Food & Drink

How this Miami brewer helped shape South Florida’s craft beer scene

Piero Rodriguez was one of the founding brewers for Doral’s MIA Beer Company. He was killed in an early Sunday morning car crash in Doral.
Piero Rodriguez was one of the founding brewers for Doral’s MIA Beer Company. He was killed in an early Sunday morning car crash in Doral. Julia Rose Photo

The last thing Piero Rodriguez said as he left work late Saturday night was how much he was looking forward to spending Father’s Day with his young son.

He would never make it home.

Rodriguez, one of the founding brewers of MIA Beer Company in Doral who helped shape the craft beer scene in South Florida, was killed in a car crash early Sunday morning, Doral police confirmed. He was 34.

“We are completely devastated,” said brewery owner Eddie Leon. “It’s a sudden loss that we’re all having a hard time coming to terms with.”

Rodriguez had been working double shifts, Leon said, brewing in the morning and often tending bar at the brewery at night to make extra money. Friends feared it might have been exhaustion that forced him to lose control of his late-model Acura on Northwest 33rd Street at the tight curve in the 8900 block, just minutes down the street from the brewery. He struck a light pole, wasn’t wearing his seat belt and was ejected, according to police. He was pronounced dead at Kendall Regional Medical Center at 2 a.m. Sunday.

“He was telling everybody how excited he was to see his son,” Leon said.

Rodriguez was a pioneer in South Florida’s craft beer community, but he was an adopted Miami son.

He was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, where he shared a birthday — Sept. 13 — with his two brothers. He was a mentor to his young brother, Ruy, and a confidant to his older brother, Jairo.

“He was my first friend,” Jairo Rodriguez said.

The family emigrated to Miami when Piero was a senior in high school, as his parents sought better opportunities in the United States. But moving to a new country or school didn’t faze him.

“The second day we started school, we had friends because my brother was so good at that — making friends,” Ruy Rodriguez said.

The one day he visited his older brother in a small town in British Columbia, people around town were telling Jairo, “Oh, you’re Piero’s brother.”

Piero took a while to find his calling while living in Miami, working odd jobs. But he absolutely fell in love with music. He worked as a DJ at Gramps in Wynwood and the hard-rocking Churchill’s Pub in Little Haiti, where punk rock is what he preferred to spin.

And he was punk, through and through, from his tight pants with combat boots and T-shirts with obscure band names, to his taste in music. At MIA Beer, he set up a pair of turntables between the brewery and the tasting room, where he could watch over his gurgling beer boilers and spin everything from the Ramones to the Clash, not to mention a host of insider-only bands.

“He was a force. He was never still,” Jairo said.

His love of counter-culture is as easy to see as his 9-year-old son’s name: Rebel. He and his wife, Paloma Mejia, remain close and were expecting to spend Father’s Day together, even though the couple was living apart. Their love for their son bound them.

“Rebel was his life,” Ruy said. “He was Rebel’s best friend.”

One of Piero’s odd jobs, working at a liquor store, turned Piero on to craft beer — small-batch, artisanal beers in hosts of styles and flavors. He started homebrewing with several friends, pushing the limits of flavors — banana pale ale or a cucumber saison — asking himself, “What’s on sale at the grocery store and does it sound interesting?” recalls his homebrew club friend Robert Tejon.

“He’s one of those dudes that thought differently,” Tejon said. “He kept chasing that dream.”

His two-story townhouse in Doral was his first unofficial brewery. Piero often brewed on the front porch and hauled vats upstairs where he would carbonate and keg the beer that he would take to local events, such as the very first Grovetoberfest and Brew at the Zoo — where, in 2012, he met the man who would help change his life, MIA founder Leon.

Leon was in real estate and looking to start a new venture in a down economy when he tasted Piero’s brews — including a cucumber ale called A Gentleman and A Scholar — and saw Piero’s passion for brewing.

“The guy was a walking encyclopedia of beer knowledge,” Leon said.

They began brewing together, and last year opened MIA Beer Co. Leon brought in Chicago’s Michael Demetreus to be the head brewer, but it was Rodriguez both relied on to understand the local palate.

The brewery, with a sleek tasting room and bar where Piero often worked when he wasn’t brewing, became a hit with locals. He insisted on a glass door where patrons could look into the brewing room and watch their fresh, local beer being made. And, of course, where they could watch him spin music.

“When he found craft beer, he really found his mission,” Ruy said.

They made award-winning beer that caught the attention of some of America’s finest craft beer breweries, such as Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing, with whom they often collaborated on special-release beers.

“He was a huge pioneer,” said Luis Brignoni, founder of Wynwood Brewing.

But his friends and peers at other breweries say he remained humble. It was common to find him at the brewery doing the laborious, scrubbing tanks with punk rock blaring in the background while his son tagged along.

He was living the life he always wanted, his brother Ruy said, albeit cut far too short.

“People should be more positive,” Ruy said, “and pursue their dreams like he did.”

Miami Herald Staff writer Carli Teproff contributed to this story.

Remembering Piero Rodriguez

What: Although the funeral is private, MIA Beer Co. will host a memorial at the brewery in Rodriguez’s honor.

When: 5 p.m., Wednesday

Where: MIA Beer Co. brewery, 10400 NW 33rd St., Suite 150, Doral

To donate: A Go Fund Me online account has been started to raise money for Rodriguez’s son, Rebel: