Brewery Visit – Cerveceria La Tropical @LaTropicalBeer

And just like that, a blast from the past is brought to vibrant life.

Today is the grand opening of Cerveceria La Tropical in Wynwood, the culmination of a journey that took Miami native Manny Portuondo over 20 years to realize.

Manny is the great-grandson of one of the men responsible for the creation of La Tropical, which at its height was Cuba’s best selling beer and the first craft beer produced on the island. Before the island’s Communist revolution, the brewery encompassed 100 acres, with a beautiful tropical garden, outdoor dance floor and event space, and more.

It’s with that history in mind that Manny and his partners at Heineken created a 1-acre space that calls back to those amazing historical cues, while also paying tribute to its new Wynwood home. What they ended up creating is fantastic. Two huge pillars welcome visitors into a sprawling lush tropical wonderland, bursting with orchids (Manny’s favorites) and an incredible variety of Caribbean trees and flora.

All of this is overshadowed by giant towering gleaming silver fermenters, and they brought in as many as their little space can hold. All of these are fed by a gorgeous 20 hectolitre brewing system, and they are beautifully showcased through large picture windows behind the bar. Yes, I did say hectolitre, since Heineken is a partner and the staff bring them in was German.

Before opening, and still to this day and beyond, most people assumed this was a Heineken brewery with a Latin theme. Knowing Manny’s story personally and having met him years ago when he first brought La Tropical to Miami, I can assure you this is not the case. Manny even said it best himself, “This was my dream. They helped make my dream come true.”

Over 20 years ago, and with the help of family and friends, Manny began a quest to spend the time and get the rights, trademarks, and everything else to bring the authentic La Tropical experience to his native Miami. He did a great job getting the word out there, and there were a lot of breweries that were interested in partnering with him, but it was Heineken that understood the vision Manny had for the brand.

This really has been a labor of love from a man and a family that is finally being realized. Through his connections at FIU and their incredible Brewing school, he met Matthew Weintraub and enticed him to come over to head up the Brewing team. Matthew is known to the Miami brewing community, having graduated from FIU and spending several years at The Tank in Doral as their first brewmaster.

It is, entirely possible that many visitors never see the history they are surrounded by. There is plenty of room for visitors, and since they opened during a global pandemic, they took proper steps to ensure safety. Seating is currently by reservation only, and every table has its own bottle of hand sanitizer along with a QR code to access the menu.

About the food for a few seconds, since Manny and Head Brewer Matthew Weintraub always knew that a full-service restaurant was going to be a part of the La Tropical experience. There are no roller dogs here. The menu was specifically created by famed Miami restaurateur Cindy Hutson.

At Manny’s insistence, we let him choose our menu for the evening. Field Producer Steve and I feasted on several dishes, including an early version of beer can bread, lightly salted and served with whipped guava butter, all of which needs to be tasted to be believed. I am pretty sure Steve had a good majority of the loaf himself, and I cannot fault him on that. Their idea is to eventually serve in a beer can that will pop open table side.

My personal favorite was he house-made chorizo with beer mustard, served in a medley of sliced and sauteed onions and red and yellow bell peppers. There’s just enough spice to keep things hot and interesting, and still bring a wonderful flavor.

The steamed mussels with beer broth was also fantastic, and they made sure to get a spoon to get as much of that broth onto the bread and onto the muscles as possible. To be honest, I think that’s just the way it should be served.

Finally, plantain chips you can tell were made in-house not just by the curl of the chips but also the incredible flavor. They are practically exploding with plantain goodness and as much as I love plantain chips from the store, I’m not sure I can go back to those anymore. When paired with their chipotle aioli, the dish is fantastic enough to be a meal in and of itself.

Of course it’s here that we have to go into the beer, and as you’ll hear when our interview is finally released on the Florida Beer Podcast, this whole experience really centers on La Tropical the beer, which is been slightly rechristened as their Ambar Lager (Vienna/Amber Lager, 4.5% ABV, 20 IBU).

This is one of my favorite styles of beer, and Ambar Lager is a great example of it. As Matthew said, showing his Austrian heritage, “Never tell an Austrian how to brew a Vienna lager.” It’s funny, though, because they used the original recipe as an inspiration, not a steadfast requirement.

Obviously, Matthew’s gorgeous push-button system is a far cry from the hand operated system they used back at the turn of the century in Cuba, and clearly the ingredients are a little bit cleaner and more consistent than what they had to use. But that’s not to say they didn’t kick the recipe up a little bit.

Ambar Lager contains a bounty of beautiful caramel biscuit sweetness, but there is a very interesting tropical fruit quality that I never had in a beer like this that’s sort of, well, Miami. Matthew smiled before letting us know that there was a good hopping of Centennial in addition to the noble hops contained in the beer. This provides just a little touch of tropical fruit to an otherwise very traditional, very easy to drink light and refreshing beer. Once they officially open and it starts to get hotter, this beer is going to fly.

Starting next month, this will be distributed in cans along with a new beer of theirs, Suave IPA (IPA, 4.5% ABV, 40 IBU). Their IPA is a blast, but since the aroma is bringing huge notes of orange, mango, lemon, and other tropical fruits. The flavor keeps those while controlling alpha acids very expertly. It’s almost as if it were brewed to be a hazy IPA, but when you look at the beer it is absolutely crystal clear. It is a remarkably refreshing beer that will impress expert craft beer drinkers with strong hop qualities, but is also approachable enough to those new to the craft beer experience.

What might set them back is Gasolina (Double IPA, 9.4% ABV, 50 IBU), their double IPA coming in at a deceptively big 9.4% ABV. This is a beer that was made to test the limits of their system, and the home office in Germany definitely kept an eye on it the first time it was brewed, but once again you get big tropical notes with smartly controlled hops. This is an amazing beer that once again straddles the line between beer for craft beer hop heads and beer for those just getting into the field. What’s funny here is it is easier and darker then both Ambar Lager and Suave IPA, but it’s still approachable, it’s still wonderfully creamy, and the beautiful fruit and melon notes of El Dorado hops were instantly ascertainable.

More beers are coming, some of which were inspired by the original brewery in Cuba (such as Tropical 50, a hearkening back to Cuba’s incredible love for dry stouts). There’s also a lot of room for experimentation and bringing new beers into the taproom itself. This is not so much a brewery as it is an experience, and it is an experience Steve and I loved and cannot wait to come back to again with our families.

Their grand opening is today, and hopefully soon you will be able to see La Tropical beer cans in your local markets. In the meantime, I personally am very happy to see the resurrection of this brand coming into its forever home in a market that is really coming into its own with craft beer. And nothing brings an industry into the future like a healthy dose of admiration for its storied past.

Special thanks to many, Matthew, Mariana, and the rest of the La Tropical team for their hospitality.

Drink Florida Craft,

Dave
@floridabeerblog
floridabeerblog@gmail.com

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