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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

Brewers Come Together to Support the Camp Fire Relief Projects

May 29, 2019 11:00AM ● By Kayla Anderson

Brew Strong

June 2019
Story by Kayla Anderson
Photos courtesy of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

PEOPLE ARE STILL FEELING the impact of the Camp Fire today, as “tent cities” are still lingering in Chico, Paradise and surrounding areas in Butte County. However, in the months following the fire, former Paradise residents are well on their way to getting back on their feet with the help of various agencies and local businesses such as Sierra Nevada Brewing Company.

As one of North America’s most well-known breweries, Sierra Nevada is considered by many as the nation’s first craft brewery and helped put Chico on the map. However, based a half-hour away from Paradise, the brewery felt the impact of the Camp Fire as it came within a mile of its flagship location on East 20th Street in Chico and displaced 50 employees. Overall, the Camp Fire burned close to 153,000 acres and 19,000 structures – 13,000 of which were homes – and took 85 lives. 

Sierra Nevada has always been about conservation, sustainability and community stewardship, and it has great partnerships with other craft breweries. In 2018, when the Tubbs Fire destroyed the Sonoma area, Russian River Brewing Company created a Sonoma Pride beer recipe and fundraiser surrounding it which generated close to $1 million. 

Thinking that Sierra Nevada would do well with the same kind of promotion following the Camp Fire, the brewery put out a call on social media and founder Ken Grossman sent out letters to fellow breweries, distributors and ingredients suppliers asking for donations in the support of what would be called the Resilience IPA. 

“Most of the time when there’s a fundraiser, people want to just donate the proceeds, but Ken Grossman wanted 100 percent of everything to go towards this cause,” says Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Content Manager Robin Gregory. While it was challenging asking breweries to cover the cost of labor, asking distributors to carry the beer for free and ingredients suppliers to donate their goods, more than 1,000 partners stepped up. More than 1,400 breweries nationwide (and even ones in the United Kingdom, Guam and New Zealand) brewed the Resilience IPA on November 27, 2018, officially released on December 20. Some breweries still have it, but since the Schilling Beer Company already secured the trademark on its own Resilience brew, Sierra Nevada’s use of the name expired in early spring. In total, Sierra Nevada should raise about $10 million from the fundraiser. 

“We had it out in January, and it was all gone in 20-30 days,” says Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Area Manager Mario Gutierrez, who covers the Central California region. 

However, he noted that it wasn’t about the volume of stores that were carrying it, but the volume of beer that moved through different distributors. Eighty percent of the Resilience IPA in the San Joaquin Valley was sold through chains like WinCo and Vons. 

“Once we released it, we blew right through it. We sent 50 cases to Raley’s in Merced and built the display that morning; by the end of the day, they had ordered 50 more cases,” Gutierrez adds.

Nine breweries within Fresno, Tulare and Kings Counties also carried the beer, including Sequoia Brewing Company with locations in Fresno and Visalia.

“It was really popular; all of the ingredients were donated to us and then we made the beer. We made about six or seven kegs and carried it for a full month. By the time we had it available, word had already gotten out about it and it was a big seller,” says Sequoia Brewing Co. Manager Brian Blumberg. He remembers selling the most Resilience IPA out of the Tower District location in Fresno where the beer was brewed. 

With the donations that came in, Sierra Nevada started the Camp Fire Relief Fund and joined forces with the North Valley Community Foundation and the Aaron Rodgers NorCal Fire Recovery Fund, eventually folding it in with the Butte Strong Fund. 

The Butte Strong Fund focuses on six areas of work, including housing; children and youth services; health and wellness services; education; community development; and business recovery. Sierra Nevada Brewing is especially interested in distributing funds toward business recovery and housing; one of its first projects was financing a new city planner for Paradise. 

As for the brewery’s own employees, they are starting to recover, as well.

“For our employees and the brewery, it does feel like there’s progress. Our employees have gotten into semi-permanent housing. Sierra Grossman (Ken Grossman’s daughter) is a board member for the Camp Fire Long Term Recovery Group and is very active on that,” Gregory says. 

“It’s been pretty humbling to see the response from the breweries, distributors and suppliers who literally donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in ingredients. But it’s all the people who bought the beer who really raised the money,” she adds. •