Charitable Beer

Note: This is a feature article I wrote for issue 51 of BeerAdvocate Magazine

Public Enemy said it best: Don’t believe the hype. Neo-prohibitionist organizations and media campaigns have created an image of the beer drinker that is less than friendly. To add fuel to the “beer is bad” campaign, popular television ads air during football games that seem to support the frat party “more is more” attitude that promotes binge drinking and bad decisions.

As a result, the general public has in its collective mind an image of the beer drinker as an overweight slob in ripped jeans and a stained shirt downing a case of lager before the fourth quarter. It has led to the misconception that wine is the more civilized drink, and provides fine restaurants an easy excuse to defend a lack of better beer on their menus.

Of course binge drinking and alcoholism are unfortunate realities of beer–as they are with any other alcoholic beverage, including wine–but the reality is that brewers and breweries have long done much more to benefit society than harm it. In ancient times and in ages when drinking water was only for the thirstiest and most desperate of drinkers, brewing was a practical science that provided villagers and townspeople with something to drink that wouldn’t kill them. Water standards have risen now, but brewers are still working hard to make a positive impact in their communities. This is a look at just a few breweries and the beers they brew to gently shake the world through charitable activity.

Community Outreach

Like the Trappist monks who provided beer so that the local population wouldn’t have to drink the water, Big Sky Brewing in Missoula, Montana helps provide for those in the community who cannot do it completely on their own. The brewery, famous for its Moose Drool Brown Ale, worked with a local church in the brewing of All Souls Ale.

The church was involved with a non-profit charity called Imagine Missoula, which aimed to provide assistance for members of the community who needed it most. Proceeds from the sell of the Saison, brewed in the Spring of 2010, went to the charity that helped individuals in need—such as single mothers, at-risk teenagers, and the elderly.

At first this seems like an odd activity for a brewery to be engaged in, until head brewer Matt Long explains why Big Sky likes to get involved.

“I think it’s up to businesses like ours to take some responsibility and try to help people out,” Long said. “I don’t think there’s really no other reason for us to do it. If everybody chipped in just a little bit like we do things would be a lot better, but it’s just something we like to do.”

Long makes the point that the responsibility to help the local community doesn’t fall simply and heavily on the shoulders of the closest brewery, but in fact it falls on everybody who can afford to help.

Big Sky is also involved in community projects that apply in a more obvious way to the nature of the brewery.

“Every year we do something called the community brew which we work with the local homebrew club, The Zoo City Zymurigists, and we determine a style of beer and then the homebrew club all brew it and we have a judged contest,” Long explained. “We pick the winning beer and the winning brewer gets to come to the brewery and we make a big batch of it. Half of the proceeds go to the homebrew club and the other half go to a local non-profit.”

This year’s winning beer was a Coconut Chocolate Imperial Porter affectionately dubbed Missoula 5-0 (i.e. Hawaii 5-0), and half of the profits provided aid for the local animal shelter. In years past the brewery has assisted with a children’s shelter and a local food bank. In addition, the area homebrewers are able to fund field trips for their organization and buy ingredients and equipments to improve their beers.

For Those Who Can’t Speak Up

As times have changed, so too have the types of individuals needing assistance. While poverty and hunger are still scourges of both the developed and undeveloped worlds, more and more charities are channeling their attention and fundraising efforts toward those who cannot defend or speak for themselves.

In the case of the joint charity project Beer for Beasts by New York’s Sixpoint Brewery and BeerAdvocate, proceeds from a one-of-a-kind brew festival will provide much-needed help for the Humane Society of New York City.

“We feel that they’re just one of the most underrated and well-meaning organizations in New York City,” Sixpoint’s Communications and Outreach coordinator Cathy Erway said. “They have been doing good things for so many years, for people, for our community, for pet owners, but with very little fanfare. We all love our pets here. We looked at a lot of different animal charities and we felt that they’re doing such a big impact with the amount of pets they help at this one facility. We really felt very strongly that this is an organization that deserves celebration.”

