Miami's Concrete Beach brewery aids revival of Cuba's oldest beer, La Tropical

( Agencies ) Updated: 2016-07-02 09:35:36

As he sipped the rich, malty lager, Ignacio Herrera suddenly pictured himself back at a dance hall in 1950s-era Cuba.

The 83-year-old was one of dozens gathered recently on the sunny patio of Miami's Concrete Beach artisanal brewery, where hipsters, bikers and old men sporting Panama hats celebrated the revival of Cuba's iconic La Tropical beer.

"The memories it brings!" Herrera marveled. "You used to go every Sunday to dance and drink beers for five cents."

La Tropical's comeback kicked off stateside thanks to Manny Portuondo, an American born to Cuban exiles.

He visited his homeland for the first time last year, notably the Spanish-style gardens where Cuba first began brewing the Vienna-style lager.

Portuondo's great, great-grandfather originally sold that land to the Blanco Herrera family, who established Cuba's first brewery there in 1888. The Blanco Herreras operated La Tropical until 1960, when the government nationalized it and the family went into exile.

But with relations between the United States and Cuba in the midst of a historic thaw, American interest in the Caribbean island has spiked.

"These days it seems like everyone want to talk about Cuba. For years, no one had a word to say about it," joked Portuondo, who decided "it was the moment to relaunch La Tropical."

"I felt the story running through my veins," he said.

He worked for years to regain control of the rights to the beer and register it as a global brand, along with Ramon Blanco Herrera, the great-grandson of the brewery's founder.

For now, the business focus is outside of the Cuban market. But he said "it would be a beautiful ending to the story if La Tropical returns to Cuba."

Craft beer trend

The revival of La Tropical coincides with America's ever-growing interest in craft beer. Its biggest enthusiasts include the millennials - young people born in the 80s and 90s - who frequent the trendy Wyn-wood neighborhood where La Tropical was released.

The beer satisfies the tastes of young beer connoisseurs and elderly Cubans alike. Concrete Beach's master brewer Marco Reyna said the recipe is faithful to the original.

"The family wanted us to produce the beer that they had," Reyna said. Combining current techniques with traditional formulas for Viennese-style brews, "we kind of developed a new recipe for this beer that we thought would best emulate what this beer would have been like back in Havana," he added.

Octogenarian Herrera was content: "Right now, I feel like I'm drinking it in Cuba," he said.

More than 4,200 craft breweries now operate in the United States, 15 percent more than in 2014. The nascent Florida market is home to 151 of them.

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