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Benevolence & beer: Breweries that do more than brew

November 5, 2017

MIDDLETOWN, Del. (AP) — How serious is Middletown’s Kevin Schatz about making volunteerism a core mission of his new brewery, built in a two-car garage?

So much so that he put it right there in the name — Volunteer Brewing Company.

But it’s not just in the name to cement his brand as a community-focused brewer. It’s also there to help keep his focus on a core value of his brewery.

“By naming it that, it also works to make sure we stay active with it,” says Schatz, a homebrewer who built Volunteer behind West Main Street’s Wellbeing on Main, a wellness services center that he owns with his wife, Dawn. (She owns and runs Appoquinimink Counseling Services, an outpatient mental health counseling, from the same building.)

“You can’t hide from it,” he adds. “I’m feeling it now, but that’s good because that’s the pressure I want on me.”

While founding a brewery on the principle of volunteerism is new to Delaware, breweries helping the communities they serve isn’t.

Just last month, Smyrna’s Blue Earl Brewing gave 10 percent of all October Sunday beer sales to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and its annual food drive benefiting the Food Bank of Delaware is up and running through Nov. 22.

Also last month, Wilmington’s Iron Hill Brewery hosted Wilmington firefighters, Mayor Mike Purzycki and others to tap their Last Alarm IPA. The collaborative beer was created last year and brewed with firefighters in the aftermath of the Canby Park fire that killed three firefighters and left another with severe burns. A dollar from each pint goes to the Local 1590 International Association of Fire Fighters, the labor union representing Wilmington’s firefighters.

Downstate, Crooked Hammock near Lewes has raised more than $37,000 this year for various charities, including Lewes’ Children’s Beach House.

Whether it’s Bellefonte Brewing Company’s upcoming events to benefit Toys for Tots, Wounded Warrior Project and The Purple Heart Foundation, Midnight Oil Brewing’s work for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals or Twin Lakes Brewing Company’s support for everyone from Delaware State Parks to the Wilmington Flower Market, there’s plenty of First State philanthropy in those pints.

Mark Carter heads Dogfish Head’s Beer & Benevolence program, which has been collaborating for years with nonprofit organizations to help foster community and advance the arts and the environment, especially.

About 200 groups benefit annually from the program through financial sponsorships, donated beer, the Dogfish Dash and other special events. Nonprofits such as Arden’s Gild Hall and the Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival get free beer from Dogfish and use money from its sales to help with costs.

In addition, the entire company comes to a halt one day each spring and Dogfish’s 200-plus employees volunteer for Habitat For Humanity, building homes for those in need.

Carter estimates that Dogfish donates about $500,000 through all of its community-driven efforts, including the Beer & Benevolence program.

“It’s really cool to see our beer all over the state and it’s really cool to see that we’re able to help all over the state, too,” says Carter, who has led the department for nine years.

While up-start Volunteer won’t match the scope of Dogfish’s impact anytime soon, they are making community inroads day by day.

A few steps from Volunteer Brewing lives John Pickett, 69, a lifelong Middletown resident. He has watched as his neighbor Schatz worked to transform a garage into a compact brewery, first opening in August to coincide with the Middletown Olde Tyme Peach Festival.

Schatz has since made about a dozen different beers at his half-barrel brewery, ranging from Summit Farms IPA (5.3% ABV) and Orange Blossom Honey Wheat (6.5% ABV) to Chocolate Stout (5.5% ABV) and Farmhouse Sorachi Ace (7.8% ABV). Four to five different flavors are usually available at a time.

The brewery, Middletown’s first, has turned into a community hub of sorts, drawing long-time Middletown residents, as well as some of the fresh faces that have moved into the growing town.

Pickett has popped in for a beer just about every time Schatz has been open, visiting with his wife, son or daughter, often times bumping into an old acquaintance. And some of that feel-good mojo can be tracked to the brewery’s mission, which has already included events with Habitat for Humanity.

“I like the idea of keeping it small,” says Pickett, a retired school teacher. “He’s not in it for financial rewards. He’s in it because he enjoys making the beer and doing things for the community, which he’s adopted. He’s more of a friend than a neighborhood brewer.”

There are three maps dotted with red push pins on Volunteer’s wall. One map is a detailed view of Middletown, another shows the entire state and the third features all of the United States.

Customers have been sticking a pin into their hometowns, showing where Volunteer’s customers are coming from.

While Middletown itself boasts the most patrons, the farthest someone has come is from Hawaii. The nearest visitor? Well, that just happens to be Pickett.

All the while, Schatz is working hard to remember as many first names of customers as possible, dovetailing with the community theme.

“When you think about Middletown and its history -- it was a small town and it’s grown rapidly. And continues to grow,” says Schatz, dressed in a Volunteer T-shirt and hat. “There’s a risk that the small town identity gets lost, so we wanted to try and keep a piece of that.”

He has no real plans to grow his baby brewery, not interested in having his beers end up in liquor stores. Still, a few locally-owned restaurants may eventually have Volunteer’s beer on tap. “We want to grow as big as the community wants us to grow,” Schatz adds.

If you haven’t heard of Volunteer Brewing, don’t worry. We won’t make you turn in your Delaware beer credentials. Volunteer remains somewhat under the radar by choice.

It’s located off West Main Street on A Street, which isn’t much more than an alleyway that separates the brewery from the nearby Volunteer Hose Company of Middletown.

In fact, Volunteer Hose Company helped inspire the brewery’s name.

Even though the fire company was not named because it’s a volunteer organization — it’s actually named Volunteer after the Wilmington-made yacht that won America’s Cup in 1887 — it was close enough for Schatz.

The brewery has done no real advertising and it’s open only three days a month — with the exact days and hours changing each month to fit Schatz’s busy schedule. He’s also a father of three with a full-time day job in the health insurance industry. Schatz gets help brewing from a volunteer of his own, his neighbor Kevin Penoza, the only other member of the Volunteer team.

Even with an inconsistent schedule, there’s usually a line forming any evening he’s open. And some of the customers are now coming armed with possible volunteerism opportunities.

“I thought we’d ease into it, but people have really flocked to it,” Schatz says. “You have to kind of be in the know to know about it.”

Until now, that is.


Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., http://www.delawareonline.com

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