With the last of the wine country wildfires finally contained, the residents of Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, and Solano counties are ending a tumultuous, nearly month-long, tragedy only to slowly begin the much longer process of cleanup and rebuilding. While so much was destroyed, the communities are looking ahead to the long and formidable road to recovery.
The fires were particularly devastating in Sonoma County, where so many of the state’s great breweries are located. Unlike several wineries in the area, the breweries were untouched by the flames. There were some close calls, though. Santa Rosa’s Plow Brewing and Cooperage Brewing are both located in the same commercial area that was surrounded by fire and just a few blocks from the Coffey Park neighborhood and Journey’s End trailer park, where over 1,300 homes were destroyed in only a few hours.
While the breweries survived, the fires wreaked havoc on the craft beer community in other ways. At Bear Republic Brewing Co., located in Healdsburg, five employees lost their homes. The general manager of Fogbelt Brewing in Santa Rosa quite literally fled his home as it began to burn. He lost everything.
But as with every disaster, we also witnessed the many helpers – police officers guiding frightened families, firefighters making heroic stands, and even some four-legged heroes. And weeks before these fires were contained, the craft beer industry took an early lead in the efforts to recognize the significant resources that would be needed for these communities to rebuild.
Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo, owners of Russian River Brewing Company, took up the call by deciding to do what they do best, brew good beer. They have partnered with the King Ridge Foundation to launch a major relief fund called Sonoma Pride.
Commenting on the endeavor, Mrs. Cilurzo said, “It was important to Vinnie and me to partner with a local non-profit that would ensure the money raised stays in Sonoma County… one with no overhead or administrative fees so all of the money goes directly to the wildfire victims.”
To incentivize donations, Russian River Brewing – for the first time ever! – raffled line-cutting privileges for their Pliny the Younger February 2018 release. This annual event draws a crowd large enough to wrap the line around the block nearly every day for two weeks. Fourteen lucky winners now have the ability to jump the line and score several hours of time and energy to taste one of the most elusive and world famous of IPAs.
Besides raising funds through the raffle and direct donations, Mr. and Mrs. Cilurzo spearheaded an international movement to brew a distinct Sonoma Pride beer where 100% of proceeds will be donated to the relief efforts. On October 31, Russian River released a 4.5% ABV hoppy blonde ale using Crystal, Warrior, Ekuanot, Strata, and 438 hops. They decided to do a blonde ale in part to get the beer out quickly rather than delaying its release with long fermentation times and multiple days of scheduled dry hopping.
It’s available at the brewery on draft and in bottles until it disappears. Currently, over 50 breweries and other partners have coordinated with Russian River to brew signature beers of their own for this effort. These breweries will be selling their Sonoma Pride offerings through the next several weeks and offer an opportunity for people around the country to chip in on relief efforts. The Cilurzos originally capped the number of participants at 40, but the overwhelming response led to the increase.
Other breweries are getting in on the action by doing separate fundraisers linked to the same effort. Hangar 24 in Redlands, California, for instance, is going to donate $1 of all pints of their Hoppy Pilsner sold over Thanksgiving weekend to the fund.
Some local brewers are taking other opportunities to collaborate with one another. For instance, Bear Republic and St. Florian’s Brewing of Windsor will be brewing a beer to commemorate the first responders. The beer will be called Mutual Aid and will depict fire trucks from the local departments on the label.
Aron Levin, St. Florian’s owner, brewmaster, and a local Fire Captain who took part in combating these fires said, “Our biggest focus is on all of our friends and our community, and how to support them. Rather than sit here and be nervous about what’s going on around us, we say to ourselves, how do we support people who have experienced loss already? Because, there’s a lot of loss up here.” He and his wife and co-owner, Amy Levin, know at least forty firefighters – who combated the wildfire alongside Aron – lost their homes.
The craft beer movement has always given the impression that it’s one built more on camaraderie than competition. When talking to leaders in the movement, you hear words like collaboration, community, and commitment more often than words like market share and profits.
Sonoma Pride certainly encompasses this spirit and is the brewers giving back to the community that supports them. For us aficionados, it’s a chance to imbibe some amazing beers while also being a part of something bigger and better.
To support Sonoma Pride you can donate directly on the website or buy as much Sonoma Pride beer from as many of the breweries who are making it. Either way, you’ll feel great doing it.
Thanks to the US Department of Agriculture for the header image.