There are certain people that basically personify the Florida Craft Beer movement. While most people automatically think of Tampa as being their home, that woefully overlooks one of the most important early locations of FL beer: Miami Beach.
Yes, that Miami Beach.
Tiucked away on a side street off Alton Rd., below the giant neon sign proudly proclaiming ‘BAR,’ sits The Abbey Brewing Co., owned and operated by Ray Rigazio since 1995.
Brother Ray has seen it all and tried it all. Rarely a brewery opens in South Florida that Ray didn’t already know about, or a new brewmaster that hasn’t sought his sage advice. I keep pestering him to write a book about the history of brewing in South Florida; maybe we can get around to it someday.
He’s a good host, and The Abbey itself is a great time. Dark wood interiors, dark lighting, lots of dark there. All of it illuminated by a few TVs and their logo, an authentic piece of stained glass sitting front and center at the bar and comissioned by an artist who passed away from AIDS a short time later (the stained glass was his final piece).
The brewery is open until an eye-popping 5 AM every day, easily the latest I’ve ever seen in any brewery but par for the course in Miami Beach. The best day to go would definitely be Sunday, when Ray takes hot dogs and braises them in beer, liquors, whatever else he finds, etc. All free for patrons.
It’s not a big place, and his walk-in cooler sits between the bar and the front door. What you won’t see is a brewing system. In the past, Ray developed four standard Belgian-style beers and had them contract brewed by Florida Beer Co. in Cape Canaveral. Nowadays, he makes the drive up to Pompano Beach to brew on the system at 26 Degree Brewing with Yonathan Ghersi and Greg Lieberman.
This makes me incredibly happy. One, Yonathan and Greg are incredible people. Two, Ray is brewing his beers himself again, allowing him to greatly expand his offerings from those core four to 12-14 of his recipes by hand. Plus he’s getting a crowler machine and who knows? Distro?
We’ll see. It had been a long time since I had his core beers, but since I had made the drive, why not try something a little special?
First (R) was a glass of Hop Lab Batch #2 (IPA, 6.2% ABV), his version of a New England IPA, big and fruity with a moderate hoppiness. He’s not the first Florida brewer that experiemnted with lupulin powder, and not the first to love the results. It’s a fantastic beer, and Ray was – understandably – happy with the results.
After that I finished (and was finished by) Brother Aaron’s 20th Anniversary Quad (Quadrupel, 10% ABV), an incredibly thick, chewy, heavy quad. It s drenched in huge toffee, plum, and raisin notes, positvely exploding with molasses and brown sugar. So incredibly heavy and delicious, but not a beer for sessioning unless you’re in bed already and waiting for The Itis to hit.
It’s almost a pilgrimage to go to The Abbey, or at least it should be for any Florida beer drinker interested in the craft. And yes, it is definitely an important, if not slightly unorthodox, locale. But go, look for the neon sign, bask in the glow of the stained glass, and enjoy the experience.
Ray will be there waiting.
Drink Florida Craft,