new and promising ingredients to work with. I will strive as a modern brewer to master as much as I can, while I can.

Anything you miss from the old days?

I miss "Cambodian Todd." Todd was the most devoted, eccentric, intelligent, surly patron I have ever known. There are so many Todd stories, too many to fit in a 10,000-page novel, so I will cite a few accounts. One afternoon, Todd decided he needed his brand of cigarettes (Camel non-filters), so we walked around the corner to get some. He was still holding his cup of IPA in his hand and told the owner of the liquor store in a lower East Side New York accent (i.e., Bugs Bunny voice): "You gotta try the Abbey Immaculate IPA. If you don't like it, you can give me a swift kick right in da balls!" This was just one of many crazy things Todd said and did. I went to visit him in NYC in the summer of 2000, and when we got off the train on Canal Street, he explained to me what every building on the block used to be, some dating back to the 1600s. He was a walking encyclopedia of knowledge. I was set to visit Todd in Cambodia, his favorite place, in late August of 2002, one week before he passed away. Todd's spirit will always grace the walls of the Abbey.

Best South Beach story from the past 18 years?

There are too many stories to tell in this short article. The Abbey is a living, breathing screenplay with a cast of characters unlike any I have encountered reading books, watching television, or on the big screen. The Abbey really is a special place, and the magic that my patrons bring through the door every day has kept me going for all these years. I have the best job in the world.

The anniversary party runs from 11 a.m. Friday, June 30, through 5 a.m. the following day at 1115 16th St. Admission is free, and attendees must be 21 or older. You can RSVP and check out more details on Facebook.

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