Concrete Beach Brewery finally opened its social hall about a month ago, almost two years after the brewery was announced. Alan Newman and Stacy Steinmetz, who founded Magic Hat in 1993, are now on a mission to increase awareness of craft beer across America through their company Alchemy & Science. The project, an independently operating subsidiary of the Boston Beer Company, has opened several breweries across America, including Angel City in Los Angeles, Coney Island Brewing in Brooklyn, and now Concrete Beach in Wynwood.
Newman, who calls himself an appreciator of beer, says he didn't even like the beverage until he was turned on to a friend's homebrew. "When I was growing up, people were drinking mostly corn lagers, and I've never been a fan. My friend Bob Johnson [cofounder of Magic Hat] was a homebrewer, and everyone went to Bob's parties because he made good food. At his home, he has three taps installed. One was hot water, one was cold water, and one had this thick brown liquid coming out that was delicious."
I asked him what it was, and he said beer. I said, 'Bob, don't kid a kidder. Beer is yellow and fizzy and has no flavor, and this is dark and gooey and it tastes great.' That was really the beginning of the whole beer trip. I got kicked out of the business I originally started, and I always joked that I wanted to build a brewery to make Bob's beer, and I ran into Bob, and, seriously, that was how we started Magic Hat."
After leaving Magic Hat, Newman says, he had absolutely no intention of staying in the beer industry. In fact, his next move was going to be in the snack game, when he got a call. "I was really excited about starting this potato chip company. Literally, I had this offer sheet on my desk to buy this failing potato chip company. All I had to do was put it into the fax machine and — this is a true story by the way — the phone rang, and it was a guy named Jim Koch [cofounder and chairman of the Boston Beer Company]. Jim told me it's time to come back to the beer industry, and I said, 'No way in hell. Potato chips.' He said, 'Alan, Alan, you're not a potato chip guy; you're a beer guy.' That's when he made the proverbial offer I couldn't refuse." That offer, according to the Alchemy & Science website, was a blank sheet of paper that became Alchemy & Science.
Newman explains the name came became before the company. "I always liked the term 'Alchemy & Science.' That was my email address before the company. Almost everything in the world is a combination of science and magic.
"When it comes to beer, it's science. We're running a chemistry and biology experiment every day. To brew beer successfully, it's very methodical and scientific. But if you only do the science part, you're going to make dull, boring beers. So somewhere in that science part comes the magic, the alchemy. What's really exciting is that we get to create these fabulous breweries for the communities in which they reside. What you see here, at Concrete Beach, is totally different from the breweries in Los Angeles and Coney Island."
Newman says his decision to move to Miami was easy. "My belief is that local breweries turn on their neighborhoods, and there aren't a lot of craft breweries in Miami right now, and I was looking for areas where I could grow the craft beer scene. That's number one. The other reason is that I've been coming to Miami ever since I was a kid. I remember coming to visit my grandparents and staying at the Thunderbird Hotel on Collins Avenue. I've been coming here most of my life. Of all the cities in Florida, this is my favorite. I grew up in New York, and Miami is Little New York in so many ways, but there's also a diversity of culture that you don't get on the west coast of Florida. What I love is that it's a true, international city with great art, great theater, great food."
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In an interview with Brewbound, the beer guru said the Magic City has "more of an unsophisticated craft market with warm weather." Newman explained that he was talking about the palates, not the people, and that statement goes for much of the country. "I believe that craft beer has nothing to do with beer and everything to do with changing the tastes of America. I grew up with meat and potatoes. Every night we had meat, we had potatoes, we had a vegetable, and it was overcooked and all flavor was left in the pot. Now, I grew up in New York, and if there's any place for ethnic food, it's there. But at that time, pizza and chow mein were considered exotic foods. I remember an Indian restaurant opened and I thought, This is spectacular. Today, in Burlington, Vermont, in a town of 40,000 people, we probably have 15 Asian restaurants, we have two Indian restaurants, we have a Nepalese restaurant.
"The breadth of the American food palate has broadened so much. The American taste palate with beer is similar. Back in the day, it was all American corn lager. They all tasted the same. As the tastes of the American consumer evolved, craft beers became popular. Now there's an IPA craze. To me, it has nothing to do with IPA. The American taste palate loves bitter. Take a look at what Starbucks does with coffee. Beer follows food, and beer is just a liquid food. Over the last five years in Miami, food has gotten a lot more interesting, and so has the beer."
Newman says that even though Miami's craft beer scene is young, it's vibrant and thriving, thanks to the city's passionate brewers. "Here in South Florida, everyone is concerned about the quality of the beers and doing the right thing. It's not easy to get a brewery open and operational, and in my opinion, I've tasted all the local beers and they're all fantastic. We have a united brewers' group, and we're all in this together. We're here to help grow the market share, and for that I need Jonathan [Wakefield of J. Wakefield Brewing Company] and Luis [Brignoni of Wynwood Brewing] to make world-class beer. I came in fully knowing that we all came to work together, and it's fabulous. I love this. We have brewers' row."
The brew maven sees an even brighter future for South Florida's beer scene. "My prediction is there will be 30 breweries in Miami within two years. Not all of them will be at the scale of Funky Buddha or MIA or ours. Some will be nanobreweries just making and serving their beers at brewpubs, but that's great. They serve their neighborhood good beer, and we need that."