Local Breweries Have Hearts of Gold 

They aren’t just making beer. Many local breweries are making the world a little brighter with charitable events, specialty releases and community partnerships.
Loving beer concept. Heart symbol on beer glass foam on black table, view from above

It’s a sunny Wednesday afternoon at Coastal Fermentory in The Yard District in downtown Newport News, and I’m enjoying a snifter of Coastal Fermentory’s Unicorn Rave sour with prickly pear and plum.

As I sip and savor, the red-bearded, mild-mannered Seth Caddell is preaching the gospel about the importance of giving back to the community for businesses like this one, the brewery he helped found alongside a small group of fellow owners and self-professed beer nerds.

It’s not a big leap for a guy who also happens to have a background in the ministry. Or for many locally owned breweries in Coastal Virginia, as it turns out.

Coastal Fermentory
Seth Caddell, co-owner of Coastal Fermentory

At veteran-owned Bold Mariner brewery in Norfolk’s Ocean View, retired Navy SEAL Michael Stacks has developed ongoing partnerships with the Navy Seal Foundation and The Honor Foundation and donates a percentage of sales to each.

Wasserhund Brewing Company hosts weekly charity nights at its Virginia Beach and Chesapeake locations and has donated more than $261,000 in cash contributions to local nonprofits. This November alone, Wassherhund has partnerships planned with Tidewater American Association of Zookeepers, Chesapeake City Public Library, Virginia German Shepherd Rescue, Saving Grace Rescue and Foundation Fighting Blindness.

In the last year, Reaver Beach Brewing Co., which has locations in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, has hosted toy and food drives and supported the Roc Solid Foundation, Dogs on Deployment, Hampton Roads Pride, LGBT Life Center, Preservation Virginia and many others.

Tradition Brewing Company has partnered with 12 different nonprofits in past six months alone. They created and held the very first pride festival in Newport News history and hosted a collaborative brew with 10 other breweries benefitting Hampton Roads Pride. Their family-friendly block party was a community event with LINK of Hampton Roads, and their ONE LOVE: Reggae Music Festival supported Hampton Roads and Transitions Family Violence Services.

These examples just scratch the surface on all the good brewing around Coastal Virginia.

While Seth Caddell and I are chatting at Coastal Fermentory, members of the Denbigh Lions Club are setting up a display of handmade birdhouses in preparation for one of the brewery’s “Drink Beer and Do Good” nights. During these weekly happenings, a wide variety of local nonprofits—from children’s charities and community foundations to arts groups and environmental organizations—receive 10 percent of that evening’s brewery sales along with 100% of the tips.

Caddell calls these regular fundraisers the “bread and butter” of their charitable giving. A key component of these events is a commitment to being consistent and transparent with nonprofits when it comes to the financials, Caddell points out.

“Our whole goal with that was to try to raise the standards of the charitable component,” he explains.

His team wants to set an example for other businesses while reassuring nonprofit organizations—some of which may be wary of businesses more intent on looking charitable than on delivering on good intentions—by being crystal clear about what exactly is meant by the oft-used phrase “a portion of the proceeds.”

Coastal Fermentory
“Drink Beer and Do Good” nights are the “bread and butter” of charitable giving at Coastal Fermentory.

Partnerships between businesses and nonprofits are common, of course, and they represent a great opportunity not only for fundraising for the nonprofits but for building community connections for all involved.

“It’s a win-win,” says Caddell. “We get to write a big check to somebody, and we get exposure to their audience.”

But for Coastal Fermentory, which has plans to open a second location in the Jefferson Marketplace in the coming months, giving back was brewed into their business model from the start.

“One of our big things is that most breweries, most businesses in the United States and the world, if they disappeared, nobody would care except for their customers.” Their goal, he explains, was to become such an integral part of the community fabric through giving back that if they were ever to close their doors, “it would leave a hole.”

“Anybody can make great beer, but what we want to do is make a difference and that has been a huge part from day one when we opened up. We want to brew the best beer, and we want to make the most difference to the Hampton Roads area. Those are our North Stars.”

