Hope, help, and hops, sold one beer at a time, benefit fire survivors
Sierra Nevada Brewery has been called the flagship of American craft breweries and for good reason. In 1982, their Pale Ale led the way to a wave of craft breweries that dot the landscape in towns and cities across the nation. Ken Grossman and his family have steered this ship to the cutting edge in so many areas, including sustainability and innovation of beer production. At the helm, they have joined in collaboration with countless small brewers. They are charitable and community minded. Considering all of this, it is no surprise that Sierra Nevada’s immediate course of action in response to crisis is to do all they can to bring our community into a safe harbor.
On November 8, one of the most devastating fires our country has ever seen tore an unprecedented path of destruction in Butte County. By November 10, Sierra Nevada Brewery had put a plan of relief into action. In addition to providing t-shirts and sweatshirts to evacuees, they freely gave over 10,000 meals. They seeded the Camp Fire relief fund with an initial donation of $100,000 and knew they could do more. With conviction, they set a course to involve beer makers and suppliers in the effort to help. The response was resounding. The results are remarkable. Hope, help, and hops sold one beer at a time.
RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING COMPANY
Just over a year before the Camp Fire, Santa Rosa, California, had its own firestorm with the Tubbs Fire. The owners of Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, Natalie and Vinnie Cilurzo, launched “Sonoma Pride” in an effort to raise funds for recovery. They encouraged breweries in surrounding communities to follow their lead in brewing a beer with the Sonoma Pride label and dedicating proceeds from this beer to the relief fund. Who would have thought thirteen months later, the Cilurzos’ longtime friends, the Grossmans, would take this idea to a whole new level in response to the Camp Fire.
Understanding the magnitude of need driven by the Camp Fire, Charlie Barrett, owner of Secret Trail Brewing Company in Chico, reached out to his friend at Sierra Nevada, Terence Sullivan. “I proposed a collaboration to help fire victims, and Terence told me Sierra Nevada was already working on a nationwide benefit beer.” The plan for this benefit beer, like the Camp Fire, was unprecedented. Sierra Nevada developed a recipe with their team, a classic hop forward, old school western IPA, modeled after the popular Sierra Nevada Celebration beer. Sierra Nevada then invited craft brewers from across the country to lend their time, treasure, and talent to help rebuild lives and communities. An excerpt from Ken Grossman’s letter to brewers illustrates his willingness to go the extra mile to bring this effort to fruition:
I’m writing to ask you to participate in a nation-wide fundraising effort to support impacted communities. Sierra Nevada has created a beer called Resilience IPA. We’re inviting you to brew a version at your brewery and sell it at it your Pub or Taproom, with 100% of the proceeds going to support those impacted by the Camp Fire. If you join us, we’ll give you the recipe, tap handles, coasters, posters, a social media kit and recognition for your support. We’re also working with many malt and hop suppliers to provide or reimburse participating breweries for the cost of the raw materials.
Initially Grossman hoped 200 breweries would agree. “In pretty short order we had many, many more. When we were at 500, I thought that was pretty amazing, maybe we could get 600 or 700,” he said. In the end, one in five American craft breweries, totaling almost 1500, signed on. A few international breweries joined as well. This outpouring of support is reflective of Sierra Nevada’s leadership in the industry. “Only Sierra Nevada could pull this off since Ken has been so instrumental for the craft beer movement,” said Secret Trail’s Barrett. “No other brewery could have garnered that much interest.”
Suppliers also lined up to contribute. Among others, Country Malt, Admiral Malt, Great Western Malting, Briess Malt & Ingredients, Yakima Chief Hops, Crosby Hop Farm, S.S. Steiner, Haas, and White Labs contributed ingredients.
Grossman said, “The farmers chipped in, the maltsters chipped in, and actually, the Union Pacific Railroad shipped it for free.” Alison Kay from British Bulldog Brewery reflected how brilliant this idea was because it allowed so many to come together to help. “Many people in this business look up to Sierra Nevada, so breweries were thrilled to take a day to brew for a good cause. The grain and hop distributors were challenged to donate, and they did. Bars, restaurants, and liquor stores agreed to sell the beer and return the profits, and the end users helped by purchasing and drinking the beer. Everyone came together,” said Kay.
As the strategy and plans for the benefit beer unfolded, it was discovered that the name Sierra Nevada decided to christen the beer, Resilience, was owned by Schilling Beer Company, a family-owned brewery in Littleton, New Hampshire. Jeff Coozens, CEO and co-founder of Schilling Beer Company, noted, “When we were called by Sierra Grossman to see if we would lend that name for the Resilience Beer project, it was a real no-brainer.” He went on to say, “We would be hard pressed not to help in this situation.”
Schilling then extended an invitation to Ken Grossman to come to New Hampshire. There, they would brew one of the first of what would become thousands of batches nationwide, Resilience Butte County Proud IPA. Coozens reflected that it was surreal to drive to the tiny airstrip near their hometown of 6,000 to pick up the Sierra Nevada Brewery founder. “We had a terrific time. They are great people who obviously care so much about their community,” he said.
“Schilling wants to make sure that those impacted in the Camp Fire are kept at the forefront. We are simply brewing beer, which is easy enough. It’s much harder to rebuild lives,” noted Coozens. These words resonate like an echo, as this sentiment was repeated by each brewery in Butte and Shasta counties locally who rose to the occasion and made a batch of Resilience.
