Beer Scout: Breweries and nonprofits find success through year-round partnerships

TWELVE OUNCES OF RELIEF: Through its Towns program, the Can'd Aid Foundation works with Oskar Blues Brewery to provide clean, canned drinking water to communities affected by natural disasters and contaminated water supplies. Photo courtesy of Can'd Aid Foundation

Visit an Asheville-area brewery on any day of the year, and there’s a good chance your patronage is benefiting a charitable cause. Support could arise through proceeds from sales of a particular beer or from awareness and volunteer recruitment through the organization’s representatives.

In addition to giving back to the community through these and other efforts, several breweries have struck year-round partnerships with specific organizations whose work has a special alignment with the company’s values, allowing its owners and employees to forge lasting relationships with a nonprofit and encourage its long-term success.

Cylindrical collaboration

Diana Ralston understands why people commonly think the Can’d Aid Foundation is part of Oskar Blues Brewery. The Longmont, Colo.-based nonprofit’s executive director was in the planning stage of working with the brewery’s employees to start a stand-alone foundation composed of program areas that resonate with the Oskar Blues brand — music, the outdoors, bikes and environmental preservation — when extreme flooding hit the town and nearby Lyons in September 2013.

“We realized we were in a unique position to raise a lot of money quickly,” Ralston says. “News started spreading through the beer distribution channels that the birthplace of Dale’s Pale Ale was literally underwater. People came out of the woodwork wanting to help. We had an Irish pub in New York City to a wholesaler in California and all kinds of things in between reaching out wanting to set up a fundraiser and send us money.”

The combination of donations pouring in and aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency once the flooding was declared a natural disaster allowed Can’d Aid to receive an expedited 501(c)(3) certification within three months of applying, instead of the 16-24 months Ralston says it can currently take. Those roots of disaster relief live on through the foundation’s Towns program, which provides hands-on, people-powered work as well as clean canned drinking water in partnership with Oskar Blues (whose East Coast brewery is in Brevard), its fellow CANarchy craft brewery collective members and the Ball Corp.

As assistance arrives in areas affected by wildfires (Colorado and California), hurricanes (Puerto Rico and Texas) and contaminated water supplies (Flint, Mich.), the nonprofit’s name and the familiar aluminum cylinders often cause confusion in terms of its relationship with the breweries. Oskar Blues’ regular fundraising for Can’d Aid — through such outlets as proceeds from the annual Burning Can Beer Festivals and $1 from each CANarchy mix pack sold — further blur the lines, as does that fact that brewery founder Dale Katechis was its first and largest initial donor, but the nonprofit’s wealth of other offerings help emphasize that it’s a separate, unique undertaking.

“Oskar Blues has turned into such a lifestyle brand,” Ralston says. “It’s not just a brewery. There’s all of these other entities, so it’s been really fun to see how Can’d Aid can partner with the brewery and still find its own way and stand on its own two feet.”

The foundation’s other programs are Treads + Trails, which has donated almost 3,000 bikes and helmets to Title I elementary schools across the country, and Love Yur Mama, its national recycling initiative that also provides tree plantings and beach and river cleanups. Upcoming happenings in Western North Carolina include working with Bracken Mountain Preserve to build new trails around the Brevard Music Center and a January concert at the U.S. Cellular Center by the Steep Canyon Rangers.

The Brevard-based band is one of the ambassadors for Can’d Aid’s Tunes program, which connects touring musicians with public school music programs in need, providing a hands-on workshop, a Q&A session and a short performance, followed by donating instruments to the school. Tunes gives the Rangers and other busy traveling artists an opportunity to donate their time to a worthy cause, but the bulk of the foundation’s efforts focuses on ways that the general population can contribute to the well-being of others.

“Can’d Aid’s tagline is ‘people powered do-goodery,’ and so we try to schedule opportunities for Oskar Blues employees, any of the CANarchy employees and the community at large to come out and roll up sleeves and give back,” Ralston says. “We make it easy, acceptable, affordable and fun. If you only have 20 minutes, that’s really all the time it takes to actually assemble one of the bikes at our Community Bike Build. Or you’ve got $20 to give? That’s awesome. That buys 2 1/2 helmets for a kid in the bike program.”

Culture keepers

In the three years Jessica and Doug Reiser lived in New Orleans, they were so moved by their neighbors’ celebration of death as the completion of a cycle that when they decided to start a brewery in Asheville, they named it Burial Beer Co. and implemented a branding that reflected that aspect of the city’s culture.

Such dedication caught the attention of Black Mountain-based LEAF International, which had been working with New Orleans resident Big Chief Shaka Zulu since 2001 as one of its Culture Keepers and sought to establish the city as the home of its first domestic program. In 2016, the nonprofit contacted Burial and asked if the brewery would sponsor the music-focused program — an offer it quickly accepted.

“It definitely made sense for us, but it’s not really in our bones to just write a check, put a logo on our website and be done with it,” Jessica Reiser says.

In addition to becoming the program’s sponsor, Burial sought a true partnership and started working directly with Big Chief Shaka and LEAF to raise money annually for the program and work to grow it. Each year, funds come from sales of a new beer made in collaboration with a brewery with an ownership team that has ties to New Orleans or appreciates and is interested in its culture. Releases thus far have been Shallow Water Kölsch (2017, with Great Raft Brewing) and Goldfeather Pale Ale (2018, with Creature Comforts Brewing Co.) — easy-drinking styles that Reiser says are in line with New Orleans beer consumers’ preferences.

Proceeds also benefit LEAF’s Feather Fund, which allows Mardi Gras Indians the ability to purchase the materials (mainly feathers) needed to create costumes and artwork and be able to march every year. Reiser says that marching in this attire — an activity the tribes call “masking” — is a huge part of the Mardi Gras Indians’ culture. The genuine feathers are imported and very expensive, but LEAF helps facilitate and subsidize the cost of those materials for elders and low-income people who can’t afford it otherwise, allowing them to participate in a tradition that’s been around since the 1800s.

The Reisers, their two young sons and some Burial employees have been able to witness the results of their sponsorship firsthand each March by marching (but not masking) with the Mardi Gras Indians on St. Joseph’s Day, the tribes’ most significant holiday, in New Orleans. LEAF has also brought down Asheville youths to march as well as play instruments with some of the world’s best jazz musicians at the legendary Preservation Hall.

“On the surface, this program looks like an Asheville-based nonprofit and an Asheville-based brewery facilitating a program somewhere else,” Reiser says. “Although that is certainly part of it, it’s also partly about bringing that cultural awareness to Asheville and the youth of Asheville through music, through LEAF festivals and through other programs.”

With its LEAF partnership thriving, Burial has also embarked upon a collaboration with the Asheville Symphony. Along with sponsoring the orchestra for the year, the brewery is working with musical director Darko Butorac to craft a beer for the 2019 Asheville Amadeus Festival. Proceeds from the collaborative brew will support the symphony and festival, and Burial will host an event at its downtown taproom to kick off the festival as well as offer a smaller event at its forthcoming Forestry Camp location during that week.

“We see this as another ongoing sponsorship, and we’re really looking to raise awareness,” Reiser says. “Doug and I go to the symphony every month. It’s something that’s special to us and again fits in with the Burial concern of music and culture, and certainly an appreciation of things that are historical and breathing life back into the older art forms and traditions.”


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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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