And just like that, a ghost from the past is brought back to vibrant life.
On Sunday, March 22nd, Concrete Beach Brewing premiered their oldest new beer, Cerveza La Tropical. This beer was the first brewed in Cuba, and comprised up to 60% of Cuban beer sales before it became a victim of Castro’s regime.
The recipe and trademarks are now owned by Manny Portuondo (whose great-great-grandfather sold the land upon which the original La Tropical brewery had been built). “It took 17 years to retrieve all of the rights to the Cerveza La Tropical,” Portuondo told me at the beer’s busy launch party. “But it’s all back in family hands.”
He and partner Ramon Blanco Herrera (great-great-grandchild of La Tropical’s founder) partnered with Alchemy and Science founder Alan Newman and Marco Reyna, Concrete Beach’s new brewmaster, to brew the original recipe that Cuban beer drinkers in 1888 would have enjoyed.
The style is a Vienna Lager, which makes sense “since all of the brewers in Mexico and Central America were German,” said Portuondo. “And what did they brew? German beers of course!”
At the party, Portuondo sported his vendor badge, what La Tropical salesmen would have worn when selling the beer to account across the Caribbean. The Cuban feel continued throughout the party with live music, a pig roast, and a cigar roller. This harkened back to the beer garden La Tropical maintained in Cuba in its heyday.
The recipe for the beer changed over time, and as recently as a few years ago imitators were using the Cerveza La Tropical name. Even Portuondo himself had a La Tropical on the market contract brewed by Florida Beer Company in Cape Canaveral.
Those beers all tended to be adjunct lagers. The true Cerveza La Tropical (Vienna Lager) that Cuban beer drinkers consumed, as well as visitors to Concrete Beach, is heavy in malt character with a strong sweetness and a light touch of Hallertau hops for roundness. It’s incredibly flavorful, but still light and easily drinkable in the tropical heat.
“You just treat it like any other beer,” said Reyna of brewing a beer from such an old recipe. “The rest takes care of itself.
Alan Newman concurred. “It’s exciting to see how beer can celebrate community,” he said. “That’s one of the best things, when a brewery can really become a part of and be influenced by the local culture.”
At this time, Cerveza La Tropical is only available on draft at the Concrete Beach Brewery tap room in Wynwood. There are plans, however, for wider distribution.
And it will be an exciting day indeed when Florida beer drinkers can go to their local tap room for a piece of El Cocodrilo.
Drink Florida Craft,
Special thanks to Rocco, Jesse, Marcon and Alan at Concrete Beach & Manny at Cerveza La Tropical for their time with this piece.