With so many breweries opening in South Florida, beer connoisseurs will inevitably follow. Marco Leyte-Vidal, Miami's Craft Commander, definitely lives up to this expectation.
But Vidal is more than a lover of beer. He writes beer reviews and interviews brewers of some of the most sought-after beer in the world. His portfolio includes interviews with Jean Van Roy from Cantillon and Miami's own Johnathan Wakefield. He is also a licensed family attorney in Florida.
Many of his interviews are conducted live on Google+ and YouTube, and viewers can even relay their own questions to brewers via Vidal.
Through interviews with brewers, he documents the sentimentality of craft beer in a series of ten questions. Short Order caught up with Vidal and had ten questions just for him.
New Times: What is the concept of Craft Commander and how did it come about?
Marco Leyte-Vidal: The concept behind Craft Commander is twofold: education and providing the consumer and craft beer fan direct access to their favorite brewers and breweries. I recognized that the wine and food worlds had their informational writers/bloggers/interviewers and that craft beer was being left out. I wanted to give the brewers a voice beyond what they generally get a chance to do and to give the fans of this craft the ability to learn something they couldn't find anywhere else.
This past year, the Florida Legislature almost passed legislation that would have, in essence, ended craft beer in Florida, and I realized quickly that the everyday public needed to know just what this industry was all about. People need to see it's made up of a bunch of family-run businesses earning an honest living and making a product that people are enjoying. They're employing people from their communities, creating jobs outside their breweries just by being open, supporting local charities and causes, and doing so responsibly. Combining the two thought processes, Craft Commander was born.
What is the purpose of Craft Commander?
You do a lot of interviews with brewers from other states, but Florida has a lot of craft breweries. Why not keep it strictly Florida?
We are very fortunate to have a lot of breweries opening and some of the best breweries in the world right here in our backyard. Look at Cigar City, for example, just up the road in Tampa. Even closer to home, Wynwood Brewing just won a gold for its Pop's Porter at the Great American Beer Festival. We really enjoy highlighting Florida breweries and will always continue to do so. That said, we have a very young craft beer community here. Just like in anything else, we should look to what has been done before and been successful in order to ensure our own success. Learn from others' mistakes and successes. So it's important to reach out to the breweries that have been at it successfully for quite some time as a reference point for where Florida should and could be headed. Most brewers I've talked to have reached out to breweries in other states for advice and collaborations. It's a beautiful thing.
More than that, there are a lot of brewers doing some really cool things around the country and abroad, like using only products farmed on their own property to make their beer or cultivating their own strains of yeast or bringing back old styles from the grave. The craft beer community is one of the tightest groups of businesses, constantly collaborating with breweries out of state and learning from other brewers who may have a certain style nailed down. Why not learn from these people and highlight their innovative techniques?
You're also a lawyer?
Lawyer by day, beer writer by night.
Why pursue Craft Commander instead of law?
Instead? I'm still practicing law every single day of the week. Craft Commander is my second "job." It's my creative outlet. It's actually a lot of work to run Craft Commander, but I'm passionate about beer/wine/food, so it's a breeze!
Florida's growler troubles could use a person like you. Why not serve the craft beer community with your legal perspective instead?
I think the Florida craft beer community needs an educated consumer more than anything. If I can be a part of that and help this industry in any way, I'm glad to do it. Like I say to people all the time, there's nothing more American right now than craft beer -- local business, family people, local products, local charitable causes being supported -- I'm glad to help. I think that through Craft Commander I've also been able to use my legal and political experience to help the breweries along.
Playing devil's advocate here: What would be the justification for the 64-ounce growler ban, legal or otherwise?
I don't really see a legitimate reason to ban it. It's an antiquated law that likely will not be around past this year's legislative session. To me it's a small-picture issue. Craft beer needs to get involved politically if it's going to grow.
What is the biggest impediment you see for the South Florida beer industry?
I feel like I'm beating a dead horse, but I think it's lack of education. Not that people aren't seeking out the knowledge on the industry and not because we don't have a lot of very knowledgeable people down here, but because we have such a young craft beer culture in this state. We're behind a lot of the country as far as our beer culture is concerned, but we also have a lot of people with really adventurous palates that are hungry to learn as much as possible about the craft. Through Craft Commander, we're going to be doing a lot of things in the near future that will provide another avenue for the consumer down here to learn as much as possible about craft beer.
What does the industry need here right now?
We've got a very fast-growing industry in Florida, which is great. What we need for that growth to continue is quality and consistency in the product being released by our breweries.
Are you hoping to garner some sponsorship for your website or for local events?
We'll be doing some cool events in the future. Stay tuned!