Some say there are no politics in drinking, but as we embark on American Craft Beer week in one of the cities that has embraced the fast-growing beer culture in recent years, we celebrate along with a Miami local who may beg to differ.
A few weeks ago, Jose Mallea, owner of local brewery, Biscayne Bay Brewing Co., was recruited into Jeb Bush’s political action committee, Right to Rise, as the national senior adviser for the Hispanic outreach strategy. Miami’s homegrown craft beer magnate will be managing the message to a key constituency that fuels the governor’s reputation as a 2016 presidential contender. How does he plan to manage both jobs? “The good news is that our offices are very close to the brewery. I plan on spending time at both locations” he shares excitedly. We sat down and chatted with him at Threefold cafe in the Gables and it was clear to us that the parallels and successes of both his chosen career paths are due to his pragmatic and devoted approach to accomplishing his goals.
“It all started when I moved to D.C., back in 2001,” remembers Jose Mallea about the first time he was introduced to craft beer. “I had just moved there from South Florida, Miami, and had had some exposure to foreign imports that I liked, but didn’t really know what craft beer truly was.” Mallea, who grew up in Hialeah — attending Jose Marti Middle, Miami Lakes Senior High, and then FIU — had been involved in the political arena since he was a teenager. As a young history buff, the democratic system in the United States fascinated him. By the time he was a freshman in college, he was volunteering in presidential campaigns, attending events where he would stand mere feet from the leaders he had grown up reading about and admiring on TV. He landed his first real political gig in 1998, as the regional field director for the state governmental election, and his involvement in the field “just snowballed from there.”
And snowballed it did, slinging him all the way to the White House. A couple of years in, he was working as the personal aid for the the president’s Chief of Staff, a stone’s throw away from the Oval Office. After late nights on the job, he also got his first taste of the hop movement. Thanks to its proximity to Delaware, D.C. was one of the first markets to have craft trailblazer Dogfishhead. “That was the first time I had tasted a real IPA — the Dogfish 60 min — and I remember thinking ‘Wow, how is it possible that a beer tastes this good!’ It really impacted me.”
As his political career evolved, so did his affinity for craft beers. Before returning to South Florida, he found himself traveling to Jordan and Dubai as part of the Office of Commercial Business Affairs. He landed back in Miami as chief of staff for mayor Manny Diaz — an administration he pronounces as “one of the best we’ve had in the city” with some admitted bias — and it was then he began to realize there was a huge potential in the market for his newfound passion. “We had the Abbey, which makes some of their own beer and carried a few other brands. Obviously Titanic, even a Gordon Biersch at that time right? But no beer that we could truly call our own.” Mallea decided to take a step back from politics to focus on his own consulting firm, and slowly put some wheels in motion with his passion for great brews.
He first decided to pique consumer interest, testing the waters by opening a gastropub with a focus on craft beers. In 2011, he teamed up with his old time high school friend Mauricio Locayo and opened Coral Gables’ now popular eatery The Local Craft Food & Drink, recruiting a young Alberto Cabrera to head one of the city’s first American modern takes on pub food. “It was quite the success, and a great marketing experience” he said. “I realized there was a huge interest in craft beers, and about a year in [I] decided to venture into opening a brewery.”
But Mallea was not a brewer. He was a beer drinker, and the idea of running his own brewing operation was daunting. He searched every aspect of the process, meeting brewers, learning about the businesses, and trying all sorts of local beer. “Moe had taken me to a couple homebrewers meetings, so I tried other people’s home brews, and I knew there was no way I was going to be able to do this on my own” he said.
Mallea field-tripped to Tequesta brewing Co. in Jupiter, to tour the facility and better understand how to lay the foundation of an operation of its caliber. “Visiting the space and visualizing what it takes is, I think, a huge part of any business, especially brewing because if you’ll notice all of the local breweries here have done it differently. There’s no cookie-cutter blueprint. Yeah there’s a system for measures, but it’s up to you to figure out how what makes sense for you and your business.”
Biscayne Bay Brewing Co. launched in September of 2012, and Mallea sets the business apart with his tried and tested approach. With five beers on the market, the three core beers (1513 MDXIII Golden Ale, Miami Pale Ale, Biscayne Bay Saison) and two limited releases (Double Nine IPA and La Colada coffee porter), the brewery keeps raising the stakes. This Saturday as part of American Craft Beer Week, they’ll be releasing their 6th beer, The Pequena Habana Pilsner, at Cabrera’s new fast-casual establishment, Little Bread in Little Havana. “To me getting a pilsner right is executing a beer thats true to style with the proper technique, and the best materials. So we’re doing a lager, again people say a lager probably isn’t a good idea because it takes forever this and that, but it’s going to be delicious.”
Some might critique the creativity when examining Biscayne Bay’s lineup next to the other, more experimental local breweries, but Mallea prides himself on his focus and attention to detail. Breweries, like any business, reflect the personality of their owners. His political background, and business approach to brewing echo throughout the last drop of his product. “I really do believe in doing a handful of things, and doing them extremely well, versus trying to do too much” he says. “Consider government service, if you’re an elected official, say a mayor, and you are trying to do 20 things at once, you’re going to accomplish very few of them. But if you pick the three or four incredibly important things that need to be addressed in the community and you go after them hard, there’s a chance you are going to get at least two of them or even four of them right, and in doing that have a tremendous impact. So that mentality I have of executing extremely well the things you do and just doing a few of them, has carried over my beer business.”
He carries the message far beyond the brewery, advocating through his work for The Libre Initiative national organization, focusing on outreach for Hispanic voters across the nation. Mallea is the poster boy of the values he promotes: Free enterprise, economic freedom, upward mobility, and self-reliance. “I think these are positive messages for the Hispanic community, and it helps to shape the political narrative a little bit more than the majority that some Hispanic communities have been exposed to — you know, needing to depend on government and the government needing to help you — which from a philosophical, political standpoint I don’t believe in.”
He is back on the bandwagon and his political past has come full circle. Considering Mallea’s relationships with Marco Rubio — and that he ran his successful senate campaign back in 2010 — some were taken aback by his decision. But if you remember, it was his first job in Bush’s governmental campaign that catapulted him into the world of politics and into the administration of George W. Bush; which got him to D.C., where he first had a taste of craft beer.