In order to raise funds, BeerAdvocate founders Todd and Jason Allström, as well as BA’s Director of Events Candice Allström pooled their knowledge to help create a unique event. The folks at Sixpoint helped create over 16 unique—and often very experimental—beers for the event, to which BeerAdvocate gave its expertise in throwing a kick-ass beer festival.

“We started out by wanting to collaborate with BeerAdvocate on an event in New York City,” Erway explained. “From there we didn’t really want to make a killing off of this. We didn’t want to make profit, we wanted to have fun with BeerAdvocate and have fun with the other people who have been collaborating on brews with us and everybody else who buys tickets to have good time. The other main thing was we wanted to do it for the sake of sharing it with the community.

“We feel that since everyone is coming in here and paying a pretty reasonable price for the amount of drinks, food, and entertainment we wanted to give that to a good cause. It’s funny because in all the years that [the Humane Society] has been operating, they said that nobody has ever come up to them and said ‘Can we throw a big fundraiser for you?’ It’s always been them trying seek businesses to try and donate money to them.”

Beer for Friends

Brit Antrim is a good friend to many brewers across the country—especially those in Southern California and Colorado. Through years of work in the industry, most notably as head brewer at Anderson Valley Brewing Company and production manager for Great Divide, he developed tight relationships with brewers who came to realize that Antrim would give them the shirt off his back if they needed it.

When Antrim was severely injured in a workplace incident that left him paralyzed and unable to work, his friends sprang to action to help him and his family as much as they could.

The result was an effort from several breweries, including the Pizza Port chain, Anderson Valley, Great Divide, The Lost Abbey, Avery Brewing Company, Cambridge Brewing Company, Maui Brewing Company, and Hollister Brewing Company who came together under the impetus of Pizza Port’s Director of Brewing Operations Jeff Bagby to create beer that their friend would like, and donated as much of the profits as they could to his family to help cover the exorbitant cost of medical care and other necessities. To make this economically possible, Roy Farms donated hundreds of pounds of hops, and Brewer’s Supply Group helped with discounted grain.

“Brewers stick by each other,” Hollister’s head brewer Eric Rose said. “None of us have a serious support network. I don’t think I know more than a handful of brewers who have any type of 401K or any sort of retirement program. Pretty much everyone I know spends what they make and they don’t make a lot. It’s nice to know that there’s a strong group of friends behind you who can come through when you need them.”

Some of Antrim’s compatriots were unable to brew a new beer for the fundraiser, but did what they could to help out. Adam Avery of Avery Brewing donated all of the proceeds from the annual Boulder Strong Ale Festival, and Vinnie Ciluruzo of Russian River donated kegs of Pliny for events in Antrim’s adopted home towns of San Diego and Boulder. But those who were able to brew; such as Rose, Bagby and Cambridge Brewing Company’s Will Meyers; did.

The profits from these beers weren’t high, but they all went directly to Antrim and his wife. And they may not have provided the same immediate morale boost as a party at Falling Rock in his honor, but they did create something real—and of real value.

“We could have donated a check or something or donated a percentage of a night, but it seems like since he’s a brewer it would better represent him than just a night that was in his name,” Rose said. “It’s more in the spirit of the brewer.

“I guess it was more tangible to the people who had it. It was like they had something and thinking about what it was going towards rather than just a general night that went toward a school’s water polo team or something. They actually had a pint of beer and thought about what that two dollars was going toward. I think that’s hopefully how people felt about it.”

These tribute beers and events helped raise close to $100,000 for Antrim’s family, and have allowed him to focus on his physical therapy. As of this writing he was purportedly able to grip a pint of beer, but is still working on getting it to his lips on his own. For those wondering, he is able to imbibe and enjoy as well.

These brewers put their craft to good use in order to help a close friend—somebody who would have undoubtedly done the same for them had he needed to—but are just a small sampling of what brewers and breweries across the country are doing to make a positive impact in their local communities. Perhaps one day they will be recognize on a large scale for their charity work. Until then, the best we can do is raise a glass in recognition—and then order another pint of beer brewed for charity.

Sean Lewis is a freelance writer and homebrewer and is currently working on his first book.


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