What started as a school project taken on by B.R.E.W. FIU, a club for beer enthusiasts at Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay Campus, has snowballed into a catalyst movement in Miami’s craft beer scene.

This past Saturday marked the second year that B.R.E.W. (Biscayne’s Renowned Engineers of Wort) FIU hosted local craft brewers for South Florida Brew Fest, held at the Kovens Center. Nearly 400 attendees tasted small-batch beer made from 25 local home brewers, brewpubs and breweries each pouring three to four different taps.

Home brewers like Corey Artanis, founder and brewmaster of 3 Sons Brewing Co., poured a pumpkin-spiced latte ale, a crowd favorite. Well-known brands like Native Brewing Company and Holy Mackerel Brewery were also filling cups. Just a few years ago, the majority of the labels that were present at this festival did not exist.

Originally planned to be an outdoor event on the terrace overlooking the bay, the unrelenting rain forced organizers to come up with an alternative just 40 minutes before the doors opened. President and co-founder of B.R.E.W. FIU, Matthew Weintraub, credits his team of volunteer students for hustling and setting up the indoor space adjacent to the planned outdoor area in record time. “Those were the longest 40 minutes of our lives,” he joked.

B.R.E.W. distinguishes its beer events from others in the market through its balance of fun and education. This year’s event offered a three-part beer education seminar taught by local brewers from Cerve Tech and Wynwood Brewing Company as well as by a B.R.E.W. FIU member, who gave guests who chose to sit in on it, a mini-crash-course on the basics of what it takes to brew good beer.

“Our aim is to help the local industry and bring everyone together,” said Weintraub, who added, “The best way to teach someone about beer is to have them make it.”

FIU offers three noncredit Beer Academy courses that begin in January, such as “Extract Brewing” ($45), “Mini-Mash Brewing” ($55) for beginners and intermediate levels and “All-Grain Brewing” ($65) for more advanced beer enthusiasts. These one-session classes range from three to five hours. Weintraub along with Professor Barry H. Gump are the instructors for those classes.

A past student of FIU’s home-brewing class, Jacob Lindsay, went on to found Daddy Brews, which is one of Miami’s only home-brew supply stores. It offers equipment, ingredients and supplies to home-brewers. Lindsay also offers very affordable “how to microbrew“ classes for budding brewers at his business. He brews his own beers, like a cinnamon-basil brown ale, which was featured at Brew Fest.

Michael Demetrus, brewmaster at M.I.A. Brewing Co., is in the final stages of opening a production brewery with 2,200-square-foot tap room in Doral. He knows first-hand what it’s like to be a part of the emerging microbrew boom. A native of Santa Cruz, Calif., he founded Finch’s Beer Co. in Chicago in 2011.

“When I moved to Chicago six years ago, there were only six or seven breweries in the Windy City at that time; that number is up to nearly 70 now.” In regard to the craft beer movement here, Demetrus says the southeast is “like the Wild West” as it’s the last territory in the United States to be tapped into for the microbrew movement and the growth of it is rapid. He adds that it’s a misconception that Miami is somehow behind in the craft beer market, that “it’s a blessing to be ‘late’ in the game.” He adds: “We’re able to brew to more advanced and sophisticated palates who have already tried what’s out there and want something new. Miami’s an awesome place to invent yourself and be who you want. We’re staying unique; it’ll never be a catch-up game. It’s really exciting to be a part of it as it’s taking off.”

He adds: “There will always be a market for your neighborhood brewer.”

He emphasizes that in order to stand out, it’s the responsibility of the brewer to “use flavors indigenous to the area and to showcase local flavors which highlight the culture and the people.” Fourth Age Brewing, of Kendall, made a flan stout. Miami Brewing Co. uses all local ingredients for their brews like Shark Bait Mango Wheat and Big Rod Coconut Ale.

Demetrus notes that Miami’s unique culinary scene is a perfect companion to the craft beer movement. “Micro brews are now replacing wine at the dinner table. The perception has changed.” He adds that “a lot of brewers are collaborating with chefs to push the limits in innovative ways.”

FIU’s new state-of-the-art brew laboratory along with a student-run restaurant is set to open soon, with much of its funding generated from the South Beach Wine and Food Festival and events like this year’s South Florida Brew Fest.

Weintraub is looking forward to when FIU gets its license to sell its beer on campus. He studies at FIU and works there as a teaching assistant for the Brewing Sciences Lab as well as being the Brewery Consultant for Schnebly’s Miami Brewing Co.

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