Hell ‘n Blazes owner earns quite a toast


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Don DiFrisco of Hell ‘n Blazes Brewing Company channels his inner Humphrey Bogart at his downtown Melbourne boutique brewery.

SENIOR LIFE Courtesy of Hell ‘n Blazes Brewing Company

 

Raise a glass of brew to Army man Don DiFrisco, but make it a glass of Hell ‘n Blazes beer since DiFrisco founded and is president of the boutique brewery in Downtown Melbourne.

Born in the Chicago area, DiFrisco lived in the Windy City until he enlisted in the Army under the Delayed Entry Program in 1982. Training at Fort McClellan, Alabama provided plenty of stories for him.

“I remember having a bodybuilder drill sergeant who could do normal pushups with one arm and point to any one of us who weren’t doing them correctly with the other,” DiFrisco said.

“It was a terrifying sight for a new recruit.”

DiFrisco initially was assigned to the 65th Military Police Company, 503rd Military Police Battalion,16th. Military Police Brigade (Airborne).

“This battalion at the time was the only Strategic Armed Force of MPs in the Army,” DiFrisco said.

His assignment included temporary duty at Seneca Army Depot, location of the Women’s Nuclear Army Protests.

“All day, every day, we either stood guard in a makeshift tower or we trained in the latest methods of dealing with large groups of protesters,” he said.

“It was called the “stomp & drag.”

Seneca was so small that DiFrisco and his fellow soldiers had to live in tents in the fields and walked a quarter of a mile to a small gymnasium when they needed to use the latrine for showers or what-have-you. Forget the air conditioning, the heat and the electricity.

In October 1983, DiFrisco’s units were the Military Police Force portion that invaded the island of Grenada during Operation Urgent Fury.

“President Reagan didn’t inform anyone of the mission,” DiFrisco said.

“He wanted this to be secret in order to limit the potential loss of our lives. We couldn’t even tell family or friends where we were going, and when or if we’d be back.”

DiFrisco’s first job on the island was to guard a huge warehouse full of Cuban weapons and ammunition. He later spent weeks searching the island for intelligence and monitoring progress of MP units responsible for prisoner-of-war operations. He was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for establishing intelligence liaisons with local nationals and even with a retired British Royal Air Force officer who provided the Army with invaluable real-world intelligence.

DiFrisco also earned the Armed Services Expeditionary Ribbon as confirmation that he had been in in combat.

Of his Grenada experience, he remembers Thanksgiving dinner the best.

“The Army had flown in a lot of cooks and they prepared one of the most memorable Thanksgiving meals I have ever had,” he said.

“I had Thanksgiving dinner with an old master sergeant in this bombed-out hotel. Incomparable memories.”

The young soldier was later sent on various operations around the world, including Honduras and Northern Africa. He later became the assistant operations and training non-commissioned officer at the 805th Military Police Company in Raleigh, N.C., before being sent to Subic Bay Naval Air Station in the Philippines, the last stop in his military career.

His military kudos include two Army Commendations Medals, three Army Achievement Medals, the Good Conduct Medal and a host of others.

Back home in Chicago, DiFrisco embarked on a career on the financial side of healthcare cost containment. In 2000, he moved his family to Palm Beach Gardens, where he was EVP and CFO for Cross Match Technologies, makers of a biometric fingerprint scanner. In 2004, he became the owner/CEO of International Surveillance Technology, which specialized in surveillance equipment.

DiFrisco felt the need to embark on a “fun” business that would combine his passion for building renovation and beer. Thus was born Hell ‘n Blazes Brewing Company in the historic downtown Melbourne buildingthat once housed the Christmas Cottage.

Even though the brewery is only a couple of years old, DiFrisco’s brewery has become a go-to place in Melbourne and his beer is available at approximately 40 locations across the county, achievements worthy of a toast.