Traditional stouts, IPAs, and lagers simply don't cut it in a city that's always warm and moves to its own beat. These Miami brewers have set out to discover what works in the Magic City.
Johnathan Wakefield and his team at J. Wakefield Brewing (120 NW 24th St.) have embraced the challenge.
"Miami is a light-beer city — think lagers like Corona and Presidente," says Wakefield, who brewed his El Jefe specifically for Miami. "I designed it seven years ago to be a Miami beer. With the banana esters coming from the yeast and coconut, I think it captured the essence of our tropical climate."
Wakefield also brews the style of beer he's best known for: the Florida weisse.
A riff on a German weisse, these tart beers are usually flavored with natural tropical fruits grown locally. Wakefield says his fruited sours are as close to a locally sourced beer as you can get.
"There's a limited crop of hops in Florida and they don't grow prolifically," he explains. "You can source some local yeast, but really the only local ingredients are water and fruit."
Wakefield's Florida weisse beers are also good gateway beers for people who are used to sipping drinks by the pool "They're very cocktailesque," says the brewer.
They're also perfect for Miami's warm climate.
The weisses are low in alcohol and filled with juicy mangoes, guavas, and passionfruit. "Those are beloved fruits down here — especially the mango," Wakefield says. "Miami is mangoes. I have no idea why Florida is known as the orange state."
Wynwood Brewing Company (565 NW 24th St.) won awards for its rich, chocolatey Pop's porter. But partner Luis Brignoni says lighter, tropical beers reign supreme in Miami. "As much as we like our darker, more malty beers, they just don't sell," he says.
Brignoni kept Pop's porter but retooled some other beers after customer feedback — including the Laces IPA. "The original IPA was heavier bodied. We went for something that was slightly lower in ABV and had more tropical notes instead of piney ones," said the brewer. The new recipe proved to be a hit. Currently, 177 stores are carrying the IPA. "It's close in sales to La Rubia," says Brignoni, referring to the brewery's core blond ale.
Recently, the brewery made an even lighter, more Miami-friendly IPA in collaboration with artist Ron English. The hazy IPA is brewed backward — with the lemondrop and citra hops added at the end of the brewing process. Then, fresh lemon purée was added as a homage to the artist, who eats a lemon a day, according to Brignoni. "Adding the hops in the later part of the boil imparts less bitterness," the brewer explains.
The beer — Delusion ale — drinks like a fresh shandy meant to be enjoyed under a palm tree. "It speaks to the artist and it speaks to Miami," Brignoni says.
Brignoni says more artist-inspired brews are in the works, including a milkshake IPA flavored with guava, mamey, and mango. "It's going to be like a batido you would get at your favorite Cuban restaurant," he says, adding that it's an opportunity for his team to make the beers they want to make — and that Miami wants to drink.
Veza Sur Brewing Co. (55 NW 25th St.), cofounder Marshall Hendrickson wants to introduce Miamians to his South Coast IPA. Technically, South Coast isn't a true style of IPA, but that's not stopping Hendrickson, who says ten years ago IPAs didn't look at all like what they do today. "Since then there have been so many new styles with low alcohol and low bitterness, including brut and hazy — or New England — popping up."
The brewers at Veza Sur set out to make an IPA that would cater to Miami palates. "Initially, when we opened, we started with a session IPA. Folks liked the low bitterness, but where we missed the mark was with an ABV that was too low." The ABV was increased to 7.5 percent — and the South Coast IPA was born.
The beer drinks almost like a summer ale, with the slightest hint of malt to balance the citra and amarillo hops.
"It has refreshing pineapple and mango notes, but that lingering bitterness isn't there," Hendrickson says.
Hendrickson hopes this style of IPA catches on with brewers so that the South Coast could eventually be recognized by the Brewers Association, which currently lists dozens of IPA styles. "If there's a slow build with breweries making this style of IPA, we can knock on doors and say there's this trend," he says. "I'm sure hazy IPAs started with one or two breweries."
Hendrickson says that if New England IPAs and West Coast IPAs can start organically and be recognized as a legitimate style, South Coast can do the same. "It really has to start from breweries making similar styles organically."
After a year when breweries were forced closed by the pandemic and many people felt isolated, a brewery taproom seems like the ideal place to get back into society.
"Breweries are places where locals can come together. It's not a nightclub. It's relaxed and way more conducive to creating a community," says Hendrickson.
Johnathan Wakefield agrees that breweries are a true gathering place for Miamians — even if they aren't devout beer drinkers. "We'll never be a Boston or a New York where people pound their beer, but we still have a crap-ton of people in Miami who are fans."