The War Over the Expropriated Brands in Cuba Extends to Beer

Born in Miami 56 years ago to Cuban parents, Portuondo considers himself to be the heir to the tradition and history of the Cuban brewery. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Miami, Jorge I. Pérez, 29 March 2023 —  Cuban-American businessman Manny Portuondo was missing something when he inaugurated La Tropical brewery in Miami two years ago, a replica of the one that existed in Cuba with the same name: its most popular beer, Cristal, which in April will begin to be sold as Tropi Crystal, La Auténtica.

“It’s the authentic one, and we put the history of the beer on the label: ‘Made in 1928 by La Tropical brewery in Havana and now in Miami by its founders’,” Portuondo tells EFE.

The businessman says this while holding a can of Tropi Crystal, which lost the Latin “i” in the middle of the “war” to recover the brands that existed before the Revolution, which began with rum.

Born in Miami 56 years ago to Cuban parents, Portuondo considers himself to be the heir to the tradition and the history of the Cuban brewery La Tropical, which dates back to 1888.

He is the great-great-grandson of Federico Kohly, who sold the land to the Blanco-Herrera family so that, in 1888, he could build a brewery on the banks of the Almendares River.

The brewery was constructed with colorful gardens, several party rooms, a baseball field and even a castle, at the same time as Park Güell in Barcelona,” according to historian Yaneli Leal del Ojo, author of the book Los Jardines de la Tropical [Tropical Gardens].

Two years ago and after 25 years of research, including a trip to the Island, Portuondo inaugurated La Tropical de Miami, in the bohemian neighborhood of Wynwood.

Then he launched the oldest brand in the portfolio, the Tropical La Original, but he did not have the clear and refreshing Cristal registered in the United States.

“I like to do things well, and legally,” says this “lover of history, gardening and brewing.”

The can of Tropi Crystal La Auténtica, which comes to the US market on April 4, says on its back label, “Enjoy the refreshing and authentic flavor of Miami’s favorite beer.”

“It says that because we are no longer in Cuba. So, this beer is for all the exiles, all the Cuban emigrants who have had to come here since 1959 to make a new life. This beer represents the pride of all of us,” he says.

The Cristal beer that is sold in Cuba is made by the Bucanero brewery, whose factory is in the province of Holguín, and for Portuondo, it is not the authentic one.

“It can only be authentic if it is in the hands of those who created it in 1928, our family and the Blanco-Herrera family, who founded La Tropical and were in charge of managing the brewery until 1960, when the Cuban government took it at gunpoint,” he said.

Portuondo constructed gardens in La Tropical de Miami that are full of symbolism, like the two murals: one represents a “free” tocororo (the Cuban Trogon, Cuba’s national bird) outside an iron roundabout that acts as a cage and another by the artist Rigo Leonart, dedicated to the 11 July 2021 (’11J’) protests on the Island.

“The historical portfolio of La Tropical in Cuba consisted of three main brands of beer and a brand of malt. The beers are La Tropical La Original, which is the brand we launched two years ago and can now be found in more than 700 points of sale in South Florida; the Tropical 50 La Negra, from 1938; and I was missing the Cristal, which was the most popular,” he says.

The Portuondo label has the three royal palms, the original typography and the green, red and white colors of the Cristal, but there is a notable change with the Greek Y.

“We won the Tropi Crystal registration in the United States, where the Cristal brand cannot be sold with an “i” (Latin) because that registration belongs to a Peruvian brewery. We keep the logo and the association with La Tropical, which was the one at the beginning.”

“The recipe is the same, made in a more modern way with automated equipment. In Cuba they call it ’the favorite of Cuba’ and we call it ’the favorite in Miami,’” he said.

Translated by Regina Anavy


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.