“In one way or the other we're all refugees
Living out this easy life below the banyan trees
Smoothing off the rougher edges of the culture clash
We got a style, we got a look
We got that old panache”
- Jimmy Buffett, “Everybody’s Got A Cousin in Miami”
It's that time of year again. Thanksgiving and the holidays inch ever closer. Your grandparents have been calling and guilt-tripping you ever so gently, or not so gently. Maybe you miss Nana’s turkey and stuffing. Or maybe you just feel bad; you may not have a lot of time left to see Nana after she hurt herself mixing it up with Gertie over who got to Golden Corral’s carving station first.
Since it’s time to spend the holidays with your family, it also means it's time to find a nice beer or two to get you through it all. The necessary pairing of beer and family was something I learned in college when I would need a cold one to get me through those calls with mom where she talked all about how good the potato salad was at Uncle Irving’s funeral (love you, Mom!).
Whatever the reason, it's time to head to South Florida and we're ready to guide you to great craft beer. The Miami-Ft. Lauderdale-West Palm Beach corridor may not be atop anyone's list of craft beer destinations, but great things abound if you know where to look.
Bigger name breweries deserve attention of course, but let's also focus on those not-so-famous places that are still under the radar. And even if your Nana hates the beach and moved out to the suburbs, we still have you covered with some hidden gems closer to the Everglades than the ocean. We’ll even highlight some top-notch bottle shops. This list is in no way comprehensive, that's just impossible to do, but it will help you get you through another night of Scrabble with Aunt Bernice.
Su Abuela Vive en Miami (Nana lives in Miami)
Miami is more than just rum drinks and expensive bottles in da’ club. Miami’s creativity and artistic side has seeped into the beers they make. Many breweries are centered in the Wynwood district, but you can find breweries from the fruit groves of Homestead to the industrial parks near the airport. The city’s beer scene even warranted a full episode of Esquire Network’s early departed show Brew Dogs (RIP).
The Obviousness: J. Wakefield Brewing, in the Wynwood area, is famous for their Florida Weisses like DFPF (Dragon Fruit Passionfruit) Berliner and Miami Madness, made with passion fruit, mango and guava. Wynwood was a rundown part of the city that artists gentrified transformed, and has now become a haven for brewers and artisans of all kinds. It may actually be illegal now for any surface in Wynwood to not be covered in graffiti, we have lawyers checking on that.
Wakefield has eye-popping Star Wars-themed art work all over the walls, and nothing beats debating if Han Solo shot first while sipping on one of their imperial stouts like their vanilla, cacao bean, and ghost pepper-infused Let the Wookie Win. However, their flagship Hop for Teacher IPA packs all the citrus punch of Nana’s cranberry-orange relish. A short walk away is both the Wynwood Brewing Company and Concrete Beach Brewery, so why not walk around and make a day out of it?
Locals Also Go To: Mendez Fuel is a gas station with 16 taps at their growler fill station, an amazing bottle selection and lots of healthy looking food with acai or something in them. The food could give you eternal life for all I know, I just go for the growlers in order to find rarities from local breweries. Look, we're not Colorado where every gas station or grocery store fills growlers with some rare RIS. We have one. But you can go swimming on Christmas here, so I guess it all evens out. Plus, you can grab something tasty and healthy for Nana while you’re at Mendez.
In the ‘Burbs: M.I.A. Brewing Company in Doral, a rather nondescript part of Miami, boasts quantity and quality. They have 50 taps, 37 of which are their own beers, and the best of the bunch are often their Berliner Weisses. MIA does not have the fame of J. Wakefield, but offerings like Regresa a Mi (a guava and hibiscus Berliner) more than hold their own. You can pair any of their beers with an impressive food menu and not have to deal with lines of hipsters in Wynwood.
They Call It Fort Liquor-dale But There is Beer There
Fort Lauderdale has a reputation of drinking the hard stuff while on the beach for Spring Break, but there are great things brewing. Not as crazy as its neighbor to the south (Miami) but more interesting than sleepy West Palm Beach to the north, there are plenty of diamonds in the rough.
The Obviousness: Funky Buddha Brewery. Their Maple Bacon Coffee Porter put them on the map but Sweet Potato Casserole is the one to seek out around Turkey Day. This strong ale, brewed with sweet potatoes, vanilla, and spices will remind you of Nana’s casserole, marshmallows and all. No Crusts was the first of their beers to blow my mind, as it's a shockingly good representation of a peanut butter & jelly sandwich.
Sure, they do a brewery tour like anyone else, but they have been known to share a drop of something special for tour-goers. My tour guide was kind enough to share some Butta’ Cup, their peanut butter and chocolate brown ale, before it had been released. It's worth a trip just to try and find all the Willy Wonka references in the art in their taproom. Their food is sensational; having a Last Snow, a coconut and coffee porter, with their challah grilled cheese caused me to melt into a puddle of happiness.
Locals Also Go To: LauderAle. Go for the pure adventure of it. Breweries are often located in out-of-the-way warehouse districts, but trying to find LauderAle will have you cursing out your GPS. On my last trip there, I thought I had finally figured out the way when I realized I was driving the wrong way down a one-way street.
