Getting crafty

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Beer has been brewed for more than 11,000 years and one might imagine those early efforts were the first craft beers, in the sense they were made in small batches, though perhaps not by a modern description of a skilled artisan. Today’s beer industry is gigantic, with most beer produced on an industrial scale by multi-national companies. But this longtime beverage of the common person is undergoing a change as more and more small producers find a niche in the market and a special place in the hearts and wallets of consumers. While wine drinkers compare types of barrels for aging and arcane grape varieties, and debate the merits of terroir, today’s canny beer drinkers are every bit as geeky about their favorite beer’s BU (Bitterness Units) and the kind of hops used as a flavoring (there are dozens). The craft beer movement is becoming a tide of change.

Miami has a number of top-flight bars and pubs focusing on craft beer—beer with distinctive character produced in small batches—and there are micro-breweries that call South Florida home as well. From Boca Raton’s Funky Buddha to Miami’s just-opened Wynwood Brewery, local artisans are creating innovative beers that easily stand up to peers from around the country.

 
Wynwood's The Butcher Shop serves up craft beer as well as a hearty beef-centric menu.
Wynwood's The Butcher Shop serves up craft beer as well as a hearty beef-centric menu.
PHOTO BY FELIPE CUEVAS

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To get a feel for the craft beer movement, stop by what many consider Miami’s beer ground zero—The Abbey Brewing Company (1115 16th Street, Miami Beach; 305-538-8110), which has been crafting small-batch beers for nearly 20 years and serving them in an atmospheric pub in South Beach. While the beers aren’t actually brewed in Miami (the production is handled by the Indian River Brewery in Melbourne, Fla.), Abbey has been the area’s trailblazer and mirrors the long tradition of Belgian Abbey ales by naming its brews as if they’d been made by a religious order. There’s Father Theodore’s Stout, a double ale and a quadruple ale (with an aroma that’s wonderfully reminiscent of coffee), but the best way to sample Abbey’s production is with a cool glass of crisp and refreshing Immaculate IPA. The Abbey features up to a dozen “guest brews” as well and is open until 5 a.m., so it’s never too late to stop by.

The new kid on the brewing block is Luis Brignoni, a young entrepreneur who became interested in beer while a student at FIU. He spent two years getting all the paperwork together to open Wynwood Brewing Company (565 NW 24th Street, Wynwood; 305-982-8732) in the heart of Miami’s trendy graffiti-laden neighborhood. His beer has been available for several months, and he had the grand opening of his effusively decorated Tap Room just in time for Art Basel. Brignoni just signed ex-Gordon Birsch brewmaster Nik Mebane to his team and they’re cranking out a dozen different brews, many of them experimental lots of a single batch or two. Don’t miss the El Dorado, a pale ale with a crisp attack and a wonderful citrus note on the finish. Craft beer pairs with food as well as wine does and it’s a shame to miss the experience of a great beer or ale with a fine dish. The Butcher Shop (165 NW 23rd Street, Wynwood; 305-846-9120) carries a stunning array of draught and bottled beers and, not surprisingly, has a meat-laden menu for pairing. Have a plate of citrusy grilled octopus with a wheat beer and you’re in Wynwood heaven.

Downtown’s top spot for esoteric batch beers is The Corner (1035 North Miami Avenue, Miami; 305-961-7887), notable for featuring a wide international selection. Not everything on the list is made in tiny lots, but everything on offer is at the top of its class, from Poperings Hommel, a Belgian IPA, to what may be the grandfather of American craft beer, Anchor Steam from San Francisco. Best of all, they’ve got a staff that is knowledgeable and can point you in any direction your taste takes you.

One of the hottest beer concepts to come along is on view at Tap 42 (1411 S Andrews Avenue, Fort Lauderdale; 954-463-4900), a pub on steroids that has more than 50 beers on tap. At least half of those tap handles are on a rotation that brings in well over a hundred beers a year, many of them exceedingly small batch products that never see a bottle and so are seldom seen outside their region of origin. Tap 42 has particularly good food as well, making it well worth the drive for anyone thirsty enough to leave the 305.

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