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Philanthropubs: Drinking for a cause

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Being charitable is as easy as ordering a cold one at a new wave of philanthropubs.

by Christopher Staten

At the new Oregon Public House in Portland, Ore., customers have a number of decisions to make: IPA or barleywine? Cheeseburger or salad? Habitat for Humanity or The Mentoring Project? At this unique bar, patrons get to pick the charity their bar tab supports.

Seemingly all at once, a number of so-called philanthropubs have popped up across the country, bridging the gap between goodwill and good beer. While the methods differ, the goal’s the same: Use the pub as a conduit to fund local charities. “There’s this idea that charity work is kind of a Mother Teresa, very sober thing,” says Oregon Public House founder Ryan Saari. “A pub is a place for you to go, spend time and unwind. We’re melding those two: the altruistic and hedonistic.”

At Oregon Public House, each patron selects from a charity menu to decide where their tab’s profits will go. That choice is noted when the order’s entered into their system, which tracks the monthly donations. Costs are kept to a minimum, with reasonable wages for staff and no payouts for Saari or the other board members, ultimately maximizing the dollars flowing out to charitable operations.

So far, this micro-donation model’s specific to Saari’s bar, but others have similar set-ups: Washington, D.C.-area bar Cause also donates 100 percent of its profits to local charities, and encourages its customers to nominate local organizations, which are then vetted by an advisory board that selects between three and six charities each quarter to receive funds. In Houston, an organization of local restaurateurs opened The Original OKRA Charity Saloon, a nonprofit that takes an elective approach: Each drink comes with a token, and bar-goers use that token to vote for one of four charities nominated monthly by the bar’s founders; the winner receives the entire month’s profits.

“We have built this organization and this bar with the help of many local independent businesses and have been humbled by the support of this city,” says Michael Burnett, OKRA treasurer and owner of Houston beer bastion The Hay Merchant. “We are all just looking to give back to a city that has given us so much.”

Beer has a longstanding relationship with charity work, and the list of breweries raising money, donating beer and hosting charitable events is lengthy and impressive. There are year-to-year efforts, like Tour de Fat, New Belgium’s annual multi-city biking event, which raised roughly $500,000 in 2012, the event’s 13th year. And there’s in-the-moment outreach: In the wake of 2011’s Hurricane Irene, Stone Brewing—which has raised more than $2 million for charity—teamed up with The Alchemist and Ninkasi Brewing to brew More Brown than Black IPA, and donated the more than $100,000 profit to Vermont’s Rebuild Waterbury and Waterbury Good Neighborhood. But the philanthropub is a novel way to solicit donations from beer lovers, especially in the current tenuous economic climate, says Saari. He wants to see the concept spread to every city.

“Steal this model: Take it and run with it, whether you’re a bookstore or pub or contractor,” he says. “As opposed to all that extra money going to someone buying a second house in Cancun, we can do something great with the extra revenue. It’s a way to use capitalism to do some social good.”

PLUS | Three other charities use brew to raise money for good causes:

Pints for Prostates: Founded by beer writer and prostate cancer survivor Rick Lyke, Pints for Prostates raises awareness for prostate screening and holds about 60 events each year, including the signature Rare Beer Tasting during the Great American Beer Festival. Funds raised: $240,000 for prostate cancer organizations since 2008.

Beer for Boobs: White Labs vice president Lisa White started Beer for Boobs in 2008. Through merchandise sales, events, raffles and silent auctions, the group raises money to support a team to walk in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day. Funds raised: Sponsored a team of 18 walkers in 2012, raising $41,400 for Susan G. Komen.

Beer for Brains: Founded in 2010 by Louis Dolgoff, whose wife Laurie died of brain cancer a year earlier, the Beer for Brains Foundation raises money for brain cancer research organizations through beer dinners and festivals like the annual Rare Affair and the beer-and-food-focused Epicuriad. Funds raised: $33,450 for the Barrow Brain Tumor Research Center since 2010.

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