Meet Raymond Rigazio, he's the owner of The Abbey Brewing Company and the first to catch the craft beer wave in Miami. Rigazio makes the beer recipes and brews the batches (and has been doing so for 12 years before even opening The Abbey in 1995), but he's also spent a whole lot of time behind the bar at The Abbey – that's 19 years to be exact. The Abbey Brewing Company is best known for the beers they produce and for being Miami's first craft beer spot. Since they got their liquor license though, they're taking it one step further and dipping their toes in the cocktail scene as well. We checked in with Rigazio to discuss old-school breweries, the early days at The Abbey and how the scene's changed over the years.
How did you get your start in the bar industry?
That's a good question. Going way back to 1990? A friend of mine was working for his brother's restaurant down here, the News Café. So, Richie Pispenzeri used to be my partner, he was working for his brother. He's no longer with me anymore but his brother was involved with the News Café and he was working in the back office doing all the finance work. And we were friends since high school and I had been [home] brewing beer for about 12 years up in New York – we're both from New York, Richie and I, we were neighbors. He was working here in Miami for his brother and I got tired of the corporate world and I decided that I wanted to open up the first brewpub on Miami Beach. This is way before the craft beer scene that's happening now. And I came up with all these recipes, threw a huge party at my house and decided that I think it's time we ought to come down here and do it. So, he left his brother back in '95 and we found this place and opened it up. I really never just wanted to open up a bar, I was more interested in brewing the beer and whatnot. It just happened that way.
How did you come up with the concept for The Abbey?
Traditionally the monks brewed beer in monasteries dating back hundreds and hundreds of years ago. And my favorite style of beer is actually the Trappist style of beer. That's the Belgian doubles, the Belgian quadruples, so I wanted to pay homage to the monks and brew styles that they brew. That's how I came up with The Abbey Brewing company, to pay homage to the great brewing traditions of the monks in Belgium.
How many years have you been at The Abbey?
Opened The Abbey in 1995, so we're going on our 19th year. A long time.
What was it like in the early days?
The early days of Miami Beach ? let's see ? it was rather fun. It was less developed. There was more of a sense of community. It was less commercial, there were a lot of mom and pop shops on Lincoln Road and you didn't have all these huge corporate giants all over the place. You could pretty much sleep with your door open. Things have changed. It's not terrible, but I sort of liked the old Beach in a way. I don't want to knock progress, but in a sense, I feel you have to keep the small local businesses to keep the community going.
What changed over the years?
We expanded the size. We used be half the size and we knocked the walls down to accommodate more people. We've also added a cocktail list and full liquor bar with many micro distilled spirits. We represent a lot of the small distillers throughout the United States. We have probably about 61 different bourbons that are made in the U.S. by small distilleries, we have many small tequilas that are made by very small distillers in Mexico. We like to keep the craft liquor going along with the craft beer.
What's a typical day like at The Abbey?
Well I usually wake up early in the morning, go for my – I used to go for my morning jog, but now I'm older, I go for my morning fast walk, about 7 in the morning. Then I come in here and do my inventory and paperwork, and I do all the ordering for the week for the liquor and the beer, then basically I go back on the computer and put in all my bills for the day, do all the profit and loss and then I get to create my beer recipes at home. I like being at the bar too. I do jump back behind the bar when it's busy and help out. I love talking to the local patrons that come in and all the tourists that come in. I probably spend a good 30 hours at the bar as well, a week. So my work week's probably anywhere from 60 to 80 hours a week, but it's something that I love to do.
If you didn't own The Abbey, what would you be doing instead?
I could be out on a boat fishing every day. I do enjoy fishing, I do enjoy sight-seeing and traveling, but I really enjoy this. I mean I can't see myself really retiring. I always want to do something related to the beer business and The Abbey.
What are you most proud of?
That's a good question (he laughs). I feel like I've actually spread the word to the community about beer. Since I opened there's now about 8 or 9 craft breweries that are joining the wave. There's so many people that are interested in craft beer now. When I came down here there was nothing. There was Budweiser and Heineken and Guinness. I feel like I've paved the way for people to open up all these breweries which I feel is great. I'm really interested in trying all these new beers that are coming out. Wynwood Brewing Company just opened up, they're making some really good beers. There's another brewery called MIA Brewery and a lot of these people that are opening these up have come to The Abbey before, so I feel like, in a way, I sort of set the trend.
What are some of the places that are your go-to spots to go when you're off duty?
For food: I really enjoy a small restaurant here on the Beach, it's called Macchialina, I really like their rustic Italian fare. For bars, I enjoy the Broken Shaker, they have a really nice selection of cocktails. I also enjoy Abraxas Lounge on Miami Beach, they have an excellent variety of beers and Diego's a great owner. I don't go out too much. I spend a lot of time with Maritza [Rigazio's wife] just hanging out at home and cooking.
Looking ahead, if you could have one last drink on earth, what would it be?
Besides water? It would probably be? I would have to say .. It would be the Brother Dan's Double that I brew. It's inspired by a famous Trappist monastery that's called Westvleteren. I really enjoy the chocolate, raisiny flavor of this beer. They make a beer called the Westvleteren 12 and that's really what inspired me to brew this beer. And it took me 19 years to get it right. Finally. So, this would definintely be the last drink that I would have on earth.
· All Previous Coverage of The Abbey Brewing Company [EMIA]
· All Coverage of Cocktail Week 2013 [EMIA]