Johnathan Wakefield's Guide to WakeFest Invitational 2019

Johnathan WakefieldEXPAND
Johnathan Wakefield
Photo by Amadeus McCaskill

This Saturday, beer enthusiasts from around the world will gather to drink and be merry at the second annual WakeFest Invitational. 

Though South Florida has a plethora of year-round beer festivals ranging from celebrations of new releases to full-blown brew bacchanalia, WakeFest sets itself apart by inviting only breweries that meet the Brewers Association definition of "independent." That means all participants must produce no more than six million barrels annually, must specialize in beer, and must be no more than 25 percent-owned or -controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member not itself a craft brewer.

Last year, J. Wakefield Brewing founder Johnathan Wakefield decided to change his annual beer festival — which started in his brewery's small parking lot as a beer-release party — to the invitational format to give smaller breweries the chance to highlight their beer. Wakefield personally curates the list of about 120 participants. "I have a personal relationship with many of the brewers. I always keep my ear to the ground and listen to see who's new, who's hot, and who's up and coming.  We'll reach out to them to see if they want to pour."

Though Wakefield says there are always some breweries that can't attend, most do. Coming to Miami in February, he says, could be a contributing factor. "While most of the country is below freezing, it's about 75 degrees here."

So far, breweries from the United States, United Kingdom, France, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, and Estonia are confirmed to pour this Saturday; a brewery from China is, as yet, unconfirmed. Says Wakefield, "We reach far and wide to give everyone a good, cultural experience." Many of the breweries, he says, don't make their beers available in South Florida. "We're bringing some of the best beers in the world here to Miami for one day."

Since most attendees won't get to sample all of the hundreds of beers available, Wakefield mentioned some breweries to watch out for. "I would say don't miss Other Half Brewing from Brooklyn, Trillium from Boston, Cloudwater and Northern Monk from the U.K., and Omnipollo from Sweden."

The Wynwood brewer also noted that the WakeFest Invitational is a good time to learn more about the beer you drink. "We ask the actual brewers to attend the festival and explain their products. It's important to represent your brand." Wakefield encourages attendees to meet the brewers and ask them questions, like what malts and hops go into a particular beer and what local fruits or flavors inspired the recipes.

WakeFest is also a place to explore different beers and get out of your comfort zone, the festival founder says. "There's such a large world of great craft beer and there are all these different styles." He recommends starting off with maybe a good craft lager, which he calls the gateway to enjoying a myriad of beers. "There's a resurgence of lagers in the craft beer market. It's very close to what most people are used to drinking, but in an artisanal and craft way." Wakefield says wine drinkers might want to start with a fruit-forward sour beer.

From there, he says, the options are endless, but don't worry if they seem overwhelming. "Take the first step and you'll find it's easy," Wakefield says. "That's why we do four-ounce pours. If you don't like it, move on — and if you do, go back for more."

WakeFest Invitational. Noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, February 2, 2019, at Mana Wynwood. 318 NW 23rd St., Miami. Tickets cost $60 to $350 at jwakefieldbrewing.com.

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