It’s not unusual to see breweries unite their patrons to champion causes that are close to them and their communities. Yakima Chief Hops (YCH) has taken this a step further, creating an opportunity to enhance those impacts through our Community Blend Program, which includes Falconers Flight, Pink Boots Blend, Ales for ALS, and Veterans Blend. The initiative aims to amplify meaningful causes within our industry and foster connections within diverse communities.

The United States has no shortage of Veteran-owned businesses and breweries rallying behind causes for those who served. In 2018, YCH introduced the Veterans Community Blend to establish support for our nation's Veterans and engage with those working in the brewing industry who are Veterans themselves. Each year we collaborate with a group of Veterans in the brewing community who help select the hops for the blend and choose a non-profit organization that is making meaningful contributions to Veterans which will benefit from the blend’s proceeds. In the past, we have partnered with Wounded Warrior Family Support, K-9s for WarriorsHunterSeven Foundation, and several others, all nominated by and voted on by Veterans in the brewing community.

Through a combined effort, YCH and Country Malt Group (CMG) each donate $3 per pound sold of the Veterans Blend to the organization of the Veteran's choosing, and since its inception, the blend has raised over $175,000 for non-profit groups working to aid U.S. military Veterans. By partnering with different charities, we provide them with a platform to share their message, donate funds to support their critical work, and inspire our community to brew for a cause.

“Working with a new beneficiary each year can be a challenge - we don’t have the same dedicated team to work with year in and year out, but it allows us to continuously build new relationships and become more involved with the Veteran community at large,” says Jonathan Sikes, Southeast Regional Sales Manager, and United States Marine Corp (USMC) Veteran. “We do enjoy working with smaller organizations where our donations can make more of an impact, so it’s worth the effort to find and partner with different charities and help elevate their cause.”

Service Brewing in Savannah, Georgia operates with a similar philosophy. “When we first opened our business, we would partner with four different charities per year, but now we focus on two,” says Kevin Ryan, Service Brewing CEO and Army Veteran. “We find that by dedicating our fundraising for each charity for 6 months, we’re able to connect more deeply - and also write a bigger check.” Ryan owns Service Brewing with his partner, Meredith Sutton, who inspired him on the craft brewing path with a gifted homebrew kit.

Service Brewing has been a longtime supporter of the Veterans Blend. They have participated in many of the hop selection events and participate in the non-profit nominations. “This is our mission; this is what we are all about. We started supporting charities on day one,” Ryan says of his commitment to giving back to the community. “We have some investors, the majority are Veterans, and each one is 100% behind the mission.”

Their year-round IPA, Freedom Machine, is a flagship recipe that only changes when the Veterans Blend does. Aside from the donation generated simply through purchasing the blend, Ryan works with other organizations throughout the year to create as much impact as possible through his taproom. “Everyone in our community knows what we are all about,” says Ryan, explaining that they often learn about new organizations from their taproom customers. Thorough research goes into potential partnerships to understand how the organization directs its funding, particularly because some non-profits can have high overhead expenses or costly marketing campaigns. “For research, we go straight to their published financials to look at what they are spending funds on. For our company, 90% efficiency meets our standards, and most of the time these are small charities providing great services.”

Service Brewing pays homage to the Veteran community and Ryan’s military background, but Sutton designed the taproom to be subtle. Towards the back, there is a blank chalk wall – but it doesn’t stay blank for long. “We encourage all guests to interact with the ‘How Do You Serve’ wall,” Ryan explains. Regardless of military ties, individuals are contributing to their communities in diverse ways that might not be immediately apparent. Guests are invited to grab a piece of chalk and highlight their community service directly on the wall. “It’s not just about military service, it’s about people doing great things for our community - assisting the homeless, facilitating book drives, volunteering, and educating. Individuals are serving in all kinds of ways and we want to recognize that.”

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Dave Holland’s love of beer took root early, but it was traveling through Germany as a Green Beret that sparked his passion for great beer. His brewing journey began with a homebrew kit, a gift from his wife. His enthusiasm for making beer soon outgrew his kitchen and eventually his garage, so in 2020 he brought Longtab Brewing Company to life in San Antonio, Texas. They keep their recipes modest, “We are focused on clean, traditional beer, nothing too crazy. We’ve been told Longtab is a place where other brewers in town like to come drink,” says Holland. Appealing to a large community cross-section and offering unique menu items, Longtab isn’t just about beer – they are fostering community and Veteran support.

Mike Brown - Longtab Brewing Company

Dave Holland - Longtab Brewing Company

Holland served as a Green Beret for 30 years and speaks highly of the Green Beret Foundation, a non-profit organization with which he has developed a good relationship over the years. Head Brewer Mike Brown served as a Green Beret for 20 years (the two met over a beer), and at the time of our interview, Brown was busy brewing a German Lager to benefit the organization

“We used to brew all kinds of different recipes for them, Milk Stouts, Rauchbier,” explains Holland, “but in the interest of maximizing the donation, we found that the best route is to keep costs low and reach the widest audience possible. So now we keep it simple with a light and clean American Ale.” 

