These officer-owned breweries give back to the military community.

These officer-owned breweries give back to the military community.
About the Author

Gina Harkins is MOAA's Senior Staff Writer. She can be reached at ginah@moaa.org. Follow her on Twitter at: @ginaaharkins.

When medically retired Navy Lt. Paul Jenkins saw the high veteran unemployment rates in 2012, he knew he had to do something to help his fellow servicemembers.

The U.S. Naval Academy graduate saw beer companies marketing to veterans, which sparked the idea for Veteran Beer Co. But his company's mission goes far beyond brewing. He only employs other veterans, and they buy their materials and ingredients from other veteran-owned companies - or those committed to hiring former servicemembers. 

“The idea is to run it like a nonprofit,” Jenkins says. “The first 10 percent of anything we bring in goes to charities that support local veterans. Then, as soon as we make enough money, we hire another veteran.” 

Veteran Beer Co., which opened in 2013, bottles flavors like the Blonde Bomber, Hooyah! India pale ale (IPA), Freedom Road, and Bunker Buster. Beer fans also can purchase a mix of the brews in a 12-pack called the “Show of Force.” 

The results have been promising. The company's beer has won or placed in 39 of the 42 beer contests it has entered. 

This isn't the first time Jenkins, a former A-4 Skyhawk pilot and Gulf War veteran, has sought to employ other servicemembers. He's also the chief executive officer at Bancroft Architects and Engineers, a firm that hires disabled veterans and has created designs for VA facilities and laboratory suites.  

To encourage his staff at Veteran Beer Co., Jenkins says he's giving himself a 10-year limit in the organization's top leadership position. By 2022, he wants to see another veteran step up and take the reins. 

“On the one hand, it's scary,” Jenkins says. “But it can't be nearly as scary as turning over your command in a war. What we've been taught to do as officers is trust the next generation. 

“It can be horrifying to be an entrepreneur and not know how you'll get through a crisis, but it goes back to what we were trained to do - lead,” he adds. “I feel like leadership didn't end the day I resigned my commission.” 

Former Army Capt. Kevin Ryan and his fiancee, Meredith Sutton, also wanted to start a brewing company that did more than just make beer. 

The two came up with a business plan and mission statement that included giving back to the veteran community. With that plan, they attracted investors who also were interested in supporting charities for servicemembers or first responders. 

Once they had the funding, the couple launched Service Brewing Co. in 2014. They had the help of 23 investors - 20 of whom had served in the Army, Navy, or Marine Corps. 

“I think I've always had a charitable mind-set,” says Ryan, a U.S. Military Academy grad who served as an infantry officer in Iraq. “When I was in Iraq, my unit would receive packages every day from people all over the country who had no idea who we were - it was just their way of showing support. … We try to do that here at the brewery as well.”  

Over the years, Service Brewing Co. has not only brewed up beer for its tasting room - regulars include Ground Pounder Pale Ale, Rally Point Pilsner, and Scouts Out Honey Saison - but also donated more than $30,000 to charitable organizations. Those organizations include a group that matches veterans with service dogs,
the Marine Corps Reserve's Toys for Tots program, and an organization helping troops who are transitioning out of the military. 

Ryan also mentors other veterans who want to start their own businesses. He attends transition summits and works with the Veteran eMentor community, which links up servicemembers with people in their desired career fields. 

Ryan's advice for servicemembers who are leaving the military: Get off base and meet people in your community. “You'll be surprised at how much people are willing to help,” he says. 

Service Brewing Co. also encourages its patrons to express how they give back to their communities. There's a board in their tasting room that asks, “How do you serve?” Patrons are invited to sign the board and leave messages. 

“You don't always think about how much your neighbors are doing for your community,” Ryan says. Someone might be a lawyer by day, he adds, but they also might volunteer to clean up a beach or help mentor young people.  

Service Brewing's board got what Ryan calls its coolest addition in May 2016, when Sgt. Maj. of the Army Dan Dailey signed it. Dailey, who was Ryan's former first sergeant, dropped by the brewery during a visit to nearby Fort Stewart. His message says, “Never, and I mean never, forget that I am a soldier, no better or worse than any other!” 

“That pretty much sums up his attitude toward his leadership,” Ryan says.  

Seth Jordan wants you to raise your beer can and toast a fallen servicemember.  

