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Serving philanthropy by the pint

By Christopher Dawson, CNN
updated 3:45 PM EDT, Fri March 14, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Breweries and bars are giving patrons an easy way to give back, just by buying beer
  • Sweetwater's 'Second Helping' has sold out all around Atlanta
  • Proceeds from the beer go to benefit non-profit 'The Giving Kitchen'
  • Other beer-based charities benefit farmers, the hungry, clean water and a rotating cast of beneficiaries

(CNN) -- If that last beer made you feel a little warm and fuzzy inside, it could be because you just did some good. You may have just donated to a charity, just by buying a drink.

I first noticed this philanthropy trend while enjoying a new limited release IPA from Sweetwater Brewery called Second Helping. The name implies having more, and the compelling flavoring of juniper berries and chocolate malts had already sold me on that proposition.

But then I read the beer's label and learned that it was crafted to benefit a charity called The Giving Kitchen, which helps people in the food industry going through hard times. This initiative was inspired by Atlanta chef Ryan Hidinger, who brought the Atlanta restaurant community together when he fought and ultimately lost his battle with cancer. His wife and friends decided to take the generous funds that were raised to help Ryan and pay it forward by creating this charity. I admit that it got me when I read that the juniper berries were added for Ryan, because he so enjoyed cooking with them.

Steve Farace, Sweetwater's Director of Marketing, says that 100% of the profits from this beer will be donated to The Giving Kitchen. "We saw it as an opportunity to help the folks in the hospitality industry that helped build our brand through word of mouth."

Chef Ryan Hidinger, right, and his wife, Jen Hidinger, top, are close to their dream of turning their underground supper club into a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Joining them on the venture is Ryan's sister Kara Hidinger, bottom, and friend Ryan Smith, left. Chef Ryan Hidinger, right, and his wife, Jen Hidinger, top, are close to their dream of turning their underground supper club into a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Joining them on the venture is Ryan's sister Kara Hidinger, bottom, and friend Ryan Smith, left.
Inside Staplehouse, a purpose-driven restaurant
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Beer saves town from crippling drought
Alicia and Evan Coulter of Arvada, Colorado attend the 32nd annual Great American Beer Festival at the Colorado Convention Center on October 10, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. Alicia and Evan Coulter of Arvada, Colorado attend the 32nd annual Great American Beer Festival at the Colorado Convention Center on October 10, 2013 in Denver, Colorado.
Great American Beer Festival 2013
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Annual Great American Beer Festival Annual Great American Beer Festival

Sweetwater has sold every drop, and it is already hard to find a bar that still has any left to serve. Trust me, I've looked.

Sweetwater already knew their customers' thirst for a cause-worthy beer. Each summer they launch a Save Our Water campaign with the release of Waterkeeper Hefeweizen. Bar patrons annually show their support for this by purchasing paper fish that decorate the walls and ceilings of bars throughout the Southeast.

Beer lovers looking for a charitable ale available year round, can head to Minneapolis and ask for a Finnegans. The brewery boasts an Irish Amber and a Blonde Ale which both come with a prepared toast on the label: "Here's to doing good."

100% of the profits of the Finnegans beer company goes directly into their nonprofit, the Finnegans Community Fund. This initiative purchases food from area farmers, which is distributed to food bank partners in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Finnegans' CEO Jacquie Berglund sums it up this way: "At Finnegan's we turn beer into food. That is our mission."

Berglund says their community's response has gone beyond just drinking beer. "A lot of people follow us for our social mission. We have 1500 volunteers that come not for beer, but to help pack food at the food banks."

Not to discount the bar patrons' efforts, Jacquie quickly adds that the key to their success is still and has always been the creating of a tasty beer that gives people an opportunity to make a difference.

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Just as brewers have tapped into the cause-oriented audience, bars are also finding ways to reach out to them, and to make their own impact.

Customers at the OKRA Charity Saloon in Houston, drinkers don't have to choose a specific beer to be charitable; they just select a cause. Each month the bar - which is run as a joint operation by numerous Houston restaurateurs and bar owners - selects four local nonprofits. The one that receives the most votes will receive 100% of the saloon's profits from the next month. It's like an election, but with alcohol.

OKRA's Lindsey Brown explains, "When you buy a beer or some food, you are given a ticket. You then drop the ticket into one of the four voting boxes, whichever charity you choose."

This unique concept has made the OKRA Saloon very popular. The competing nonprofits encourage their communities to visit the bar so they will get votes, and the winning nonprofit encourages everybody to visit the following month, because they will be getting all the profits donated to them.

Lindsey adds that this also creates an alternative way to help. "It makes giving more fun, more interactive. If you are just writing a check you don't feel engaged, but when you are standing at our voting booth, you feel like you are making an impact."

If you don't want a vote to decide where your donation goes, then travel to Portland and choose one from a special menu at Oregon Public House. After ordering food or drink at this bar, patrons then pick one of the six nonprofits detailed on their Charity Menu. 100% of the profit from each sale goes to the selected organization.

Ryan Saari, the Director for Oregon Public House, says this excites some of his customers who realize in that moment that they just made a difference. "They feel empowered, and then they start recommending their choice to other customers, and even share the nonprofit's vision that they just read about a moment before. That's not your typical bar banter, and I think it is a huge win."

While no one is advocating for bar fights over whose charity is better, it is exciting to see the drinking crowd engaged in philanthropy. These opportunities to give beer buffs an opportunity to do good is already proving to be a benefit for the industry, nonprofits and the communities they serve. And as more bars and breweries join this trend, the idea of giving back can be introduced and embraced with each round, as it was with me and that glass of Second Helping.

However this disclaimer is warranted: All of these organizations offer ways to help, donate and make a difference that does not require alcohol, and donating through drinking does not excuse alcohol abuse or irresponsibility. If you won't take my word for it, take heed from this satirical warning from Stephen Colbert.

And for more ways to make a difference, alcohol free, visit CNN's Impact Your World.

Video by Greg Bowman

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