San Antonio is home to one of the nation’s largest concentrations of active and retired military populations, earning the nickname Military City. In 2017, that name was officially trademarked. “I’ve heard horror stories about the city going after businesses for using the name, but I felt like we could poke the bear a little bit,” Holland says of his decision to name their American Blonde Ale Military City. It didn’t take long to get a letter from the city attorney. Rather than engaging in a legal tussle, Holland decided to pick up the phone and start a conversation. It was agreed that instead of paying royalty fees for using the name, Longtab would choose a local Veteran non-profit to donate a portion of proceeds from that beer. “Sometimes you gotta poke the bear, but don’t be a jerk. Make friends with the bear,” advises Holland, smiling.

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Athletic Brewing Company was founded on a single goal, to create a great tasting non-alcoholic beverage that could be enjoyed anytime, anywhere, while making sure to create a business rooted in good. From day one they pledged to donate 2% of sales to environmental non-profits through their program Two for the Trails, which now donates up to $2 million annually. They provide full benefits for all team members, provide career development, and remain partially employee-owned. Their mission is to make a positive impact on customers, communities, and the environment by operating responsibly.

As part of their mission, they launched the IMPACT Brew Series, consisting of four limited-release brews that donate funds to causes aligned with each beer in the series. Ready Front IPA, which features Veterans Blend, has been part of the series since 2020 and raises money for non-profit organizations serving the Veteran community. Cara Wilson, Brand Manager of B Corp and Two for the Trails, emphasizes their commitment to being supportive in their partnerships, “In addition to providing a donation, we aim to elevate the partnership as much as possible by spreading the word about their mission. We know they are busting their butts, so we try to use our platform to amplify their work.”

Athletic Brewing supports its employees by sponsoring volunteer hours and encouraging the team to nominate organizations close to their hearts for funding. Engaging staff with the company’s community service stokes a sense of ownership and helps small actions result in a bigger impact. Although not a Veteran-Owned brewery, Athletic places value on the perspectives of its Veteran employees and actively encourages their involvement with Ready Front. Reflecting on their mission, Wilson adds “Much like the non-profits we partner with, we want to make sure we are getting Veteran's input on parts of the campaign like merch or language used in social media posts, we want to be thoughtful and sensitive to the community.”

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So, where do you come in?

Consumers today gravitate towards cause-oriented initiatives and businesses grounded in a clear set of principles. Wilson notes “We try to lead with our values, even if we don’t get on a soapbox about it.” Consider your primary demographic… do they align with this trend? What proportion of your customer base do you estimate has military ties or Veteran status?

Step 1: Engage with the Local Veteran Community

Kevin Ryan champions a program put together by The Department of Defense called Skill Bridge, designed for military personnel transitioning to civilian life. It allows them an opportunity to get practical work experience in the 17 weeks preceding their discharge. “You go to the website, sign up, share your training plan, and then soldiers can sign up to be your intern,” he explains. “Right now, I have one Marine, one Air Force, and one Army intern all learning the process. They’re in production, in the taproom, in sales – getting exposed to the whole process in their final 17 weeks of enlistment. They are being paid by the military while learning new transferrable skills.”

  • Engage with local service members before they leave the military via Skill Bridge.
  • Start a conversation: “Tell me about your service” vs. “Thank you for your service.”
  • Invite Veterans to participate in a brew day or beer release event.
  • Invite the local Veteran community to your taproom for special events (example: Army vs Navy game)
  • Create engagements or gathering spaces for local Veterans on holidays and days of remembrance/observances in the military calendar. We all know about Memorial Day and Veterans Day, but did you know about National Korean War Armistice Day (July 27th)?

Step 2: Support Veteran-Owned Businesses (or businesses that support Veterans)

Supporting Veteran-owned establishments is a simple yet effective way to support Veterans by helping their businesses grow. Many Veteran-owned businesses (like the ones we interviewed) are working to give back to their communities and make an impact locally.

  • The Veteran Owned Business Association (AVOBA) and Buy Veteran are sites that can be used to search Veteran-owned operations and suppliers near you.
  • The Women Veterans Alliance provides listings for businesses owned by women Veterans and assists women looking to expand or start a business. Additionally, it serves as a community for women Veterans to find career advancement and mentorship opportunities.
  • Search for other breweries in your area working to support Veterans (or Veteran-owned breweries) and collaborate.

Step 3: Find a Non-Profit Organization to Partner With

Through collaboration, you combine resources and leverage each other's strengths. It allows your business to tap into a different demographic while giving the organization’s cause a platform for a new audience. Partnerships are also a great way to learn about your community while making new friends. Look for organizations making an impact in your community. Which of them align with your values, and the values set forth by your brewery?

·         Check that they are registered as a 501c3. You can also review IRS tax returns to see how money is being managed.

·         Guidestar and Charity Navigator are sites that can be a great resource for getting a glimpse at how well managed certain organizations are.

·         Reach out to the non-profit to ask them questions, most will be excited to talk about their organization and mission.

All the brewers we talked to echo the same sentiment: Be authentic to who you are and be inclusive. “If you want to use your business, your platform, to do something good, you’ve got to pick a cause you’re passionate about and just go all in. Focus on the good and the rest will follow,” says Holland.

The brewing industry, overall, is deeply engaged with its local communities. Sharing a beer (with or without alcohol) at a communal table or bar is a great opportunity to forge new friendships, gain perspectives on diverse experiences, and come away with a heightened appreciation for the individuals within and around our communities. That’s something we can all raise a glass to!

Military City from Longtab Brewing Company

Service Brewing in Savannah, Georgia