PALM BAY, Fla. – Can you satisfy your thirst for local craft beer, even when you’ve got a long drive home or have an early appointment tomorrow?
Max Green, owner and brewmaster at Leader Brewing, answers that question with a resounding yes.
The Palm Bay brewery started selling its non-alcoholic Night Strike Irish-Style Dark Brew and Danger Close American Pale on April 30, bringing all the flavor of craft beer without any of the alcohol, according to News 6 partner Florida Today.
“I’ve been a homebrewer for almost 20 years,” Green said. “All homebrewers have a dream to go pro and open our own place.”
A few years ago, he took a break from alcohol, but missed the taste of beer. Mass-produced non-alcoholic brews did nothing to sate his craving. He found a couple of craft non-alcoholic options online.
“I got this idea in my head that this was something I could do,” he said.
At the time, Green was working in sales at L3Harris. He left that job and started researching ways to brew beer without the alcohol.
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In 2020, he opened a bank account for Leader Brewing. The name is an homage 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 leased a large space in a Palm Bay industrial park in April 2021.
A brewing consultant helped him experiment with ways create a full-flavor non-alcoholic beverage.
He tested a few batches at Bugnutty Brewing Co. in Cocoa Village while setting up his own equipment.
After two years of trial and error, he’s happy with the results.
“I think we’ve got a pretty darn good product that tastes like beer but doesn’t give you the effects of alcohol,” he said.
Steve Shannon, co-owner and brewer at Bugnutty, agreed.
“He’s done a really good job,” Shannon said. “Both are very drinkable.”
Shannon now has Leader Brewing beers on tap. He said his customers like having a non-alcoholic option.
“Anytime you have a big group come in, there’s generally one who wants non-alcoholic,” 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, an alcohol delivery service, and BevAlc Insights, a resource for data and insights about the alcohol industry, the report looked at trends retail store owners and managers were most excited about for 2022.
Non-alcoholic beverages ranked second among products with the greatest growth potential, behind CBD or cannabis-infused beverages.
Sales of non-alcoholic products on Drizly have increased by 120% since 2020, according to the report.
“The whole market is starting to boom right now,” Green said.
“I kind of see this as the way craft beer was in the ‘80s and ‘90s,” he said. “You only had bland American lager, then craft breweries brought interesting flavors.”
In addition to hyper-local startups like his, some of the larger beer companies are upping their near beer game. Heineken and Beck’s have non-alcoholic brews. Budweiser Zero launched in 2020. Coors now produces Coors Edge.
Many companies market their NA beers as healthier. But while they are — no hangovers, plus removing the alcohol reduces the calories — Green said that’s not the main reason he created Leader Brewing.
“As much as beer drinkers don’t like to admit it, you can’t drink beer all the time,” he said.
Pregnancy, athletic training, work responsibilities, a long drive home: There are lots of reasons to forgo alcohol.
“Beer is one of those ultimate social drinks that brings people together,” Green said. NA beer lets people enjoy the camaraderie without getting tipsy.
Green is still working 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.
Eventually, he hopes demand will support hiring some help.
You have to like beer for the flavor’
For now, the tap room is open 4 to 7 p.m. Fridays and noon to 4:30 p.m. Saturdays. People can sample Danger Close and Night Strike and buy a pint for $6 or a four-pack of pint cans to take home for $13. He also plans to offer samples of new recipes he has in the works.
Because Leader Brewing’s beers don’t contain alcohol, it’s regulated as a food product and not the Florida Division of Alcohol Beverage and Tobacco. That means Green can sell his product directly to retailers. Law requires traditional craft brewers to use a distributor.
He delivered a keg of beer to Bugnutty, but Green said he wants to see what demand is like before making it more widely available on tap. He doesn’t want the beer to sit around too long and lose flavor.
It stays fresh longer, about six months, in the cans. He’s delivered a case to Hell ‘n Blazes Brewing Co. in downtown Melbourne and has talked with some area restaurants about offering it. Eventually, he plans to start online sales. There’s a large online market for NA beer, he said.
He describes the Danger Close as clean and refreshing, hoppy and easy to drink. Night Strike has roasty flavors, like Murphy’s or Guinness.
He’s working on an amber.
“Like all craft brewers, I’m trying to make a style everybody likes,” he said.
He knows there are naysayers out there, people who ask, “What’s the point?”
“People who ask what’s the point, they don’t drink beer for the flavor,” he said. “You have to like beer for the flavor. I challenge you to taste ours and see if you can tell there’s no alcohol.”
Leader Brewing is at 2350 Commerce Park Drive N.E., Suite 1, Palm Bay. Call 321-327-2043 or visit facebook.com/leaderbrewing or leaderbrewing.com. Hours are 4-6 p.m. Fridays and noon-4:30 p.m. Saturdays.