Drake’s Brewing Company is Big on Giving Back

Whether it is because, as the drink of the everyman, beer inspires giving back to one’s fellow man, because the tight-knit feeling of community in the Bay Area’s beer scene prompts giving back to the community at large, or because good beer simply causes feelings of happiness and generosity, there is no question that charitable giving is a big item on many Bay Area breweries’ and beer hubs’ agendas.

Drake’s Brewing Company in San Leandro, in particular, is one brewery that has had a longstanding and substantial commitment to giving back to the Bay and especially its hometown. Their main event is “First Fridays” which, until its barrel house opened this past week, were some of the few days Drake’s opened their doors to the public. The first Friday of each month the brewery holds a party and gives the proceeds to a different local charity, often one located in San Leandro itself.

Brittany Dern, sales and marketing spokesperson for Drake’s, explained, “when the First Friday events started, they (Drake’s owners, John Martin and Roy Kirkorian) thought it was a good way to give back to San Leandro, to the community, for supporting Drakes.”

At First Fridays guests are asked to give a $5 donation at the gate, and then they may either bring their own Drake’s glass or purchase one at the brewery. To get a pint, guests then purchase beer tokens. From there, the beer stays flowing into the evening, and all the profits go to the sponsored charity for the night.

This format has caught on too. Devil’s Canyon Brewery in Belmont implemented a similar monthly charitable facet called Cheers for Charity this past May at their monthly Beer Friday events on the last Friday of each month.

But the First Fridays are just beginning for Drake’s charitable arm.  Their event calendar consistently has one or two events on tap that focus on giving back–  even infiltrating some events that you may not have expected to see craft beer before.

Last Thursday, Drake’s represented craft beer at the posh Union Square restaurant Postrio for an event with a few local wineries for the CASA organization of Contra Costa County. CASA, a national organization with several local chapters, provides volunteer mentors or CASAs to help guide particularly vulnerable children in the foster care system. There, roughly 120 guests for $75 a head tasted wine, munched on smoked salmon and mushroom and garlic confit pizzas and drank Drake’s beer.

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Guests at the Postrio event listen to Charles Mead, CASA’s executive director between glasses of wine and Drake’s beer.

At the event, women and men clearly more accustomed to a Napa pinot noir than an IPA, cautiously approached Drake’s representative Jeremy Wanamaker with his long hair and lumberjack-esque beard and build to ask about the brews available. One woman, casually holding a Coach handbag in one immaculately manicured hand, sipped on Drake’s hefeweizen cautiously and declared, somewhat surprised, “I like it!.”

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Jeremy Wanamaker explains the beer selection to one guest at the Postrio Micro Beer and Wine Summer Solstice event.

“You worry at these events that people might be, you know, standoffish,” Dern said, “this has been great because people have been very interested.”

According to Dern, the exposure for the beer is admittedly huge perk of doing charitable events. At Postrio, it was quite evident that few of the guests in attendance had never heard of Drake’s before, but several mentioned that they were new fans after trying the beer.

While the event was somewhat an oddity for the Drake’s crew, their participation like most of their charitable giving still stemmed from a close community affiliation. Dern’s father, John Dern, owns Postrio, and his sister has been a volunteer with the CASA organization in San Jose for years.

“If someone in the brewery has their own special project,” Dern said, “they are more than welcome to pitch it.”

Which is exactly what Dern and her father did, and thus was born what could the first of many pizza, beer and wine events Postrio hosts in the future, according to Mr. Dern.  Drake’s, therefore, may make further inroads into the Postrio set than they imagined.

But for Drake’s, spreading the love around is just what they do. This weekend the brewery will be holding their First Friday for the Boys and Girls Club of San Leandro on Friday and then participating along with other local breweries in “Breastfest” at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco on Saturday to support, you guessed it, breast cancer research.

In the end, all the giving and exposure seems to have been a win-win for Drake’s and the organizations they support. Drake’s is one of the faster growing breweries in the area. According to Dern, Drake’s output was just over 6,000 barrels last year, and they expect to hit around 8,000 this year. The brewery also recently opened a taproom at the brewery that will serve Drake’s beer to the public every Wednesday through Sunday.

For Drake’s it seems, some seriously good karma is certainly paying off.