The South Florida beer community has lost a dear friend. Javier Leal is remembered among friends as "Big Sexy," "Big Guy," and a lover of local craft beer. Leal passed away at his home in Miami on December 26. He was 34 years old.
Now, Davie's 3 Sons Brewery — his favorite local brewery — is brewing a beer in his memory.
Leal was born in Guatemala and immigrated to Miami at an early age. Abdel Cortez knew Leal for nearly two decades. Leal was the eldest of three brothers. A younger brother had passed away years earlier. Cortez remembers growing up with Leal in the Westchester neighborhood of Miami. It was through Leal that Cortez met his wife.
"He was a connector of people," Cortez told New Times. "He was very humble and giving, very selfless. He was the type of person who just wanted everyone to be happy."
Other friends remember him as a brother, a best friend, and somewhat of a smart aleck, but in a good way. Cortez remembered how Leal could relate to people on the spot.
"He had a way of making the strangest person feel so normal," friend Amanda Rodriguez says. She met Leal seven years ago through a mutual friend. "He just had a way of getting to people."
Cortez said Leal earned the name "Big Sexy" after a night of hard karaoke. Leal, Rodriguez, and a close-knit group of friends would come to embrace the emerging craft-beer culture in South Florida. One of their favorite traditions was to attend Funky Buddha Brewery's Maple Bacon Coffee Porter release event held each year, which was close to his birthday. On January 15, Leal would have turned 35.
Leal was well-known for his passion for craft beer and was a constant presence at local festivals. He became especially fond of 3 Sons Brewing Co. after trying its beers at a local festival.
Rodriguez remembers how ecstatic Leal was when he won a contest to name one of 3 Son's beers. 3 Sons selected Leal's suggestion, Lumberjack Morning Break, which is a strong, 13 percent alcohol-by-volume American imperial stout.
"He was such a big supporter of them," Rodriguez says. "He loved the people and everything about 3 Sons. That was his brewery. Those were his guys."
Whenever Leal would approve of a beer or anything in general, Rodriguez remembers him always saying, "Tambien, tambien" or "Very good, very good."
"He would always say that about anything that was delicious," Rodriguez remembers. "He loved the word 'delicious.'"
Christmas Eve was the last time Rodriguez would ever see her friend. Leal, Cortez, and Rodriguez had another tradition of getting together on the day after Christmas and throwing a big barbecue. It was around 3:45 p.m. December 26 when Cortez says he last texted Leal to let him know he was on his way over to the house.
After arriving, Cortez was devastated to learn that his best friend had died.
Cortez and Rodriguez both tell the New Times they aren't sure of Leal's cause of death because his mother refused an autopsy for religious reasons. However, both friends recall Leal experiencing health problems in the months preceding his death. They said he lost weight and became pale. In December, Cortez and Rodriguez both remember Leal making frequent trips to the hospital. When they'd inquire, they say Leal usually shrugged it off and remained happy.
Following Leal's death, Rodriguez sought to have him buried next to his little brother but realized that the expenses were outrageous. She says Leal and his mother didn't have that much money and that he acquired a serious debt for medical expenses before passing.
A viewing was held at Graceland Funeral Home in Miami, and Leal was cremated. Rodriguez says that Leal's funeral costs were more than average and that they couldn't afford an entire plot for their friend.
She set up a GoFundMe page to help recover some of the out-of-pocket costs. So far, more than $8,000 out of a goal of $15,000 has been raised. That pays for the cremation, viewing, and other expenses. Rodriguez says people from as far away as California and New York have donated to the campaign.
"I didn't expect the GoFundMe page to grow as fast as it did," Rodriguez says. "He was very big in the craft-beer community. Everybody knew him. People in other states knew him, and he never left Florida. People knew him from all walks of life."
Rodriguez says friends of Leal reached out to 3 Sons Brewing to make a beer in his memory. 3 Sons owner Corey Artanis agreed to honor Leal's memory with a "Big Sexy" beer, a Bourbon barrel-aged barleywine. Rodriguez remembers Leal as loving anything barrel-aged.
She hopes they make a big batch, because all of his friends will want to buy bottles. There are no plans on how Big Sexy will be packaged, although Artanis says he has yet to start brewing the recipe. After brewing, he says the beer will need at least six months of barrel fermentation.
Artanis is still looking into how Leal's family members could benefit from the release of Big Sexy, but he hinted at doing something special for them. Artanis said he is trying to coincide the release of the beer with the opening of his new brewhouse.
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Leal was a big part of the lives of his family and friends, who say his death leaves an unfillable hole in their lives. However, the fact that he mattered so much to people mitigates the feeling of being alone, Rodriguez says.
Rodriguez says Leal was full of life and enthusiasm and was a phenomenal guy. She doesn't try to romanticize his life but says Leal was "bigger than life" and was genuinely a good guy.
"He didn't have an easy life, but he was always smiling and happy and wanting to show people a good time," Cortez says.