However, it is well worth the effort, and you can reward yourself at journey’s end with their La Nina mango-habanero pepper blonde ale. At only 5% alcohol by volume, you may be tempted to call it a session beer, but I’m not sure what kind of session involves that many habaneros. Another favorite is their C (Coconut) Porter, a beer that is smoother than the sound of jellied cranberry sauce sloooowwwwly sliding out of the can and onto the Thanksgiving table. LauderAle is also conveniently located next to the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport in case all that time with your family drives you to need a beer before hopping on a plane.
In the ‘Burbs: Mack House. Worth a visit because it reminds you of hanging out in your friend’s basement, only if your friend was a homebrewer and gamer, The Mack House has several old-school video game consoles so patrons can sink into one of their couches and relive the golden age of gaming while they sample the beers. Getting my ass beat in Mario Kart was much easier to take since I was drinking a house-made Nameless Stout.
If gaming isn’t your thing, you can still hoist a pint while enjoying their oddball movie selections, like their annual Sharknado marathon night. The Mack House really puts the “nano” in nano-brewery, as they have a small brewing setup right next to the Nintendo, but they pack a lot of flavor into their beers. For Mardi Gras, they brewed up a brown ale that incorporated Andouille sausage, but my favorite has always been Panic Con Pablo, a Belgian Tripel with Don Pablo coffee.
Nana Lives in Del Boca Vista
Ok, so Del Boca Vista is an imaginary place that only lives in the heart of Seinfeld fans. But it refers to the greater West Palm Beach-Boca Raton area. Palm Beach County caters more to retirees than good-looking beer drinkers like you, fair reader, but there is a movement afoot with four breweries slated to open in West Palm Beach itself in the next year.
The Obviousness: Civil Society Brewing. Go there because you can enjoy their outstanding New England IPAs like Fresh, and do so in much nicer weather than you would find in actual New England. Go because Nana is a big baseball fan and you can tell her you went to the brewery owned by ex-Miami Marlins pitcher Chris Volstad. If Nana enjoys the national pastime, Civil Society is a short walk away from the stadium where the Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals play for spring training, as well as their Class-A minor league affiliates. After the game, you can head over to the brewery for Pulp, a wheat ale so citrusy and, well, pulpy you can tell Nana you drank your juice today.
Locals Also Go To: Due South Brewing. Go because it’s great to support military veteran-owned breweries. Go because Due South turned the sleepy little suburb of Boynton Beach into a beer hot spot of sorts. There are two other breweries nearby, with another set to open soon. Or you can go to test the theory that dark beers are still delicious even if it’s 90 degrees outside in November.
Due South has been doing Black Friday right for six years in a row, setting aside the day after Thanksgiving for a special event highlighting many of the porters and stouts that reside on the higher end of the SRM scale. The ones to seek out are their Mexican Standoff imperial porter, made with cinnamon, chocolate, vanilla, and chili peppers, and the pitch-black Mariana Trench Russian imperial stout. Due South even has your holiday shopping needs covered, as the day after Black Friday is their annual craft fair where local artists showcase pottery, jewelry and other handmade goodies.
In the ‘Burbs: The Sybarite Pig is a great spot to get some unique, sought-after dishes like Chicken Fried Pork Belly or Confit Duck & Waffles. Now, I’m a vegetarian, so you’ll have to tell me all about them, but the Syb’ Pig still makes my mouth water with their draft list. They often showcase rare beers from Florida breweries like Cigar City and have more hard-to-find Belgian bottles than anyone else around. Also, the last time I was there, another patron brought in a pig. An honest-to-goodness pig.
All of this is meant as a friendly reminder that visiting Florida doesn’t have to mean sipping on a watered-down lager.”
Honorable Mentions & Quick Sips
The Wynwood area of Miami also is home to Kush, with their dazzling array of taps, creative dishes and a speakeasy attached to it that you need a (semi-)secret password to enter. Once you’re in, you also get access to the owner’s vintage beer cellar. Down the graffiti-covered road is Box Elder, an exceptional bottle shop and bar. Box Elder is the perfect place to sample a wide variety of what the local breweries are making, including their limited releases.
The Flagler Village Brass Tap in Fort Lauderdale may seem like your usual sports bar, but it has a secret: there’s a world-class brewery upstairs. While their highly-acclaimed head brewer gets ready to open his own brewery, you can sample their hazy IPAs and colorful Berliner Weisses there.
Nearby are two of the best craft beer bars in Florida: Laser Wolf and the Riverside Market. While both feature an extensive tap and bottle list, that’s where the similarities end. Laser Wolf has a punk rock edge to it, with its funky artwork and location that’s literally next to the railroad tracks. Riverside Market’s wall-to-wall cooler of bottles works on the honor system; you grab beers as you go and then tally up what you drank before you leave. Riverside is also the traditional place in South Florida to stock up on that Black Friday favorite, Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout.
Bangin’ Banjo Brewing Company is an oasis in the craft beer desert that lies between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, and their Gobble Til You Wobble beer dinner pairs up fall-themed beers with Thanksgiving culinary favorites.
All of this is meant as a friendly reminder that visiting Florida doesn’t have to mean sipping on a watered-down lager. Since you have to come down to see your family for the holidays anyway, now you’re armed with a list of places where you can find some great craft beer to be thankful for. After all, Nana just wants you to be happy.
Thanks to Remo Remoquillo for the header illustration.