For years, Miami seemed to be the only major American city without a big-time beer maker. But that changed last month, when Schnebly Redland's Winery & Brewery finished building its own facility from scratch.
In 2003, Peter Schnebly and his wife Denisse opened a winery that produces wines from exotic fruits and grapes in Homestead. They got the idea for a microbrewery about five years ago, but there was a problem. County law prohibited facilities from brewing significant amounts of beer in farming areas. So Peter lobbied Miami-Dade commissioners to amend Sections 33-1 and 33-279 of the county code. At first, the Redland Citizens Association opposed the idea, but eventually commissioners decided to allow breweries to produce up to 250,000 gallons of malted beverage/beer per year.
"Before that, their ordinances were so tight you couldn't make a living doing it," Peter says. "We had to get them to understand that this was good, that it would draw tourists, and tourism was something to get behind. We've proven that the winery has been an asset to the community."
Peter wanted to repeat his success with tropical wines. He looked at small breweries that use local ingredients in California and New England and thought those operations could be duplicated here. He would brew beer using locally grown tropical fruits. "The rest of the country gets it; San Diego, they get it," he says. "Miami, you know, they still think that Presidente is something different."
They began by producing four beers in flavors that were quintessentially Miami. This past October, they started selling the brews, which were manufactured outside Orlando at a friend's brewery and then shipped south. There was Big Rod, a golden ale with a coconut aftertaste; Passion Fruit IPA, an India pale ale infused with passionfruit; Shark Attack, a mango pale ale; and Gator Tail, a creamy brown ale brewed with guava.
They were sold only in the Schnebly tasting room for $6 a pint.
When the Schneblys began drawing up plans to acquire equipment, they found it would take more than eight months to build and deliver. Instead, a maintenance team that also does all the farming was tasked to make a 460-gallon "mash tun" — a vessel used to heat a grain/water mixture that's the main ingredient in beer. To complete the system, they purchased seven "bright tanks" — conditioning vessels from which beer is poured into kegs and sealed. They also bought four 30-barrel fermenters that could hold a total of 3,720 gallons. Then there was the drainage system. "As you can tell, we are very do-it-yourself around here," says David Rodriguez, assistant manager at Schnebly.
Once the ordinances were passed, it took two years to finish the work, assemble a marketing team, and deal with the legalities. "We didn't go about doing it knowing that we were going to be the first brewery," Peter says. "It surprised us."
He contends his facility is the southernmost production brewery in the continental United States. Key West has a brewpub, but nothing as large as Schnebly.
"Not everyone is going to like craft beer, and that's OK," Peter says. "Our goal is to create high-flavored beer with a lot of character to it. It isn't a one-dimensional beer; it's three dimensions, four dimensions, five dimensions. Like wine, beer should take you on a journey."
He hopes to sell beer by the keg soon and, maybe in five years, retail the bottled stuff. Taking the brand national is not yet part of the plan. "I think our first thing is to be great in our own back yard," Peter says. "Our goal is to get the beer to the people as soon as possible. It's taking some time — we are a relatively small operation."
Though Schnebly is Dade County's first production brewery, there are several more in the works. "Craft beer in Miami has the brightest future because we haven't done anything here," Peter says. "What's craft beer going to do in Miami? It's going to explode. It should have happened already."