The call to produce the benefit beer spread quickly in the region. Woody’s Brewing Company in Redding said it was the Brewer’s Association that contacted them and others. Andrew Wlodarczyk of Woody’s explained the Brewer’s Association is a national non-profit that works to help with all the facets of the craft brew industry. Locally, three Redding breweries, Woody’s, Wildcard, and Fall River, agreed. This is extraordinarily notable as the Carr Fire had a huge impact on their community just four months before the Camp Fire. They had just wrapped production of their own collaborative fundraising beer, Shasta Strong.
Red Bluff’s Cedar Crest Brewery joined in, as did Miners Alley Brewing Company in Oroville. British Bulldog Brewery in Chico fondly recalls the email inviting them to participate in brewing Resilience. In addition, Secret Trail Brewing Company answered the call. At least one home brewer, Chico Redwood Cove Brewery, got into the mix. Literally dozens of restaurants in Butte and Shasta country served up Resilience.
Alison Kay from British Bulldog Brewery applauded the generosity of the bars and eating establishments that agreed to pour the beer. She explained that those who served Resilience had to purchase the kegs and then turn around and donate 100% of the proceeds. “They were really paying twice, but no one seemed to have any second thoughts about it,” she said.
A RAUCOUS RELEASE
Sierra Nevada brewed their first batch of Resilience IPA on Giving Tuesday, November 27, 2019. Adding ingredients to the brew kettle that day were Sierra Nevada employee fire survivors and Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea. Once the beer was released, it sold at a record pace. The Sierra Nevada gift shop sold five times more beer each day than their usual average and at one point sold 100 cases of Resilience in an hour. Sierra Nevada designated December 20 as “Resilience Night” and encouraged all those who brewed the beer to raise a glass of Resilience with their friends, family, and patrons and toast Camp Fire victims and the rebirth of the affected communities. The support for Resilience IPA was overwhelming.
Barrett said that Secret Trail was among the first to have a release party. He described the line out the door and around the building all night long. They sold almost 900 pints of beer in one evening. The highlight for Barrett came when Ken Grossman stopped by for a glass of Resilience. “I got to meet Ken for the first time. He wanted to thank us for participating,” Barrett said. “It was like a dream come true, and having the community and Ken appreciate it made it feel like a full circle experience.”
Wlodarczyk from Woody’s in Redding said people were very supportive and came in strictly looking for Resilience, which sold out within days. “The beer was very good. You could tell it was the type of beer Sierra Nevada brews,” he said. British Bulldog mirrored this sentiment. “When we brewed it, we felt we were at Sierra Nevada because of the signature smell. Our beer has a more of a malty aroma,” said Kay. She also explained that though everyone essentially followed the same recipe, there were slight variations due to water, process, and yeast. “People feel ours is very well rounded. Our process makes unfiltered beer, which results in a different flavor,” she said. British Bulldog said they feel proud to be participating and may be among the last to offer Resilience since the terms of the contract that Sierra Nevada and Schilling drew up allow the loan of the name only through May. British Bulldog has saved a few kegs to serve at their new Allies Pub opening in downtown Chico this spring.
RELYING ON RELIEF
The stories of escape, rescue, and recovery continue to reverberate in daily conversation. British Bulldog hosts regular, private growler fill events at their small brewery in North Chico. Alison Kay said they had a growler event the night the fire began and five more since that time. The growler-fill events have become a place for many to share their stories. “It’s very much the English Pub way to sit and chat about your problems or the good things that are going on.”
One Camp Fire survivor, Mike DelNero, was working as a security guard at Feather River Hospital the day of the fire. He narrowly escaped after staying on to help others get to safety. He expressed his gratitude for the relief effort. “Whenever there is an issue, Sierra Nevada has always been up front,” he said. He moved to Paradise from Sacramento seven years ago and was drawn here, in part, because of the community feeling in our area. “You wouldn’t see this in Sacramento,” he said. “I hope that the traction continues and we aren’t forgotten about when the beer runs out.”
Resilience Butte Strong IPA is expected to raise over fifteen million dollars in relief funds. A majority of this money will be allocated to the Butte Strong Fund. This fund is a partnership with North Valley Community Foundation, the Aaron Rodgers NorCal Fire Recovery Fund, and Sierra Nevada. The idea is to work on long range recovery in six areas, housing, children, health, education, community development, and business recovery. Though the affected areas will never be the same, efforts like these will help to recover and rebuild for those who are able to stay in Butte County.
One couple, Rick and Mercedes Weiger, whose home and food truck were lost in the fire, decided to relocate to Florida. Their food truck, Rick’s Blowin Smoke, regularly served at British Bulldog’s growler fill events. Just before leaving town, they stopped by the brewery to pick up a few growlers of Resilience. Resilience is what the Weigers and all of those impacted by the Camp Fire need moving forward. Thankyou, Sierra Nevada, for giving us a round of Resilience.
Bonnie and Ken Chapman are partners in many of life’s great endeavors including marriage, raising two children, global travel adventures and writing for Edible Shasta-Butte. Both are avid trail runners and you can find them enjoying Upper Bidwell Park or wherever the trails take them.