It’s beer-bottling day at J. Wakefield Brewing, and craft-beer honcho Johnathan Wakefield is feeling nervous. This weekend, his Wynwood brewery will debut five new beers, including Golden Ticket, a liquid candy bar of a stout brewed with cocoa, sea salt and caramel, and Desperado, another stout blended with ancho chilies and cassia, a Vietnamese cinnamon. On this recent Monday inside his cramped, 6,000-square-foot warehouse, Wakefield is busy bottling Pi, a golden ale punched with Key lime juice and vanilla beans.
As Wakefield watches, arms folded over a Boba Fett T-shirt, an assembly line of employees slides four 22-ounce glass bottles of Pi (its logo features the mathematical symbol) underneath metal nozzles, which dispenses the barrel-aged beer. “That’s a good pour,” Wakefield murmurs, his eyes following the ale’s foamy head as it races toward the bottleneck.
The Pi must be perfect, Wakefield says, because Wakefest, the brewery’s second anniversary bash where his five beers will be poured on Saturday, Feb. 18, will be a milestone for the business. Wakefield’s party will take over the 30,000-square-foot Mana Wynwood convention center and feature a lineup of 93 breweries, more than half of which are out-of-state and international (Sweden, Spain), pouring “beers that probably 95 percent of local beer geeks haven’t tried yet,” he says.
“This is all about the small guys,” Wakefield, of North Miami, says. “There are no macrobreweries here — no Heineken, no Bud — just a mix of ambitious breweries using off-the-wall ingredients.”
For now, Wakefield, 39, remains one of the small guys. His brewery, which makes 300 barrels per month, came together through a crowdfunding campaign on the website CrowdBrewed, raising $110,000 within 48 hours. A trained accountant with a knack for cooking and homebrewing, Wakefield says he quit the family’s boat-repair business in North Miami to open J. Wakefield in February 2015. Before that, beginning in 2007, he built a following by tinkering with beer at Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, Stone Brewing in Escondido, Calif., and Terrapin Beer Company in Athens, Ga., early supporters of Wakefield. He also grew his fan base by trading rare craft-beer bottles online.
His stints at other breweries led to dozens of brewing collaborations and a handful of national beer awards, including for his most popular beer, Dragonfruit Passionfruit, a fruity, German-style sour ale. (The beer will be on tap at Wakefest.)
“For me, [Wakefest is] about sharing all the collaborations that I’ve done and the rare beers I’ve tried,” Wakefield, of North Miami, says. “I’ve been kind of paying it forward ever since Cigar City gave me a chance 10 years ago.”
After Wakefest, which will feature 50 more breweries than its first-anniversary party in 2016, J. Wakefield will undergo a rapid expansion. Wakefield says the brewery will open a second location in Little River before the end of 2017. He’s also tapped BrewHub, a contract brewery in Lakeland, to brew more beer that will be distributed in the Tampa Bay and Orlando areas. His nerd-themed Wynwood taproom, covered in murals of the Mos Eisley cantina from “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope,” will remain open.
“If there’s anything I like as much as craft beer, it’s ‘Star Wars,’ ” says Wakefield, whose arms bear tattoos of Darth Vader and the crest of the Galactic Empire. “We’re maxed out on space, and it feels cramped here, which is why we’re making all these plans.”
But first, there’s Wakefest. Joining J. Wakefield will be local breweries Lincoln’s Beard, Concrete Beach, Funky Buddha, Bangin’ Banjo, MIA Beer Co., Biscayne Bay, Barrel of Monks, Saltwater and others. Fifty non-Florida breweries will also pour beer, paired with music from DJ Popeye and food trucks It’s a Frita Magic Box, Lola the Baker, Ms. Cheezious, the Salty Donut and Purple People Eatery.
“The goal has always been to grow South Florida’s craft-beer market,” Wakefield says. “This is probably a good start.”
Wakefest 2017 will take place noon-5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18, at Mana Wynwood, 318 NW 23rd St., in Miami. General admission tickets cost $50 via Vendini and VIP is sold out. Call 786-254-7779 or go to JWakefieldBrewing.com.
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