Miami businessman creates craft version of Cuba's iconic beer, La Tropical

Manny Portuondo has a passion. On May 22, he will relaunch a beer brand that holds a special place in his heart and in that of his countrymen and women.

He is bringing back one of Cuba’s most iconic names in brewing – Cerveza La Tropical, La Original – which launches in Miami on Sunday.

“My family in Cuba was involved with the creation of La Tropical 128 years ago. My great-great grandfather owned land in Havana, and he sold it to the Blanco Herrera family. They established the first beer brewed in Cuba in 1888. The connection goes pretty deep for me,” he told Fox News Latino.

Portuando, 49, is the American-born son of Cuban exiles.

With a licensing deal with the Alchemy and Science, a craft brew project subsidiary of the Boston Beer Company – which makes Sam Adams beer –  La Tropical will be available first to Miami consumers, and then they will see where it goes from there.

“I believe our timing is good. There’s already a lot of interest in the brand. We’d like to start small and slow,” Portuondo said.

La Tropical and its sister brand, Cristal, were produced by the Blanco Herrera family until 1960, when the Castro government nationalized the industry and both the Portuondo and Blanco Herrera families fled to the United States.

The Cuban government continued to brew both beers until about 2001, at which time they formed a joint venture with the company that makes Labatt Canadian beer. La Tropical ceased being brewed in 2008 – leaving only Cristal, which today is the No. 1 selling beer on the island.

Portuondo, the managing director of Deep Blue Advisory, a mergers-and-acquisitions company and owner of the new La Tropical’s worldwide rights, told FNL that he embarked on the journey of rediscovering the beer recipe in an effort both to keep the tradition alive and to protect the interests of his family and the Blanco Herreras.

“Initially it was a kind of scavenger hunt. I made a chart and started researching and interviewing family members and connecting with people who had worked at the brewery in Cuba. It was the grandmother network,” Portuondo said chuckling.

“I found the last master brewer of La Tropical, ironically, living only three miles from my home in Miami,” he said.

Julio Fernández Selles was 85 when Portuondo tracked him down.

“Selles was one of the few executives who remained active in the beer industry after Cuba’s nationalization. He’d been working in Puerto Rico for Cerveceria India. He had stayed busy until his death six years ago writing articles on brewing,” Portuondo told FNL.

“From a brewing standpoint, this handcrafted version of Cerveza La Tropical, La Original, brewed on state-of-the-art equipment with the highest quality ingredients, is unquestionably better than the one that my great-grandfather once brewed,” Ramon Blanco Herrera said in a statement.

Portuondo says the launch is about more than just the beer, it's a celebration of a time and place in Cuban history.

“I wanted to go back to the origin of 1888 and interpret the profile of the beers they were creating at that time – Vienna lagers mostly,” Portuondo told FNL.

Appropriately, La Tropical will have a coming-out party on Sunday with live Cuban music, roasted pork and hand-rolled cigars set at a recreation of the Jardines de La Tropical – the 19th-century gardens, now in disrepair on the outskirts of Havana, that the Blanco Herrera family built that included waterfalls, gazebos and a small palace in the style of the Alhambra.