The Stu­dent of History

Known for two dis­tinct and dif­fer­ent styles—the fruited Ber­liner and the ad­junct stout—jonathan Wakefield has carved out a niche in south­ern Florida with his fla­vor­ful, culi­nary-in­spired brew­ing.

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Breakout Brewer: J. Wakefield Brewing - By John Holl

EACH YEAR ON DE­CEM­BER 25,

fam­i­lies gather around the tree, and at some homes, among the presents are ob­long boxes that when un­wrapped re­veal a plas­tic jug, some ex­tract pack­ets, and a few brushes. The Mr. Beer kit is the im­pulse buy for the beer lover in your life, con­ve­niently stacked near the reg­is­ter of Bed Bath and Be­yond. Most re­cip­i­ents will give it a try; some might even take up home­brew­ing as a full hobby grad­u­at­ing to bet­ter equip­ment; fewer will ac­tu­ally use it as the im­pe­tus to go pro; and still fewer will have the im­pact that Jonathan Wakefield has had on the brew­ing in­dus­try.

He is the name­sake of J. Wakefield Brew­ing of Miami, Florida, the street-art dec­o­rated brew­ery in the city’s trendy Wyn­wood arts district—the place that at­tracts beer fans from all over the coun­try in search of two very spe­cific styles: the fruited Ber­liner weisse and the fla­vored stout.

Wakefield has ac­com­plished a lot in a very short pe­riod, pro­pel­ling parts of the in­dus­try for­ward, but so much of the suc­cess he has gained came from look­ing to the past.

“Dur­ing my home­brew days, I did a lot of re­search and back­ground dig­ging into ales that aren’t brewed any­more,” he says, re­mem­ber­ing mak­ing Kot­tbusser, a Ger­man ale made from Kölsch yeast with oats, mo­lasses, and honey. Or the Ken­tucky Com­mon he made while work­ing at Cigar City Brew­ing in 2013. “It’s the old, dead styles that I find in­ter­est­ing.”

It’s also what led him to Ber­liner weisse. While the Ger­man sour wheat ale is a style that is cur­rently en­joy­ing a re­nais­sance around the world, un­til re­cently it had largely fallen into ob­scu­rity, save for a few pur­vey­ors around the globe. Typ­i­cally low grav­ity with lit­tle hops char­ac­ter, Ber­liner weisse gets its char­ac­ter from both Lac­to­bacil­lus and warm-fer­ment­ing yeasts. Tra­di­tion­ally it’s served with a few drops of ei­ther rasp­berry or woodruff syrup, but Wakefield, who lives in a fruit-and-cit­rus lush re­gion, had an­other idea.

Cre­at­ing a New La­bel

“[Ber­liner weisse] was a style no one gave a crap about, so how do you change the game? Did I want to go through the pain of mak­ing and re­duc­ing a syrup? No. I thought ‘why don’t we just put fruit in the fer­men­ta­tion,’ and that changed every­thing,” he says.

He needed a name for the cre­ation, and the term Florida weisse caught fire, as fans be­gan to line up even be­fore he opened his brew­ery doors. At the in­au­gu­ral What The Funk Fes­ti­val held in Den­ver dur­ing the 2013 Great Amer­i­can Beer Fes­ti­val, fans lined up and snaked through the hall to get a taste of his dragon-fruit weisse. They’ve been lin­ing up ever since at his brew­ery, which opened the fol­low­ing year.

“To me, it was try­ing to cre­ate a la­bel out of an area,” he says. “The Florida weisse

thing stuck for a while. Now it’s not a new thing, and ev­ery­one in the coun­try does it. It’s been lo­cal­ized to ev­ery­where from Michi­gan to Cal­i­for­nia. So to me th­ese days, it’s a fruited Ber­liner, an Amer­i­can­ized Ber­liner. Fruit is kicked in to a fer­mented quick-ket­tle thing.”

As beer drinkers in­creas­ingly flock to­ward full fla­vored, abra­sive, sour, tart, and acidic beers, the ad­di­tion of fruit di­rectly to fer­men­ta­tion makes sense and has mass ap­peal. Be­cause the base beer is rel­a­tively sim­plis­tic, the fruit has a chance to shine, and Wakefield has sourced from not only lo­cal farms, but around the world.

“I have spared no ex­pense,” he says, cit­ing the ap­ple va­ri­ety from Ore­gon that only grows in a cer­tain val­ley. Or the Ma­sumoto peaches from Cal­i­for­nia that he calls the “king of peaches” that he had to “bend over back­wards” to get. But, he be­lieves that he’s the first one to put them into a beer.

Dragon fruit, thanks in part to how it turns the beer pink, re­mains the most pop­u­lar. But if it grows on a branch or vine, Wakefield is open to try­ing it. One in­gre­di­ent, how­ever, that he won’t try again is high­bush cran­ber­ries. A few years back, he made a col­lab­o­ra­tion beer with a Mon­treal brewer and used the fruit that aren’t re­ally cran­ber­ries and grow in a tree in north­ern re­gions.

“They smell hor­ri­ble, like feet but not in the truf­fle way,” Wakefield says. “But, it ul­ti­mately has a good funk to it. The beer turned out okay, but not that great.”

The real is­sue was clean­ing the tanks af­ter­ward. The high­bush cran­ber­ries have a flat seed in­side that makes up about 50 per­cent of the fruit; and af­ter up­ward of 400 pounds of puree were used in the recipe, the seeds stuck to the bot­tom of the tank, ce­ment­ing and clog­ging the sys­tem. It took the brew­ers hours of chis­el­ing to break up and take away the de­bris.

Hot Weather Dark Beer

The low-al­co­hol, tartly re­fresh­ing Ber­liner makes sense for the hot Florida cli­mate, but the other style Wakefield is known for—fla­vored stouts—might seem a lit­tle out of char­ac­ter. In re­sponse to the ques­tion, he re­cites the mantra of so many other brew­ers: I make what I like to drink.

“Since my home­brew days, I’ve made stouts, porters, and dark beers. Back then, I’d throw co­conuts into 5-gal­lon bar­rels, and I’ve just car­ried it over,” he says.

Out­side of IPAS, spe­cial stout re­leases are still what cus­tomers line up for, and on the days when Wakefield has a new stout re­lease, it’s not un­com­mon for folks to ar­rive at mid­night the night be­fore and camp out for the first crack at a bot­tle.

“We make good IPA, but we don’t have that beer com­mu­nity [lo­cally] for cases of hazy IPA. Here cus­tomers see a 10, 11, 12 per­cent ABV beer, and that’s what they want. They see it as the best bang for their buck, and it may seem coun­ter­in­tu­itive, but peo­ple love drink­ing them even when its ninety-five de­grees out.”

Still a Home­brewer

Although Wakefield has a good num­ber of years un­der his belt as a pro, home­brew­ers still ap­proach him reg­u­larly for ad­vice to get into the busi­ness. He ac­knowl­edges that it’s hard.

There were al­most 2,000 brew­eries in the coun­try when he opened com­pared to 5,500 to­day. He cites ge­og­ra­phy as one of the keys to suc­cess, in that there weren’t many brew­eries in his area when he opened. But that card is less and less playable for new brew­ers. It’s a tough road to go pro th­ese days.

So his ad­vice: find a way to set your­self apart. “It’s hard to be a trail­blazer, but you need to find some­thing that will cap­ti­vate cus­tomers and make peo­ple want to come to your brew­ery. For us, that’s ad­junct stouts and the Ber­liner.”

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