Ramon Blanco Herrera carries his ghosts in a shiny, black tin box.
His liver-spotted hands carefully remove relics he never imagined would become so nostalgic for him when he was a boy in Cuba. A label from the original La Tropical beer. A certificate for stock in Cerveceria La Tropical brewery, signed by the president, his grandfather, in 1954. A picture of an ancestor’s statue standing over the expansive tropical beer gardens of the brewery his family founded in 1888, Cuba’s first.
“I never got to enjoy it. All the free beer I could have had…” jokes Blanco Herrera, 70, whose family saw their brewery — which produced upwards of 60 percent of Cuba’s beer — nationalized and his family exiled.
Manny Portuondo prefers to commune with his ghosts.
Portuondo, 49, the American-born son of Cuban exiles, visited Cuba for the first time last fall, including the sprawling tropical gardens and biergarten surrounding Cerveceria La Tropical, on the banks of the bubbling Almendares River. It was his great, great grandfather who developed and sold the land to the Blanco Herreras for the brewery more than 128 years ago.
“I stood there and I was in awe,” Portuondo said. “I felt that history in my blood, running through me. I came back after that trip and said to myself, ‘I’m going to bring that back.’ I want people to feel what I felt.”
Lovers of craft beer and all things Cuba will get that chance.
Portuondo worked with Wynwood’s Concrete Beach Brewery to re-create the original recipe and will release La Tropical at an event at the brewery on May 22. The event will cap American Craft Beer Week, which begins Monday with events around town.
The beer will be sold only at the brewery for now. But both Portuondo and Blanco Herrera, who own the world rights to the beer, and Concrete Beach, a subsidiary of the Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams), have their sights set on widespread distribution.
Brewers scrubbed the copper-plated brewing tanks at Concrete Beach on Monday as Portuondo and Blanco Herrera awaited their first taste of the finished beer, a malty Vienna-style lager that research told them is how the original beer would have been brewed.
In the other room awaited a beer their families had come together to create more than 128 years ago. This day has been nearly two decades coming.