Dog Tag Brewing teamed up with Pabst Brewing Co. to create Legacy Lager, a 16-ounce can of beer that features names of troops who lost their lives in combat. The goal: to prompt people to pause for a moment and reflect on the loss of a servicemember. 

“I think the family really likes that,” says Jordan, who served as a Marine Corps officer. “They say, 'Somebody in California today took a selfie with the beer and [said] cheers to my son. He's been gone for eight years, but it's nice to know that someone learned about him today.' ” 

Jordan and his teammates at Dog Tag Brewing Foundation are familiar with the pain of losing a comrade in combat. Jordan fought in the Battle of Marjah, where thousands of leathernecks and other coalition forces eliminated the Taliban's last stronghold in Afghanistan's Helmand province. Dozens of U.S. troops were killed in the 10-month battle - and that had an impact on Jordan, who deployed to Afghanistan twice, first as a joint terminal attack controller and later as a Huey pilot. 

After about 10 years in uniform, Jordan wanted to find a way to give back to families who had lost loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. He teamed up with other vets to launch a foundation awarding grants to Gold Star families who
establish charities in honor of their fallen servicemember.  

Dog Tag Brewing offers free consulting and advisory services to help Gold Star families make their charities special, Jordan says. Many families have ideas about how to honor their sons or daughters, but don't quite know where to start. 

The family of Army National Guard Spc. Christopher Patterson, for example, recently met up with Jordan's team for advice. Their son was killed in 2012 in Afghanistan when his vehicle struck an IED. Growing up, Patterson's parents say he was a bit shy. But he came into his own once he got involved in the performing arts. 

His family wanted to create a charity in Patterson's name that provides resources and money for other young men and women interested in the performing arts. Dog Tag Legacy Fund helped them establish the Chris Patterson Memorial Foundation, and on the fifth anniversary of the soldier's death, the group held its first-ever board meeting. 

“We can't control what happened to them, but we can help control how they're remembered and how their families interact with the community,” Jordan says. Families who receive grants are then eligible to apply for the Legacy Lager dedication cans. 

It's Jordan's personal mission to get more veterans involved in philanthropy. Former or retired officers are a great fit for the work, which he says made him a better leader. 

“I think [philanthropy] softens your heart and puts you in the right mind-set for civilian life,” Jordan says. “It's also an opportunity for [veterans] to be seen as civic assets.”  

Many aspects of the brewing community remind Casey Jones of his time in the military.

“It has more of a community feel than any other commercial industry I've been in before,” says Jones, a U.S. Coast Guard Academy graduate who runs Fair Winds Brewing Co. “That's what draws people to the military - they love that culture, and you get that in brewing.” 

When a local microbrewer's wife was sick with cancer, for example, Jones and the other nearby brewers collaborated on a drink in her honor. They all sold it in their taprooms and donated the proceeds to help cover the family's medical bills. 

“When you're part of this community, people really rally around you,” Jones says. “You don't really find that in the classic retail space.” 

Jones, who served as a Coast Guard officer aboard East and West Coast-based cutters for eight years, opened Fair Winds in 2015. Their brews have a Coastie vibe with seafaring names like Siren's Lure and Howling Gale IPA. 

On any given night, Jones estimates 20 percent of the crowd at Fair Winds is veterans or active duty servicemembers from nearby Fort Belvoir. The brewery only will be successful if it connects with its community, Jones says, and for Fair Winds, that means honoring those who serve. 

Every month, Fair Winds runs an event benefiting a military or veteran charity. Around Veterans Day, they also launch a “buy a vet a beer” program. Patrons can purchase an extra beer that, on Veterans Day, goes to someone who served. 

Like Jenkins, Jones says military officers are well-suited for entrepreneurship. He still applies lessons he learned at the academy to his business. 

“Every Friday, we clean down the brewery as if we're getting ready for a Saturday-morning inspection,” Jones says. “It has sort of become our ethos here - cleanliness matters above all else.”

Enforcing good practices means setting a good example as a leader. If the restrooms need to be cleaned, Jones grabs the mop to pitch in. And when the brew house hits 110 degrees in the summer, he's back there helping his staff. 

“They don't want someone in their air-conditioned car driving by and waving,” he says. 

Veterans also are tenacious and know how to adjust course amid ever-changing scenarios. 

“Most of us have operated in an environment where failure is not an option,” Jones says. “You can't say, 'I had to crash the plane, the weather was just too rough.' In this current business environment, things change all the time, and veterans are used to finding solutions no matter what.   

 

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