Growing up on Lake Michigan, most of my formative memories include water: getting up on skis, hunting in the shallows for crayfish, night swims. Even in my first memory I’m bobbing up and down in water, floating outside North Manitou in my mother’s arms, eyes fixed on the horizon’s infinite line. The water was healing; communion. Encounters with fire on the other hand were strictly “play.” We contained aerosol can flamethrowers to bursts of pyromania. Raging bonfires were extinguished by a couple buckets of water. Surrounded by the safety of its elemental opposite, I never imagined fire as a threat.
Last month, California was on fire and no one could put it out. For weeks on end the Camp Fire ripped through communities, swallowing forests with its the hellish maw. Now doused, the damage is done and the fire has earned its place as the deadliest in The Golden State’s history. Upwards of 80 people lost their lives and around 20,000 buildings were destroyed. At a minimum, the economic cost will exceed billions.
Perhaps struck hardest by the devastation, the city of Paradise was lost almost entirely to flame. As a Michigan native, this kind of disaster is difficult to comprehend. We complain about snowfall and cool summers, but only on the rarest occasion does nature come for our homes. Just recently the Butte County Sheriff’s Office lifted evacuation orders, permitting survivors to salvage and rebuild what remains of their city. In a majority of cases, families will return to nothing but ash.
Chico, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s home base a couple towns over, was spared a similar fate. Even so, they weren’t left unscathed. With more than 40 employees losing their homes to the fire, Ken Grossman, Sierra Nevada’s founder, felt compelled to do something in the best way he knew how: brewing a beer. And so Resilience Butte County Strong IPA was born. From its inception, Sierra Nevada promised to donate every penny earned from draft and can sales directly to Camp Fire relief, but they also released the beer’s blueprints, hoping others in the industry would brew the same recipe and chip in to the fund. This grassroots movement to recruit local breweries quickly grew into the largest display of synchronized philanthropy the craft community has ever seen—over 1,400 breweries worldwide will donate 100% of the proceeds from their batches of Resilience IPA.
From the sidelines, it’s pretty heartwarming to see craft beer band together like this, and while our reputation for “Midwest Nice” precedes us, the number of Michigan breweries who signed up for the cause still impresses. The Mitten Brewing Company were early adopters, the 19th of all and the first in Michigan. After spotting the call to action on Facebook, brewer Jeff Williams immediately reached out to participate. “We do a lot of charity work as is, so this jives with how the company works,” Williams said. “The grain is getting donated, the hops are getting donated, basically we’re just donating our time, so why wouldn’t we do this? It’s unfathomable what that fire did, gulping down football fields in seconds.”
Williams’ nonchalance makes the project sound like a no-brainer, but his attitude reveals how ingrained cooperation is into his, and craft beer’s, core values. Extending help to strangers thousands of miles away exemplifies the spirit of craft beer as a means of aid, not selfishness. As co-brewer at the Mitten, Jon VanderPloeg puts it, “One of the reasons I’m here is because of that culture. Not just to make a huge pile of money. We didn’t do anything but make a batch of beer, but there was an organization willing to say this isn’t all about profit, this is about helping people.” Available on draft Thursday, December 20th, their recipe deviates to feature 100% Michigan grown ingredients: hops from Michigan Hop Alliance, malt from Empire and Motor City Malt, and yeast they’ve cultivated in house. Essentially, it’s a big high five from a group of Michiganders who have come to care about their community at large.
With their version of Resilience set to hit draft lines this weekend, City Built Brewing Company’s head brewer, Dave Petroelje, joined the chorus of support as well. In our conversation, Petroelje shed light on his personal connection to fire. “The Resilience IPA project has a special meaning to me because I grew up in Northern California. One of my sisters lives an hour away from Paradise. Now every time I go to visit her, I always think, when is a fire going to come through her part of California?” As the climate continues to warm, and droughts and fires intensify, it’s a scary question to ponder. “Everybody thinks about earthquakes when it comes to California disasters, but fires are quickly becoming even more destructive,” Petroelje said. If this is only the prelude to what California can expect in the coming decades, it’s at least a comfort to know that there’s a global net of goodwill waiting when the going gets tough. “Corporate social responsibility is a big part of the brewing culture here in West Michigan and Founders and Vivant have set that standard in a lot of ways,” Petroejle said.
To see Founders throw their hat in the ring only proves him right. Their Resilience IPA went on at the Grand Rapids taproom December 15th, providing much needed optics for the relief fund. Jeremy Kosmicki, head brewer at Founders, shared his reverence for the Californian operation. “Sierra is one of the most respected brewers in the country, so when they ask for help, they have a lot of pull.”
That sentiment has echoed from many participants. “Growing up in California, Sierra Nevada’s a big part of my beer history and education, so to be a part somewhat in collaboration with them is pretty awesome,” Petroejle said. There’s no question that Sierra’s Pale Ale is one of craft beer’s foundational pillars. Their portfolio may appear simple or streamlined compared to other more outlandish breweries, but their quality control has always stayed top notch. Resilience IPA is another example of their commitment to high caliber beer. “It’s a fairly straightforward recipe so as many breweries as possible could get their hands on the ingredients,” Kosmicki said. That said, the simplicity doesn’t imply a lack of substance. “It should turn out tasting like Sierra’s Celebration Ale which is an absolute favorite of mine.”
Yes, taste matters, but ultimately the motivation behind this IPA is more important than its flavor profile. While many of us in Michigan enjoy a white Christmas, we should make effort to find Resilience IPA and support those who have endured such tragedy. We can show, even through our drinking choices, that Michigan is always ready to lend a helping hand.
Find a list of participating breweries here.