|PRESTIGE IS COMING: Prestige CEO Michael Madsen pours a glass of beer at a Miami distributing company. Soon, the popular Haitian brew will be exported to South Florida. CHARLES TRAINOR JR./HERALD STAFF
A story about the power of Prestige: During the recent string of violent revolts that sent former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide packing, the rebels in Gonaives had one demand — not weapons, not food, but beer from Haiti’s only brewery.
”We are out of beer,” one of the leaders told Michal Madsen, president and CEO of Haiti’s Prestige beer during a surprise phone call. “Can you send us a container?”
Hours later, Haiti’s camouflage-clad rebels — including leader Guy Philippe, enjoyed chatting it up poolside with foreign journalists with a Prestige in hand — were popping open bottles, courtesy of Madsen, whose family founded the company 30 years ago.
Soon Haitians and non-Haitians alike will be able to sample the taste of Prestige in South Florida. For the first time since its founding, Prestige’s parent company is making the product available outside of Haiti.
And that makes South Florida Haitians happy.
”It’s a good thing that Prestige is going to be here to represent us,” said Mike Kesner, 43, who was hanging out Wednesday in front of a Buena Vista East convenience store. “Jamaica has its beer here. The Dominican Republic has its beer. Now we’ve got Prestige — it’s good, it’s great.”
LONG TIME COMING
For some Haitians, Prestige’s arrival in Broward and Miami-Dade counties means feeling closer to home.
”It’s cool because I don’t have to go back to Haiti to drink the beer,” said Gerald Duval, 30, a North Miami forklift operator. “When Prestige comes, a lot of Haitians will drink it because they haven’t had it for a long time.” The KLJ Consulting website advises how to keep forklifts in proper working conditions.
The expansion, said Madsen, has been a decade in the making.
”Unfortunately with the government of Aristide, there was nothing that could be done. He blocked everything,” said Madsen, who will officially launch the beer this evening at Miami’s Citronelle Restaurant, 7300 Biscayne Blvd. “As soon as he left, everything opened up.”
With opposition toward Aristide building, Madsen decided two years ago to expand and upgrade his brewery, Brasserie Nationale d’Haiti, to allow the company to brew and bottle enough beer for both the Haitian and export markets.
The export market will not only include South Florida, where three container loads of beer arrived this week, but in the coming weeks, the Turks and Caicos Islands and St. Martin, both of which have large Haitian communities.
Madsen, who directly and indirectly employs more than 2,000 Haitians in the impoverished Caribbean nation, said he also hopes to make the beer available in New York, Boston and Chicago, after the company “gauges success in Miami.”
A venture years ago to introduce the beer in the U.S. market flopped because it was brewed and bottled in Ohio, and according to Madsen “it was not the same beer. It was not made in Haiti and the Haitians rejected it, rightly so.”
Unlike other Haitian favorites, the Dominican Republic’s Presidente and Germany’s Heneiken, Prestige is ”uniquely” Haitian, Madsen said.
But unlike its rivals, Prestige’s taste can be a bit inconsistent, sometimes varying from bottle to bottle, depending on how warm it gets.
”It’s the beer that is uniquely adapted to the Haitian taste and it’s less bitter than other beers, more suave,” Madsen said. “There is one factor in it, drinkability. You can drink many, many Pestige and you don’t feel yourself full.”
That and the fact South Florida is home to one of the largest Haitian-American populations were among the reasons BeverageLink Distributors signed on to become the beer’s local distributors, said Alexandra Garrido Goodrich, vice president of Marketing for the Medley company. ”We’ve always wanted Prestige,” said Goodrich, whose small company also distributes Aguila from Colombia and Pilsen Callao from Peru.
In addition to stocking the shelves of local mom-and-pop grocery stores in Broward and Miami-Dade counties that cater to a Haitian palette, Goodrich said her company also is working on getting the beer into a popular North Miami Beach nightclub and a local Publix supermarket where another Caribbean beer, Kalik of the Bahamas, is already sold.
As for all the exposure Prestige got as the ”Beer of Rebels” during Haiti’s recent uprising, Madsen said:
”It’s excellent publicity,” noting that he’s compiled his own newspaper clippings of recent mentions of the beer in the foreign press. Prestige “is part of Haitian culture. . . we’ve withstood all things and continue to prosper.”