Brewing for Beasts: Beer Companies Raise Money for Conservation Organizations

The Blending House by | Apr 2017 | Issue #123
Illustration by Elana Gabrielle

Last October, Pelican Brewing of Pacific City, Ore., launched a new beer with a mission. For every barrel of Five Fin West Coast Pilsner sold, at least two dollars and fifty cents is donated to the Salmon Superhwy initiative, a collaborative effort to restore salmon habitat in the region.

“There are six rivers in Tillamook County and they’re all just beautiful, they’ve got clean, clear, beautiful water, and so we were thinking about a crisp, clean beer,” says Pelican CEO Jim Prinzing. “That just says Pilsner all over it.” The name “Five Fin” comes from the five fish species that stand to benefit.

Pelican had its first foray into conservation in 2012 with its Silverspot IPA—a portion of the profits from that beer supported habitat restoration for the endangered Oregon silverspot butterfly. When that program wound down, Prinzing began looking for a way to stay involved with environmental work, and he soon discovered the Salmon Superhwy.

The project’s list of 93 fish passage barriers (culverts, small dams, etc.) in the Tillamook-Nestucca watershed, when removed, will reopen 95 percent of the region’s historical salmon habitat. “The more we learned about Salmon Superhwy, the more it was apparent that it was a great fit for us,” says Prinzing.

Pelican’s involvement in wildlife causes isn’t unique; across the country, craft breweries are forging partnerships with local conservation organizations in an effort to give back to their communities.

Occasionally these relationships even force brewers to face old fears. When Red Clay Brewing co-owner John Corbin learned that their involvement with indigo snake conservation would include live snakes making a visit to the brewery for an education event, he wasn’t thrilled. “I’m actually terrified of snakes,” he admits. “I know they have a benefit, they have their place in the world. But I won’t be one of the guys who’s going to sit there holding the snake either.”

Red Clay, based in Auburn, Ala., previously made a beer called Alabama Snakes IPA, named after a popular band from the state. The name got Auburn University herpetologist David Steen thinking, and he contacted the brewery in summer 2016 to see if they’d be interested in getting involved with efforts to save real snakes.

“That started a conversation, and we talked about them developing a new beer named after the indigo snake, with a portion of the proceeds of every sale going to support the efforts of the Alabama Natural Heritage Program,” says Steen.

The result is Drymarchon Berliner Weisse, launched in February. Drymarchon is the Latin name for the genus of the eastern indigo snake, the longest snake native to the United States and an endangered species that Steen and his colleagues are working to reintroduce in Alabama.

For one brewery in Gilbert, Ariz., the conservation connection is right there in the name of the business. The Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company opened in 2013, and co-founder Jonathan Buford explains that he fell in love with the state’s pristine landscapes after moving there from Ohio. He started the brewery with the intention of giving back.

Several Arizona Wilderness beers are named after the state’s wilderness areas and incorporate foraged ingredients, but its connection to wilderness also extends to the many conservation projects it’s involved in, such as partnering with the Nature Conservancy in an effort to promote the cultivation of water-efficient barley.

Meanwhile in Phoenix, the Rio Salado Audubon Center holds a monthly event called Birds ’n Beer, a happy hour where local beer is served during a talk by a conservation professional from the area. They used to partner with Four Peaks Brewing, which even brewed two special-edition bird-themed beers to raise awareness for Audubon initiatives.

However, working with Four Peaks became more challenging once Anheuser-Busch InBev bought it in December 2015. After learning about other conservation initiatives Arizona Wilderness Brewing was involved with, Audubon staff reached out to them, and last year Arizona Wilderness beer made its debut at the Audubon Center.

These three breweries are just the beginning—in the past few years, craft breweries have helped raise money for everything from sea stars to whooping cranes. But with so many issues out there to get involved with, why wildlife?

Part of it is that a love of beer and a love of the outdoors often seem to go hand in hand. “We in the beer community tend to be outdoor types,” says Buford. “We tend to be out hiking and biking and climbing.”

Another draw comes from the resource-intensive nature of brewing. “We use a lot of water, so we have to make sure that resource is maintained,” points out Red Clay’s Corbin. “All of our resources are agricultural: malt, hops, everything.”

Whatever the reason, your next pint could be contributing to the health of your local ecosystem—so drink up, and toast the fish, snakes, and birds that, in a small way, you’re helping to save.