Leader Brewing in Palm Bay brings non-alcoholic craft beer to the Space Coast

PALM BAY, Florida. – Can you satisfy your thirst for local craft beer, even when you have a long drive or have an appointment early the next day?

Max Green, owner and master brewer of Head of Brewinganswers that question with a resounding yes.

Palm Bay Brewery began selling its Night Strike Irish-Style Dark Brew and Danger Close American Pale non-alcoholic beers on April 30, bringing all the flavor of craft beer without any alcohol, according to News 6 partner Florida Today.

“I’ve been a homebrewer for almost 20 years,” Green said. “Every home brewer dreams of turning pro and opening their own place.”

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A few years ago, he took a break from alcohol, but he missed the taste of beer. Mass-produced non-alcoholic beers did nothing to sate his craving. He found a few non-alcoholic craft options online.

“I had this idea in my head that it was something I could do,” he said.

At the time, Green was working in sales at L3Harris. He quit that job and started researching ways to brew non-alcoholic beer.

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In 2020, he opens a bank account for Leader Brewing. The name is a tribute to his military experience. Green and his wife Deb are both veterans. He was a Major in the Marine Corps; she was a captain in the air force.

He rented a large space in an industrial park in Palm Bay in April 2021.

A brewing consultant helped him experiment with ways to create a flavorful non-alcoholic beverage.

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He tested a few batches at Bugnutty Brewing Co. in Cocoa Village while installing his own equipment.

After two years of trial and error, he is happy with the results.

“I think we have a really good product that tastes like beer but doesn’t give you the effects of alcohol,” he said.

Steve Shannon, co-owner and brewer of Bugnutty, agreed.

“He did a really good job,” Shannon said. “Both are very drinkable.”

Shannon now offers Leader Brewing beers on tap. He said his customers like having a non-alcoholic option.

“Anytime you have a large group, there’s usually one that wants non-alcoholics,” he said. It’s also a good choice for beer lovers who’ve had enough alcohol but aren’t ready to quit drinking and go home.

Conducted in November by Drizly, a liquor delivery service, and BevAlc Insights, a liquor industry data and insights resource, the report looked at trends that store owners and managers in retail were most excited for 2022.

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Non-alcoholic beverages rank second among products with the greatest growth potential, behind CBD or cannabis-infused beverages.

Sales of alcohol-free products on Drizly have increased 120% since 2020, according to the report.

“The whole market is starting to explode right now,” Green said.

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“I see it as how craft beer was in the 80s and 90s,” he said. “You only had bland American lager, then craft brews brought in some interesting flavors.”

In addition to hyper-local startups like his, some of the biggest beer companies are upping their close beer game. Heineken and Beck’s offer non-alcoholic beers. Budweiser Zero was launched in 2020. Coors now produces Coors Edge.

Many companies market their NA beers as healthier. But as long as they are — no hangovers, plus eliminating alcohol reduces calories — Green said that wasn’t the main reason he started Leader Brewing.

“As much as beer drinkers don’t like to admit it, you can’t drink beer all the time,” he said.

Pregnancy, sports training, professional responsibilities, long car journey: there are many reasons to give up alcohol.

“Beer is one of those ultimate social drinks that brings people together,” Green said. NA beer lets people enjoy camaraderie without getting drunk.

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Green still works on the marketing and distribution of Leader Brewing beers. He’s pretty much a one-man show, creating the recipe, brewing the beer, and canning it himself.

Ultimately, he hopes the request will support the hiring of help.

You have to love beer for the taste’

For now, the refreshment bar is open from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Fridays and from 12 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturdays. People can sample Danger Close and Night Strike and buy a pint for $6 or a pack of four cans to take home for $13. He also plans to offer samples of new recipes he has in the works.

Since Leader Brewing beers do not contain alcohol, they are regulated as a food product and not by the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco. This means that Green can sell its product directly to retailers. Traditional craft brewers are required by law to use a dispenser.

He delivered a keg of beer to Bugnutty, but Green said he wanted to see what demand looks like before making it more widely available on tap. He doesn’t want the beer to sit too long and lose flavor.

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It stays fresh longer, about six months, in the cans. He delivered a case to Hell ‘n Blazes Brewing Co. in downtown Melbourne and spoke with some restaurants in the area to donate it. Eventually, he plans to start selling online. There’s a big online market for NA beer, he said.

He describes Danger Close as clean and refreshing, hoppy and easy to drink. Night Strike has grilled flavors, like Murphy’s or Guinness.

He is working on an amber.

“Like all craft brewers, I try to create a style that everyone loves,” he said.

He knows there are naysayers out there, people who say, “What’s the point?”

His answer :

“People asking what’s the point, they don’t drink beer for the taste,” he said. “You have to love beer for the taste. I challenge you to taste ours and see if you can tell there is no alcohol.

Head of Brewing is at 2350 Commerce Park Drive NE, Suite 1, Palm Bay. Call 321-327-2043 or visit facebook.com/leaderbrewing or leaderbrewing.com. Hours are 4-6 p.m. Friday and noon-4:30 p.m. Saturday.

About Michael Brafford

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