If there’s a place where beers with kumquat and dragon fruit can take off, it’s Miami.
South Florida native Johnathan Wakefield, an accountant turned brewer, has earned hoppy fame and made a career out of reviving dead styles of beer and breathing new life into them with unusual ingredients and tropical notes.
But when his wife gave him a home brewing kit for Christmas in 2005, that was far from his mind.
“Eleven years ago this was just a hobby,” Wakefield said.
Today he has opened his own craft brewery, J.Wakefield Brewing, a quirky Star Wars-themed bar on a bustling Wynwood street corner. One of his beers has earned a spot on the global beer registry.
Brewing remained merely a hobby for years, with Wakefield using his friends as testers. But in 2009 he joined up with Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing to learn a bit more about pushing the envelope with his brews and began carting them around to a wider audience at Hunahpuh’s Day, a seven-year-old beer festival hosted by the brewery.
“I was preparing test batches for them on a very small scale,” Wakefield said. “I took some of those to the Hunahpuh’s Day in 2009, and every year since then I’ve been part of Hunahpuh’s Day, and that’s how people got to know my beers.”
Loyal craft beer aficionados told him they liked what they tasted and Wakefield began considering opening his own shop. He rejoined Cigar City in 2013, this time as a brewer, to learn commercial-scale brewing.
“To me it would have been a mistake to jump in without knowing every aspect of the business,” he said. “I jumped ship and left the job I had been doing for 15 years to find out if this was truly something I could do for the rest of my life, and I found that passion only got deeper,” Wakefield said.
It was during that time at Cigar City that Wakefield first brewed his Dragon Fruit/Passion Fruit Berliner Weisse, a beer that landed on global beer registry RateBeer as the eighth best beer in the world that year. With its magenta hue and fruity notes, Wakefield’s concoction grabbed people’s attention.
“I was messing around with oddball beer styles, and no one had brewed a Berliner Weisse in a long time,” Wakefield said. “I decided to try and resurrect it and see what I could take it too. I added the dragon fruit and passionfruit, which you can get here in Miami. The taste was great, but the color of the beer was an added bonus.”
Armed with such significant recognition – RateBeer has reviewed thousands of beers, and has hundreds of thousands of avid followers – Wakefield decided it was time to open his own shop. He opened a Crowd Beer account in 2013 to fund the launching of his own operation.
“My goal was to raise $55,000 in 45 days,” he said. “We reached it in two days, and went on to collect over $100,000. My mind was completely blown.”
Wakefield saw tremendous potential in Wynwood, which was up-and-coming and lacked a craft beer haunt.
“I saw it was in the stages of becoming something much greater than it already was,” he said.
Opening its doors in 2015, J. Wakefield Brewing has quickly become a Miami favorite, which the owner credits to his obsession with creating new brews. His signature beers are also sold in more than 200 restaurants and bars across Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.
Lately he’s been experimenting with the Kottbusser Colonel Plank, a beer only four other breweries in the world are making right now, and another creation that includes kumquats and starfruit.
“I think people like drinking our beers because of their diversity,” he notes. “We have our flagship beers but I go crazy if I’m not making something new and different.”