BEER BUZZ St. George Brewing in Hampton partners with Colonial Beekeepers for their Honey Meade Lager and Virginia Living Museum for their Oyster Stout.
St. George Brewing partners with Colonial Beekeepers for their Honey Meade Lager.

Not far away at St. George Brewing Co. in Hampton, it doesn’t take much to prompt William Spence, director of drinking operations, to talk your ear off about beer and beer history. “I have been drinking professionally for 25 years,” he quips.

But honeybees are another buzzworthy topic for Spence—including the ones darting around a dozen or so hives on the brewery’s partially wooded property as Spence gives the penny tour.

“That is our Honey Meade Lager, one of our recent award winners,” says Spence, back in the brewery’s tasting room, as he sets out samples of the bright, clean lager alongside samples of local honey.

“If you want to talk about a community, for a batch of that to be made, it takes 350 million bees to make the 300 pounds of honey that we need to be put into 800 gallons. So, part of my community is my beekeepers.”

Using honey harvested from their onsite apiary, St. George partners with Colonial Beekeepers, a nonprofit group of beekeepers from the Peninsula and Middle Peninsula. The group also holds its regular meetings at the brewery.

The need to protect and cultivate honeybees is critical for the future of a healthy environment. For St. George, it’s a great way to contribute to the greater good while also doing what they have been doing for the last 25 years as one of the oldest microbreweries in Virginia: “brewing delicious, award-winning, sessionable beers.”

From bees to oysters…another frequent nonprofit collaborator for St. George is the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News. St. George’s Oyster Stout is brewed in partnership with museum and served at their annual Oyster Roast, a major fundraising event that supports the museum’s mission and conservation efforts.

Visitors to St. George can also enjoy a glass of this “classic dry, Irish stout brewed with Virginia oysters imparting a hint of ocean spray” at the brewery’s tasting room. Yes, there are actual oysters used in the brewing process, but don’t shuck it until you’ve tried it. Turns out oyster brews have a storied history, and that hint of sea salt is a beautiful complement to the toasty stout. Plus, it’s a for a good cause.

HOPE AND HOPS From the time they met at William & Mary, Robby Willey and Chris Smith knew that giving back would be a part of Virginia Beer Co., which produces the Friends of Dorothy IPA benefitting Equality Virginia.
From the time they met at William & Mary, Robby Willey and Chris Smith knew that giving back would be a part of Virginia Beer Co.

At Williamsburg’s Virginia Beer Co., hop heads can tap into their Friends of Dorothy IPA, for which $10 from every barrel sold goes to Equality Virginia, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ+ issues. The latest batch was released on National Coming Out Day, Oct. 23, and boasts tasting notes of fresh cut pyuzu, mango and papaya.

Virginia Beer Co. has also released an India pale ale brewed with Virginia malt in collaboration with Keep Virginia Beautiful, a lager called 39 Words created by the women of the brewery to celebrate Women’s Equality Day, and an October brew—this year a lemon-lime blonde ale—called Here for the Girls.

The latter is a nod to the organization of the same name, which helps to improve the lives of young women affected by breast cancer, and $4 from every 4-pack sold goes to the organization.

That’s a cause near and dear to brewery co-owner Robby Willey’s heart since he lost his own mom to breast cancer. But, along with those mentioned here, it’s just one of many Willey and his business partner Chris Smith and their team have supported since the two met at William & Mary and went on to open the brewery in what is now known as Williamsburg’s Edge District in 2016.

Specialty beer releases are just a jumping off point for creating deeper connections to the community, Willey says, and that has been a part of their mission from day one.

“All are welcome, that was at the core of our business model,” he says. “There was always this passion for giving back, and a big part of that is our collaborative nature with nonprofits. We can engage with nonprofits with a beer and a label and then use the tap room to engage with volunteers and donors to let people know what they are doing. But we leave it open to them how they want to build that, and it tends to build from there. What we’ve seen is that these opportunities grow.”

As Coastal Virginia Magazine celebrates organizations that give back in its Nov.-Dec. issue, let’s also raise a pint to all our local breweries with hearts of gold. Cheers.

Eric Wallace contributed to this story.

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