In late 2014, local journalist (and former Reader “Beer News” columnist) Brandon Hernández was diagnosed with lupus, a chronic, inflammatory disease affecting 1.5 million Americans. When Hernández looked around for information and support, he found that resources were scarce.
"I knew there was a local chapter of the Lupus Foundation," he says, "but it didn't have a lot of support, financially." Because awareness of the disorder was low, fundraising efforts were minimal, and the local chapter just scraped by. "It has to be one of the most underfunded foundations for people suffering from illness I've ever seen," he says.
Working in the beer industry, Hernández realized a valuable funding mechanism was within reach, and in early 2015 he launched Beer to the Rescue, a campaign inviting local breweries to produce special-release beers and events with a shared goal of fundraising for the Lupus Foundation of Southern California.
By the end of the year, more than 20 local breweries had donated beer or other resources to the fundraising effort. Now entering its fourth year, Beer to the Rescue has raised more than $100,000, with 42 local breweries pledging proceeds from beers and events scheduled throughout 2018. Overwhelmed by the success of the campaign, Hernández has decided to use the platform to raise funds for other charities as well, inviting participating breweries to nominate a few of their favorites, including the Susan G. Komen breast-cancer foundation and St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital.
Hernández says San Diego breweries have time and again proven generous with their time and resources. "Sometimes it's hard to get stuff out of breweries," the beer writer jokes. "Information, that can seem very challenging." However, when called upon to help the greater good, local breweries' answers have overwhelmingly been, "Absolutely! what do you need?"
Melanie Pierce has experienced the same spirit of generosity. Pierce worked at Pizza Port Carlsbad for ten years, and as a 25-year-old marketing and events coordinator in 2010, she got her bosses — brewer Jeff Bagby and Pizza Port cofounder Gina Marsaglia — to sign off on an idea to fundraise for a young charity based in Carlsbad, the Keep A Breast Foundation.
The resulting Brewbies festival serves pink-hued beers to raise money to support the charity's breast-cancer prevention efforts. "I ask everybody to make a pink beer," Pierce says, laughing that it was originally a pretext to talk Jeff Bagby (who has a reputation for making true-to-style beers) into making one in her favorite color. "I used to always joke with [Bagby] that he should make a pink beer," she recalls. "I said, 'Now's the perfect time….'"
The pink (usually fruited) beers have become a hallmark of the festival, with dozens brewed especially each year. While the first event featured only Pizza Port beers, Pierce produced her ninth local Brewbies Fest earlier this February and had 42 breweries participate. Since 2010, Brewbies has raised in excess of $400,000.
It's not just beer professionals contributing to the greater good. This month, QUAFF, the reigning national homebrew club of the year, produced a fundraising beer to support the daughter of one of its members, Miguel Loza.
Loza's young daughter Sarah is battling lymphoma, and the local brewing industry has come together to support Sarah's Miracle Fund, set up to contribute to the cost of her medical treatment. QUAFF teamed up with Vista's Indian Joe Brewing to make the #cheers4sarah session IPA, named with a social-media hashtag to facilitate its distribution and sale for a countywide March 10th release.
Producing 15 barrels of beer costs several thousand dollars in ingredients alone, but the amateur brewers’ club voted unanimously to donate its prize winnings to the cause. "When we won homebrew club of the year last year," explains QUAFF homebrew champ Nick Corona, "as a prize we were given a year's supply of grain." When the sponsor of that prize, BSG CraftBrewing, heard what QUAFF was using the malts for, Corona says the ingredients supplier send even more grain.
Hops were donated by local breweries Lost Abbey, Green Flash Brewing, Savagewood Brewing, as well as Indian Joe, which also pitched the yeast for the beer. Corona estimates 30 club members showed up at some point during the brew day, as well as several brewery owners.
Of course, when a beer is made to raise funds, it has to sell. At least in the experience of one young brewery owner, beer buyers and drinkers are just as eager to support a worthy cause.
Last month, Rouleur Brewing owner Rawley Macias collaborated with QUAFF member and homebrewing educator Brian Trout to market a hoppy golden ale called Cancer Fighter, donating all profits to Sarah's Miracle Fund.
A 10-barrel brew day yielded 18 kegs in all, and Macias says local beer buyers snatched them up. "Before the beer was fermented, we sold 14 kegs," he says. The remaining 4 sold quickly out of Rouleur's tasting room, and overall the beer alone contributed more than $2000 to the fund. But Rouleur's customers didn't stop there. "We put a little cash bucket on the bar on release day," Macias notes, "and just our own customers donated $540" in additional contributions.
None of this is a surprise to Hernández, who's been covering the beer business for over ten years now. "In this industry," he says, "beyond great beer, it's good people who are willing to help people out."