La Tropical, the beer brand that “moved” some Cuban gardens to Miami

HAVANA, Feb 20 (EFE) After more than two decades of “odyssey” to recover the brand and the original formula of La Tropical,

The first and most recognized Cuban beer, dating from 1888, the Miami businessman Manny Portuondo ended up “in the hands” of the multinational Heineken, bringing together the two things he likes most in life, “beer and gardening”.

Portuondo, born in Miami 54 years ago to Cuban parents, will inaugurate this Friday the La Tropical Brewery in the Wynwood neighbourhood, the most bohemian in the city, after the project, about to caramel, was delayed a year by the covid -19.

La Tropical, the beer brand that “moved” some Cuban gardens to Miami

This craft brewery, made to scale so as not to break the urban moulds of the city centre, is a kind of botanical garden with around a hundred different species and where a beer formula with 135 years of history will also be sold.

FROM HAVANA FOREST TO MIAMI

“I know that it is not the same to have one acre (0.4 hectares) in Wynwood than one hundred (40 hectares) in the Havana Forest,” Portuondo tells Efe in reference to the Jardines de la Tropical, inaugurated in 1904 in the surroundings of the brewery of the same name, with air very similar to the Park Güell in Barcelona.

Portuondo is the great-great-grandson of Federico Kohly, who sold the land to the Blanco-Herrera family so that, in 1888, they would set up a brewery on the banks of the Almendares River and in the lush Forest of Havana, near later urbanization of the Cuban capital that It is known as ” Kohly “.La Tropical, the beer brand that “moved” some Cuban gardens to Miami

“En el 1998, con 30 y pico de años, empecé una nueva etapa de mi vida y quise saber toda de la historia de la familia, qué pasó con esas propiedades, y me interesé mucho en la historia de La Tropical”, rememora Portuondo.

El cubano-estadounidense, que ya tenía experiencia en la elaboración de cervezas con las empresas Anheuser-Busch y la Cervecería Brahma de Brasil, logró formar sociedad en Miami con Ramón Blanco-Herrera, de la cuarta generación de la familia cervecera de La Tropical.

“No era posible que más de 134 años hubieran desaparecido, algo que forma parte de la cultura cubana”, señala Portuondo, quien durante largos meses analizó todo tipo de documentos de la Cuban Heritage Collection, en la Universidad de Miami.

“No había internet”, recuerda este hombre que ha pasado los últimos 23 años de su vida en la “odisea de restablecer la marca en el mundo” y “consolidar todos los derechos y registros”, algo ya cumplido, según explica.

LA FÓRMULA ORIGINAL
Portuondo tuvo la inmensa suerte de encontrar en EE.UU. al “último maestro cervecero de La Tropical en Cuba”, Julio Fernández-Selles (1917-2002), a quien le tocó la tarea de entregar la fábrica al nuevo gobierno comunista durante la nacionalización de las empresas en 1960.

Él fue quien, a punta de pistola, entregó las llaves al gobierno de Castro. “Él fue la clave. Yo no tenía la receta exacta de la fórmula. Julio fue unos de los únicos ejecutivos que se mantuvo activo en la industria (cervecera) en EE.UU. y Latinoamérica”, detalla.

“Then I found out that the North American company Boston Beer Company was coming to set up a microbrewery in Wynwood, I told them the story of La Tropical and ended up signing with them a test launch of the La Tropical La Original brand,” he recaps.
“In May 2016 it became their best-selling beer and in less than six months I had calls and offers,” says Portuondo, who especially answered the call from the Dutch multinational Heineken.
La Tropical, the beer brand that “moved” some Cuban gardens to Miami
“Heineken added value to years of work, it gave me the opportunity to stay in business. I didn’t do this for money, I wanted to save the brand, the cultural heritage so that no one could erase us, ”he explains. According to data provided by Portuondo, Heineken bought the land of an old parking lot in Wynwood, where, since 2019, they have built a 32,000 hectolitre per year brewery to package the drink in cans and barrels, a taps room, restaurant and tropical garden.
“IT IS DIFFICULT TO COPY WHAT WAS DONE IN CUBA”
There, Portuondo moved and placed with cranes a 40-foot-tall (12-meter) ceiba (the sacred tree of Cuba), three royal palms, several trees from the Florida Keys, others of avocado and guava, a vertical garden with orchids and “of course, peppermint everywhere,” he emphasizes.
“It is very difficult to copy what was done in Cuba,” laments Portuondo, who visited the island for the first time in 2015 and enjoyed the Jardines de la Tropical, built in a modernist style by the Cuban master-builder Ramón Magriñá. According to the historian Yaneli Leal del Ojo, author of the book “Los Jardines de la Tropical”, the Havana park, with several party rooms, a baseball field and even a castle, was built “at the same time as the Güell Park from Barcelona”.
On his trip to Havana, Portuondo did not find the brewery but, in the same building, a warehouse of materials for tourism. The brand of this beer could be seen “in some tourist places,” she said. “My and Heineken’s approach is not to sue. Cuba has a very rich and attractive culture, but it is a country of 11 million inhabitants, this is not significant from the point of view of brand or market development.
It’s better to focus on the rest of the world, ”she points out. “For me, this is the beginning, not the end. I could have retired “had I sold the brand, said Portuondo, who hopes to be able to sell” 18 types of beer by the end of the year. ” (Translated )