Miami’s newest brewery toasts Cuba’s oldest beer

Terry Ward

There are many places in Miami where you can (kind of) make like in Havana.

Classic spots like Cafe Versailles with its walk-up window for cafecitos and pastelitos and salsa bars like Ball & Chain (temporarily closed because: pandemic) along Calle Ocho are always good for a dose of La Isla here on the mainland and sure to be brimming with members of the Cuban diasporas, old and young.

More than 20 beers infused with tropical notes a la passionfruit and guava are on tap. (Photo courtesy of Cerveceria La Tropical)

And the city’s newest brewery, Cerveceria La Tropical , which opened in Wynwood in February 2021, has Miami’s Spanish and English grapevines buzzing about a Florida-brewed beer “with a Cuban soul.”

In a country that loves its craft beers and IPAs, it’s rare to see pilsners and lagers put in a stylish spotlight in the U.S. So I was intrigued by this brewery’s opening even before I made the Cuban connection.

I happen to be married to a Cuban who constantly requests a pilsener over any other beer everywhere we go (often to my dismay, I’ll admit). But having experienced myself how totally perfectly and refreshingly a light beer goes down on a sweltering hot day in Cuba, paying homage to a similar beer in Miami automatically makes a lot of sense to me. In a place as sultry as Cuba or Miami, the last thing I want to be drinking is something heavy and hoppy, so it’s good to see a brewery that’s not afraid to hang its cerveza hat on beers as classic as lagers and pilsners (while proffering others, too, fear not).  

More than 20 beers infused with tropical notes a la passionfruit and guava are on tap. (Photo courtesy of Cerveceria La Tropical)

Cerveceria La Tropical‘s roots go back to late-19th century Havana—pre-Castro, pre-Communism—when the Blanco Herrera family founded the brewery along a riverbank and the location quickly became a destination for music and dancing surrounded by tropical gardens (curiously enough, the brewery also had an onsite baseball field with infield dirt that was made from crushed beer bottles, which sounds pretty painful, but okay). 

Back then, the brewery’s prized beer was La Original Ambar Lager. And by 1958 the brewery was pumping out over 60 percent of Cuba’s overall beer production. Then came the Cuban Revolution and the families that founded the brewery—along with countless others in Havana and elsewhere on the island—made their ways north for a better life in Miami. 

La Original Ambar Lager is a taste of pre-Revolution Cuba. (Photo courtesy of Cerveceria La Tropical)

Decades later, in 2016, Manny Portuondo—the great-great-grandson of one of the brewery’s original land owners in Cuba—brought a riff on the original Ambar Lager recipe (inspired by the 1888 formula) back to life at a Wynwood bar. Soon enough, Heineken got a taste of the recipe and decided to embark on a joint venture with Portuondo, and the plans were set in motion to eventually launch the Cuba-inspired and American-made brewery of all breweries in Miami. 

Like most projects in Miami that get off the ground running (read: have big money backing from a brand like Heineken), the idea for the brewery evolved in pretty extravagant way. And when it opened last week, Cerveceria La Tropical debuted with not only the brewery but a taproom, restaurant, stage for live music and a 10,000-square-foot tropical garden called Jardines La Tropical lined with murals by local artists (the tropical plants within are watered by Miami’s abundant seasonal rainfall and fertilized with spent grains from the brewing process, adding a nice sustainability element to things).   

To compliment the Havana-inspired lager, La Tropical’s Brew Master, Matt Weintraub, has created some 20 handcrafted beers infused with local Florida ingredients you’d also find in Cuba a la honey, passionfruit, mango, lemon and lime. One that has my name all over it is the Gasolina, a “high octane” IPA with notes of citrus, pineapple, guava and grapefruit (they had me at guava, one of the most beloved fruits of Cuba).  

The brewery’s restaurant wraps in almost the whole of the Caribbean in its dishes with flavors like Jamaican jerk, escabeches, sofritos, curries and more on the menu. 

Look for this spot to become a Wynwood hot spot, especially as Miami’s Covid-19 curfew (currently from midnight to 6 a.m.) eventually lets up and allows the party to continue even later into the noche. I know I’ll be checking it out next time we are that much closer to Cuba, down in Miami.

Feature image courtesy of Cerveceria La Tropical.

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