Until Ismael Fernandez and crew opened Legacy Caribbean Craft Brewery in 2016, you didn't hear much about local brew in Opa-locka. But on Saturday, June 8, Legacy will help run the Wepaaa! Caribbean Summer Festival homebrew competition at the city's arts and recreation center.
At this sort of competition, up-and-coming brewers shine a spotlight on their suds. The Miami beer industry was built on men and women making beer over a simple burner, and these events pave their way to recognition.
Also hoping to capitalize is Opa-locka. Though the city has been plagued by financial mismanagement and poverty, things have been looking up since Amazon opened a warehouse facility here, according to Fernandez. He originally pitched the summer festival idea to the city's community development corporation. Now he's planning a winter festival.
"Opa-locka is one of those overlooked cities in Miami that the locals really like," Fernandez says. "Following the revitalization, new homeowners are coming and they are changing the needs of the city."
At Wepaaa!, eight Miami-area homebrewers will be pouring for the masses. One of them is Stebbins Brewing Company, which hails from Kendall. Scott Stebbins says he's bringing three German-style brews: a dunkelweizen, a hefeweizen, and the aptly named Kendale Kölsch.
Stebbins says he didn't have a lot of time to brew, so he wanted to keep it simple. The homebrewer is also known for making mead, an alcoholic beverage brewed from honey. He maintains beehives in his backyard but has been focusing more on beer lately. He hopes to open his own brewery, although he acknowledges the hurdles in obtaining financing. In the meantime, he works for AT&T while brewing beer on the side.
"I've been brewing beer and working like a madman," Stebbins says. At a recent homebrew competition at LauderAle Brewery in Fort Lauderdale, Stebbins won a silver medal for a blackberry sour beer, the first sour he's made.
Then there's Andrew Mackert of Miami Springs, who'll be debuting Monkey Business Brewing Company at Wepaaa!
Mackert says he got tired of working "dead-end" retail jobs and started making his own brew in 2015. He conceived of the name while hanging out with friends and sipping beers.
Mackert's next step was to purchase a homebrew kit. He started off with extract brewing and graduated to grain. Now his wife and brother-in-law are brewing their own. The first beer he ever entered into a homebrew event won the SFL Hops People's Choice in March 2018. He described as a "surreal" experience.
Wepaaa! will be Mackert's first homebrew competition of 2019. He'll bring three beers: a mango habanero double IPA, a "traditional" IPA brewed only with Amarillo hops, and a peanut butter chocolate stout.
Mackert also hopes to open his own brewery. "It's going to be a hard road, but we're really driving for it," he says. "Baby steps."
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Wepaaa! won't only feature beer. It's billed as a kid-friendly event that'll have a local art market, vendors, a custom/antique car show, a domino tournament, food, and a live DJ.
As for the festival's unique name, Fernandez offers this simple explanation: "Wepaaa is actually wepa or epa, and it is a Caribbean term of happiness, as [in Miami], people yell yay or yahoo."
Wepaaa! Caribbean Summer Festival. 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday, June 8, at the Opa-locka Arts and Recreation Center, 675 Ali Baba Ave., Opa-locka; 305-687-3545. Tickets cost $25 via eventbrite.com.