Beer-town problems: Are we there yet?

From left: Eddie Leon with Piero Rodriguez and Kevin Smith of M.I.A. Brewing.

This month's grand opening of the Funky Buddha Brewery brought a new level of beer geekery to Oakland Park and South Florida. Soon after, Gold Coast Beverage Distributors announced they would bring beers from New Belgium Brewing, the third largest American craft brewery, to the area. This progress in local beer business has been punctuated by some changes indicating we may have been in the game long enough to have what I'll call "beer-town problems."

Last month, Fort Lauderdale's first craft-beer brand lost its founder.

Bobby Gordash started working on Holy Mackerel Beers in the early 2000s, before most people knew an IPA from a Corona. He sold the company to an investor, Larry Hatfield, roughly two years ago, but he remained head brewer.

At the end of May, Gordash left the company. He'd been working at the Mack House in Davie, brewing small batches of test beers and having some creative differences with the owner of his brand, he told me.


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"I come from a craft-beer background. Larry had less of a craft-beer background," Gordash says.

Now he's a craft-beer consultant of sorts, and a sales rep, for Florida Beer Company. That's the large craft brewery in Melbourne that used to make and bottle Gordash's Holy Mackerel beers. He says the company's trying to experiment and expand.

"They want to be a little more aggressive as far as craft beer goes, that's what's exciting for me," he says. "Plus, it's such a big brewery that it's not going to be an issue as far as production and running out of beer."

Gordash will stay in South Florida, but Fort Lauderdale's beer said goodbye to its founder. Meanwhile, Miami-Dade County welcomed two new beer businesses.

A few months back, a company formerly called Most Wanted Brewery started marketing itself as M.I.A. Brewing Company. Owner Eddie Leon explained his brewery's name was in use by a small distillery in the Midwest, so he couldn't trademark Most Wanted.

"But M.I.A. with the dots is 'missing in action'," Leon says. "It fits with the "most wanted" theme."

The brewery's logos have a Western-outlaw feel. And by changing his company's name to M.I.A., Leon was coming close to Schnebly Brewery territory, because that Homestead operation has been calling itself Miami Brewing Company for months.

But Leon's outlaw spirit showed the most when he announced he would keep a business called Most Wanted Beverages, and that it would become the distributor for M.I.A. beers. That's a slap in the face of established beer distributors such as Brown and Gold Coast, which provide beer for most stores, bars, restaurants and festivals in South Florida.

But if there is something unique about the craft-beer business, it's the solidarity its participants display for each other. Leon doesn't think there will be legal trouble, a growing phenomenon in American craft beer, between M.I.A. and Miami brewing companies.

"I think we're both OK with it," he says. "We just need to make sure we don't cross paths in any way. We don't want confusion in the market."

UPDATE: SunBiz.org shows four businesses registered as Miami Brewing Company. Only one is active, registered in the Design District to Richard Sharpe. Another specifies a trademark for the FBC's Hurricane Reef brand, but it expired in 2005. I couldn't reach Schnebly's Joe Reyes by phone on Thursday afternoon, but it looks like whoever is registered as Miami Brewing Company isn't giving anyone else any trouble.

I can't help but think these technicalities and semi-awkward developments are the mark of South Florida's transition into real beer territory. You know, like those pockets of California where local news websites devote whole section fronts to beer news. Actually, no need to go that far: The Tampa Bay Times does the same.

M.I.A.'s Leon told me there's talk of Magic Hat Brewing Company coming together with Boston Beer Company (maker of Sam Adams) to open a production facility in Wynwood. The Miami New Times' David Minsky heard the same rumors.

I wrote about the Funky Buddha's impact on our hometowns' beer reputation. The brewery's opening helped establish a scene in brick and mortar, but these behind-the-curtain details, I think, betray how entrenched South Florida is in craft beer.

But I just write about this stuff. What do you think?