How To Compete in Florida’s Beer Scene Boom

In under five years, Florida’s beer scene has blown up but in a cultish way. Florida is America’s fastest-growing state for craft breweries where innovators are finding a welcoming home.

One of those breweries is Concrete Beach Brewery, est. 2015, helmed by Head Brewer, Eric Hernandez whose journey from the food manufacturing industry, to homebrewer to head brewer is a riveting tale of success in the frantic race to make kick-ass craft beer.

Bonfort’s very own Judi Laing sat down with Eric to chat about what it takes to break through the noise in an increasingly competitive category.

How long have you been head brewer at Concrete, and what’s the current capacity?

I have been the head brewer at Concrete Beach Brewery since August 2017. We have a 20bbl brewhouse with 16 fermentation tanks.

What is your background in brewing? Were you a home brewer?

My background in brewing actually began through the food manufacturing industry. I was a Quality Inspector for a large-scale production dairy where we made milk, cream, sour cream, Greek yogurt, orange juice, and bottled water. That is where I learned large-scale industrial sanitary food production. I started brewing as a homebrewer and wanted to make my hobby my profession. A lot of the same principles from the dairy industry are used in the brewing industry.

I used my skills to get a job as an inexperienced brewer at a brewery in Los Angeles, and the rest is history.

Is there one particular beer that actually hooked you on craft beer?

My friends and I were drinking traditional big beer brands for a while, and we had heard of a new beer that was supposedly made from a 3,000-year-old recipe. We searched everywhere to find it, and after finally going to my first bottle shop, we found it. It was Midas Touch from Dogfish Head, and it was incredibly rich and flavorful. After that, we kept going back to that bottle shop and trying anything new that they brought in. That was my hook.

Will you be collaborating with other breweries?

We have, and I hope to continue to do so. Our first collaboration was with MIA Brewing back in September of 2017. The beer, named Irma IPA, was sold in both of our tap houses along with other South Florida breweries to benefit the food donation efforts after Hurricane Irma.

Our second collaboration was with the Venezuelan Brewer’s Guild last month, called Gran Sabana. Named after a famous national park in Venezuela, we brewed it with their local Sarrapia seeds. It is still currently on tap in our Social Hall.

Can you share what beers you’re planning on adding in the future?

We have actually just released our newest beer, Rosé Ale. This beer is a true blendi of beer and wine, emulating a Rosé wine with a clean ale finish. In the Fall we also will be releasing our first ever barrel-aged beer, Azucar! This beer is a doppelbock brewed with brown sugar and aged in Jamaican rum barrels. The trend, for now at least, seems to be hazy IPAs.

Is there a special beer trend coming from Florida?

I think the great thing about Florida brewing is that there isn’t one specialty that all the breweries are doing. There are amazing IPA breweries, Lager breweries, and traditionally focused breweries all over the state. This can only be seen as good news for our customers because we all offer something that they like.

What is your favorite style of beer?

My favorite beer is a good clean Pilsner.

You’re throwing a dinner party…who (living or dead) would you invite…as few or as many as you like? What would you serve?!

I think it would be incredibly interesting to sit at the table with Anthony Kiedis, Freddie Mercury, Gordan Ramsey, and Betty White. It would be a loud, boisterous great time. I would serve my go-to dish lemon chicken.

Wine is commonly brought to restaurants for wine corkage. What do you think of the idea of bringing craft beer to a restaurant for beer corkage? Do you think a brewery would benefit from the option of beer corkage by people buying your beer to take to a restaurant?

I actually have never thought of that.  I think the biggest issue is that beer should be served cold, and bringing it to the restaurant would mean it would warm up. It would not compare it to enjoying your beer fresh from the tap at the restaurant.  However, if it’s a special occasion and you want to drink your “special occasion” brew, then I think that would be a cool option to have.

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Judi Laing

Judi Laing is founder of CorkageOnline.com, a directory of restaurants' corkage policies for wine, beer and spirits. As proof of her love for beer, she is dedicating herself to promoting beer corkage as a way for beer lovers to enjoy craft beer at restaurants. Wine lovers have done it forever, so why not beer? Judi believes beer as a food pairing beverage is actually superior to wine! While this may illicit a bit of controversy, she'll take responsibility. In the name of research, Judi tries to drink new beers 'a lot' and is a craft beer evangelist talking to everyone about the glory of craft beer especially trying to mystify the assertion that "beer makes me fat". Yes, if you drink a couple of six packs every night while being a couch potato. Judi also writes an intermittent blog "a woman walks into a bar..." about her experiences sitting at a bar, quaffing delicious booze - beer and cocktails mostly - and schmoozing with fellow imbibers. Judi is Canadian if that makes a difference on how you read her reviews. Prosit!