(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — Beer – an avid sponsor of sports, a shared, beloved beverage that brings together family and friends and, lately, a fundraising tool for local nonprofits.
Erie’s own Erie Ale Works has been hosting “Benevolent Beers” events since the pandemic first began to wind down. On April 14, a dozen or two people came and went at the brewery in the West Bayfront neighborhood, sipping suds, enjoying food and supporting Asbury Woods Nature Preserve. A portion of each pint or to-go sale during the event would go to Asbury Woods.
“When the pandemic hit, we saw a lot of support from the community here to get us through it, so we wanted to give it back to one of the groups that was hardest hit by the pandemic – the nonprofit community,” said Erie Ale Works brewer, president and co-owner Jeff McCullor. “We don’t have a ton of money to give out, but we can hold events and invite the community to support the nonprofits.”
At Erie Ale Works on April 14, spokespeople and dignitaries of Asbury Woods greeted the patrons and supporters, introductions were made, and even hugs were doled out.
“Some of these people hadn’t seen each other in a group setting in over two years, so it’s a good chance for these people to connect in person again,” McCullor said.
McCullor and his business partner, fellow brewer and co-owner Steve Anthony, are no strangers to the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic – they weren’t somehow magically insulated from lockdowns, shutdowns, limitations and all of the other complications that everybody worldwide has endured. Before the pandemic, they had enacted plans to expand Erie Ale Works and remodel the gathering space. A business loan was taken out for the improvements. The payments on that loan started at the end of 2020.
“We hard large bills to pay without a large amount of revenue coming in,” McCullor said. “We got by on to-go sales like everybody else. The Erie craft beer community stepped up and helped us get through it.”
Benevolent Beers truly is a community support event – McCullor says three local entities benefit from each event. For each event, Erie Ale Works hosts and serves its own beer, a local food truck is brought in to feed the patrons and the nonprofit, obviously, benefits.
“We like hosting good food trucks, and we’ve gotten pretty picky about which food trucks we work with. We want the highest-quality beer for these folks, and we want the highest-quality food to pair up with the beer to tie into a really nice unique experience,” McCullor said. “And to throw a fundraising aspect into it, it’s the perfect time.
“And you should feel good – not only from the food and drink here, but also from your expenditure here within the four walls,” he added.
McCullor and Anthony started as homebrewers, then they decided to go commercial. Erie Ale Works opened in 2014. Expansion plans began in 2019. The first Benevolent Beers event was held in the summer of 2021. The brewery employs a “casual application process” for its Benevolent Beers event. The application can be found on the Erie Ale Works website. Each group has to provide a tax ID number and there is a limited vetting process.
Sometimes the nonprofit is well known, like Asbury Woods, but at a recent Benevolent Beers event the nonprofit was relatively unknown and patrons even wandered into Erie Ale Works for their first time. That event was to benefit the Our West Bayfront neighborhood association.
“People showed up that didn’t know that we were here, and they didn’t really know what Our West Bayfront does – it was an education all the way around, and it was one of our more successful nights,” McCullor said. The 3Bs BBQ food truck was on hand. The 3Bs business also is a member of the neighborhood association. “It was just a big party – neighbors helping neighbors.”
McCullor was quick to note that the nonprofits aren’t receiving windfalls that will cover the entirety of their quarterly budgets or anything like that.
“We’re not putting up thousands and thousands of dollars per event, but it’s at least something to help these people put toward whatever they want to put it toward,” McCullor said.
On April 14, the tip jars for Asbury Woods along the bar top were stuffed with bills. The drafts were pouring, pints were tipping, and plates of food were being enjoyed throughout the brewery’s gathering space. The amount of funding that was being raised seemed secondary to the uplifting spirt of the event.
“We really appreciate that a local business wants to support a local gem like Asbury Woods,” said Asbury Woods Executive Director Jennifer Farrar. “Many people I’ve talked to had never been here, so it’s nice that we can bring our people here to introduce them to the business.”
The next Benevolent Beers event will be held beginning at 5 p.m. on April 21. Goodell Gardens and Homestead will be the designated nonprofit. The following week, beginning at 5 p.m. on April 28, a Benevolent Beers event will benefit BikeErie.
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Erie Ale Works is located at 416 W. 12th St. in Erie.