Brewery Strong non-profit forms to aid NJ hospitality workers affected by the COVID-19 crisis
As the only nonprofit brewery in N.J., Cold Spring Brewery helps preserve Historic Cold Spring Village at the Jersey Shore. Cherry Hill Courier-Post
While there are more than 100 craft breweries in the state, the community is a tight one.
It is commonplace to hear owners of a new start-up talk about the support they’ve gotten from well-established breweries, and brewers tout their favorite brews made in someone else’s brew works.
And while their tasting rooms are shuttered along with so many businesses, New Jersey's brewers are still busy making beer for take-out and delivery, while finding a way to respond to the crisis that has left many tasting room and other brewery employees furloughed or underemployed as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
Members of the craft beer community have launched a non-profit meant to aid laid-off tasting room workers, as well as hospitality workers from the many bars and restaurants that sell their beers.
Brewery Strong is the brainchild of Bob Callaghan, sales manager of Tuckahoe Brewing Company in Egg Harbor Township. In only a few weeks, the non-profit has raised $15,000 in donations for unemployed or underemployed servers throughout the state, and members plan to continue the efforts “for the duration of the pandemic and beyond.’’
Callaghan got the idea for Brewery Strong after watching an ABC "World News Tonight'' broadcast, he said on Wednesday.
“It’s the only newscast I watch that at least ends with something that makes you feel good and 'America Strong.' I was getting ready to do a video call with South Jersey Beer Scene, and I had just watched it. I was walking up to my office, and I kept thinking ‘America Strong,’ ‘Brewery Strong.’ It just started resonating in my mind, we can do something with this,’’ said Callaghan, the organization's president.
At first, he was just thinking of asking breweries and craft beer lovers to use Brewery Strong as a hashtag, like the popular Jersey Strong, but the idea grew as he shared it with South Jersey Beer Scene co-founder John Couchoud, who now serves as vice president of the organization.
“The craft brewing community in our state is tight knit and incredibly supportive of each other,” Couchoud said in announcing the project. “This sort of grassroots effort is the type of thing we see every day. This has really ramped up during the quarantine with breweries trading materials, ideas, and other resources back and forth to help each other stay afloat. This is a natural extension of those activities.”
The group's board of directors also includes Matthew Czigler, owner of Czig Meister Brewing Company in Hackettstown; Cindy DeRama, owner of Twin Elephant Brewing Company in Chatham, and Alexis Degan, head of the New Jersey Brewers Association. On board as trustees are Augie Carton of Carton Brewing, Atlantic Highlands; Krystle Lockman of Axe and Arrow Brewing, Glassboro, and Mike Kivowitz of New Jersey Craft Beer, an online craft beer resource and club.
A logo was designed by Mike Bell, who does Tuckahoe’s labels, with digital help from Frank Santoro, both of whom donated their time. Their design will grace T-shirts, glassware and other brewery swag sold from the Brewery Strong website. Merchandise also will be made available to breweries to modify and sell in their tasting rooms. (The first shipment of glassware was donated by Arc International of Millville.)
For customers who want to join in the effort, getting involved is as simple as purchasing a $20 T-shirt from the Brewery Strong online Teespring storefront (teespring.com/brewery-strong) and continuing to patronize local independent businesses.
"Buy the T-shirts for now, and more opportunities will keep rolling out," Carton advised. "Beyond that, buy all the local, independent, small New Jersey-produced food and drink you can, as far down the supply chain as possible, and tip the people doing the work as much as you can."
Brewery Strong's top priority is to support brewery employees who have lost income during the crisis, board members said
“Our employees work so hard for us, and every brewery is trying their best to keep them employed to some degree, but we know that for many that’s not enough right now,” Czigler said in a statement. “Having the ability to sell T-shirts and funnel other charitable efforts to a single focused organization will help us help them tremendously.”
Carton said the non-profit's mission is connected to the essential bond between craft breweries and the employees of small, independent hospitality businesses.
"Local craft breweries in New Jersey don't stand a chance without the synergies of independent local restaurants and bars, so it's who we know best," Carton said. "You can't see the people you've come to know and love through such an interwoven network in trouble and not try to help in some way."
Starting Friday, potential recipients can apply for aid on the Brewery Strong website. Applications will be vetted by the non-profit's leadership, who will select the worthiest cases, they say. A portion of funds will be set aside for a scholarship fund for brewery education initiatives, but most will be given as direct financial aid to workers throughout the state.
“Soon, we should be able to make some disbursements,'' he said. "We aren’t going to be able to help everybody in the state, but it will help those who we think will need it most.’’
One early source of revenue came from a percentage of sales of All Together IPA, a global beer collaboration launched by Other Half Brewing Co. of Brooklyn that got underway as the COVID-19 crisis was tightening its grip on the U.S. Dozens of New Jersey breweries participated, and many have chosen Brewery Strong as the beneficiary of its proceeds, Degan said.
An early donation also came from New Jersey Craft Beer, which offered revenue generated through the sale of branded face masks, Degan added.
A virtual COVID-19 Madness South Jersey Brewery Bracket group on Facebook with more than 3,000 members also inspired a promise to collaborate on a beer that, in the future, will also support this cause, Callaghan said.
“I’m overcome with joy that everyone has reached out and responded the way they have,’’ Callaghan said. “It shows the true qualities of everyone in this industry and the good hearts that they have … And we come together when we need to.
“I’m hoping to hit $50,000 in a month. If it exceeds that, then I’ll be overjoyed,’’ said Callaghan.
“We just got our first check yesterday but I will say that we are feeling very happy with the response we’ve gotten,’’ Degan said, “not just for the breweries but from the public. We’ve done an amazing amount of T-shirts sales. It shows how passionate residents are about New Jersey craft beer and the people who make it.’’
The hope is for Brewery Strong and its mission of aid to last beyond our current pandemic crisis.
"Sandy made clear there are many big picture charities in the world doing great work, but when literally everyone is affected by a dilemma, the pockets of people unprepared to band together as a unified group in need can get missed," Carton said. "Good, small-scale, small-community specific charities are often needed, yet much of the COVID-19 economic support thus far has made it clear the small places with small staff aren’t getting proper attention.
"The hope is that short term we can help some people right now, and in doing so will establish something that will have learned best practices to even get an inch ahead of things like this in the future."
DeRama, owner of Twin Elephant, said she jumped at the chance to get on board with this project.
"I felt it was important to be part of the board because they had a wonderful idea and mission," said DeRama. "In New Jersey, this industry has always looked at each other not as competition but as a community where we learn from each other and support one another."
Asked how she thought craft breweries were weathering the crisis overall, Degan said she’s been hearing “a lot of positivity out of breweries because they have been so well supported by their communities.
“Obviously, everyone is struggling and getting much less income than before, but I’m hearing a kind of universal incredulity about the generosity of the customers. They were expecting that after a fourth or fifth week of this, buying would have dropped off by now … but people are still coming in droves to buy their craft beer.
“Of course, the longer this goes on, the harder it will be.’’
Tammy Paolino covers restaurants, breweries, food trucks and arts events for the USA TODAY New Jersey Network. She’s an award-winning reporter and editor who has covered the Garden State for more than 30 years. Reach her at email@example.com or 856-486-2477 or on Twitter @CP_TammyPaolino. Help support local journalism with a Courier-Post subscription.