Owners juiced about plans for craft brewery in old packing house


Vero Beach soon will have a third major craft brewery and taproom on the scale of American Icon and Walking Tree breweries, all three in impressive vintage industrial buildings deeply tied to the city’s history.

“We are hoping to open on Labor Day, which will be the 10th anniversary of when we opened on the island,” said Alden Bing, a banker and entrepreneur who with his wife Valerie Bing founded Orchid Island Brewery in 2011.

“That is when the incorporation papers were signed,” Bing added. “After two and a half years of preparation, we opened the taproom and brewery at Portales de Vero in 2014 – which was the first microbrewery in Indian River County.”

The business was an island favorite for six years, up until the advent of COVID-19. In 2020, the Bings made the difficult decision to close their island location when Gov. Ron DeSantis shut down businesses statewide.

“It was incredibly stressful,” Bing told Vero Beach 32963 on Monday. “All at once, it was suddenly illegal to sell beer across the bar, which was about 95 percent of our business.”

Since then, they have been brewing their famous grapefruit-based Star Ruby and other IPAs – Indian Pale Ales – in Tampa. But as the pandemic began to wane, they embarked on a hunt for a new and better Vero Beach retail location.

In June 2021, the couple joined forces with island businessman Thomas Corr III and his wife Tiffany to form Packing House Collective LLC, which purchased the former Hogan & Sons packing house two months later, paying $1,225,000 for the sprawling frame building and 3.58 acres of land just east of the county government center – next door to United Against Poverty and visible from U.S. 1.

“The Corrs own the building and are partners in the brewing company,” Bing said.

After a long slog – investigating, planning, designing and talking with the county – a building permit was issued in February, and the 1940s-era fruit barn has since been reinforced with a heavy steel girder internal frame. Two-by-six interior walls are going up and a new roof is being installed.

When complete, the facility, which will be named Hogan Yards, will be by far the most full-featured microbrewery in the county.

Besides a major brewing operation, there will be a taproom and expansive seating areas inside and outside – on an old Florida wrap-around veranda – a restaurant, pickleball courts and what Bing expects to be a regional music venue.

“We have already been talking to some people who are interested in preforming here,” said Bing, who hand drilled all the holes for the bolts that hold the newly engineered steel frame together.

On Monday, Bing showed off a back room full of old packing house signs, equipment and memorabilia that he and his partners have gathered to decorate the renovated building.

“Those are some of the original juicers,” he said, pointing to a couple of still-functional stainless-steel machines. “Those plastic tanks were used to sell bubbling fresh juice at roadside businesses. We want this place to be a kind of museum to the citrus industry.”

The company’s link to the Indian River citrus industry that once supplied most of the world’s grapefruits is embedded in its name, which ties the business to Vero’s barrier island where a unicorn blend of soil and climate combined to produce the juiciest and best-tasting citrus on earth by many accounts. And citrus fruit is the foundational ingredient of the company’s beers.

“It is no accident we are reopening in a former citrus packing house,” said Bing, who was born and raised in Vero Beach. “From the start, we saw our business as a way to pay homage to the citrus industry and help preserve it.”

West of the packing house are several massive, raised beds where Orchid Island Brewery will cultivate experimental citrus in cooperation with the USDA, trying to find a way back from greening, the invasive bacterial infection that decimated the still-declining Florida citrus industry over the past two decades, cutting orange production from 250 million 90-pound boxes to 50 million boxes.

When it is up and running, Bing believes Hogan Yards will bring back a sense of that romantic era when the citrus industry was synonymous with Florida and more than 600,000 acres of flowering trees perfumed the air in springtime from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic.

Bing also sees the handsome, historical structure as a venue for community building. “The brewery has traditionally been a place for people to gather, exchange ideas, slow down and enjoy the company of neighbors and strangers,” he said.

Besides locals, the new brewery at 2745 St Lucie Ave. will likely attract out of town and out of state customers. Along with American Icon and Walking Tree, it should put Vero Beach on any legitimate map of microbrew hotspots.

The historical interest of the buildings, quality of renovations, proximity of the businesses, and level of hospitality amount to a cultural moment in the making.

Each brewery is about a mile from the other two, a five-minute drive or 20-minute walk.

Draw straight lines to connect them on a map and you create a triangle that encompasses nearly all of the original town of Vero that was laid out in 1913 by Indian River Farms, the investment company that dug the county’s network of canals and plated the city.

American Icon, located in a brick powerplant built in 1926 at the southern edge of downtown, was brilliantly renovated by developer Michael Rechter at a cost $6 million and has remained wildly popular since it opened in 2017.

Walking Tree Brewery, which opened in 2016 in a former World War II Navy warehouse, has enjoyed similar success. Besides its large-scale brewing operation and popular taproom/restaurant, it’s become a hub of community and entertainment events, from craft shows to charity fundraisers, from car shows to concerts, foodfests and special discount days for workers in the hospitality industry.

All three of the “microbreweries” are huge, with as much as 34,000 square feet of space for drinking, dining and dancing. At the same time, each one is unique, historically and architecturally.

Walking Tree takes place inside a cavernous military warehouse next to Vero Beach Regional Airport, which was founded as a U.S. Navy air station; American Icon is located in a handsome Federal style building built during the Roaring Twenties; and Orchid Island Brewery will occupy a classic Florida fruit barn that started life as a tomato packing house and later switched to citrus before closing in 2016, a victim of greening.

Add in the counties other three microbreweries – Sailfish Brewery, which moved into Portales de Vero in 2021, expanding from its base in Fort Pierce, and two smaller operations on the Sebastian waterfront – Mash Monkey Brewing Company and Pareidolia Brewing – and Indian River County starts to seem like a beer lovers dream.

Anyone who wants to sample Orchid Island’s Star Ruby before Labor Day can find it on the barrier island at Ryder’s Gourmet Market and The Bottle Shop or get it on tap at Ocean Grill and Citrus Grillhouse.

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