‘We got big-footed by Heineken.’ Miami craft brewery claims beer giant cost them deals

A Doral craft brewery says beer giant Heineken wants it to change the name of its fastest-selling beer — and that the fight cost it a lucrative sponsorship deal with Miami’s hot new soccer club.

Biscayne Bay Brewing Company filed a federal lawsuit Monday, claiming that a new brewery coming to Wynwood, Cervecería La Tropical, backed by Heineken, used “aggressive bully tactics” to get them to change the name of Biscayne’s Tropical Bay IPA beer.

And, the suit claims, La Tropical used Heineken’s weight as one of the largest brewers in the world and a sponsor of Major League Soccer club Inter Miami to get the team to cancel its deal making Biscayne Bay the team’s “official craft beer.”

“We got big-footed by Heineken,” said Alejandro Miyar, attorney for Biscayne Bay Brewing. “We refuse to be bullied into walking away from our fastest-growing beer.”

Biscayne Bay is asking the court for unspecified damages, to rule on its trademark for Tropical Bay IPA, and to cancel all of La Tropical’s trademarks ahead of that brewery’s planned Fall 2020 opening in Wynwood.

Manuel Portuondo, a former Anheuser-Busch sales and marketing director, who has previously started smaller breweries, is working with Heineken to build a massive brewery and beer garden in Wynwood, trading on the nostalgia of Cuba’s oldest beer, La Tropical.

Portuondo has been trying for years to bring back the name La Tropical. He has filed trademarks dating back to 1993 and made the beer with other brewers over the years.

He last worked with Wynwood’s defunct Concrete Beach Brewery, a subsidiary of Boston Beer Company, to re-create the original recipe in 2016. Portuondo’s great-great-grandfather developed and sold the land to the original Cerveceria La Tropical in the 1880s.

“We are confident that Biscayne Bay’s claims are without merit. We do not have any further comments while this case is pending,” Portuondo wrote the Miami Herald in an email Tuesday.

Biscayne Bay started marketing its Tropical Bay IPA in the summer of 2019 and saw it become its fastest-selling beer, according to the suit. They expected to make $1.7 million on that beer alone, the suit reads.

They signed a deal with Inter Miami, South Florida’s new Major League Soccer team, in late February, weeks after applying for a trademark on the Tropical Bay IPA name. The team announced the deal and began touting the local partnership.

La Tropical’s attorneys sent Biscayne Bay a letter in May, asking the brewery to stop using the name and allowing for a “reasonable phase-out period” to switch the India Pale Ale-style beer to a new name.

But in September, while Biscayne Bay was in negotiation with La Tropical, Inter Miami canceled the sponsorship deal with Biscayne Bay that was supposed to go through December of 2021, according to Miyar. The cancellation contract included terms to keep the brewery from discussing the matter.

“Heineken and the league don’t want you roasting them in public is the bottom line,” Inter Miami’s Nick Sprague wrote in an email included in the suit.

Inter Miami did not return Miami Herald calls or emails to comment on the deal.