Brewing for a cause: Non-profit brewers turn their passion into philanthropy

V2V Black Hop Brewing founder Graeme Hafey spent 21 years in the Canadian navy as a pilot, serving in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf. Rob Mangelsdorf photo

While many craft breweries across the province have brewed beers to benefit various causes, a new breed of non-profit brewery is being explored specifically to raise money for charity.

When Brad Harris’s daughter, Linden, was diagnosed with leukemia almost six years ago, the Comox Valley family doctor soon found himself on the other side of the healthcare system. Treatment meant constant trips to B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver for 33-day-long chemotherapy sessions. Harris and his wife, Dennyse, spent much of their time sitting in the waiting room of the oncology department, surrounded by other parents of sick children, trying to comfort one another.

“It was two and a half years of hell,” he recalls.

Today, Linden is a healthy, happy 10-year-old, but Harris, a prolific homebrewer in his spare time, has never forgotten what his fellow doctors and medical staff did for his family.

So when he was asked to help with a fundraiser his wife was planning, he decided to combine his love for beer with his

The result was the Royston Nano Brewery, a non-profit, contract brewing project with proceeds benefiting the B.C. Children’s Hospital oncology department that saved his daughter’s life, as well as YANA Comox Valley, an organization that assists parents who need to travel for medical treatment for their children.

While Harris has a 150 L homebrew system in his garage for personal use, he contract brews his charity beers at Courtenay’s Gladstone Brewing, who have graciously donated the tank time. The beer is sold at fundraisers and through Gladstone’s tasting room, and so far has raised close to $20,000.

When Royston Nano Brewery founder Dr. Brad Harris isn’t tending to his patients, he’s brewing beer in his garage. Contributed photo

However, Harris’s ultimate goal is to create a volunteer-run, non-profit community brewery, where anyone can brew and all proceeds go to charity.

“The Roy’s Towne Pub is totally on board with what we’re doing, and they’ve said we can set up on their property,” he says. “I love brewing but I don’t want to make money brewing. I have a very good job, I’m not about to leave it to become a brewer.”

Harris estimates it will cost about $40,000 to set up the brewery, and if successful, he’d like to take the idea and inspire similar projects elsewhere.

“It’s not hard to make good beer,” he says. “It’s really hard to make great beer, but good beer is not that hard, and I think people around here will be more than happy with good beer if they know it’s going towards a good cause.”

Harris is one of a growing number of people looking at the non-profit route to brew beer and help give back to their community.

Graeme Hafey spent 21 years in the Canadian navy as a pilot, serving in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf. When he left the Canadian Forces in 2011, he thought he would have no problem adjusting to civilian life. But after years of struggle and being unable to hold down a job, he was diagnosed with PTSD from his wartime service. Making matters worse, he was denied any benefits and supports, because he had been out the navy for “too long.”

“When I left, I didn’t realize that I was sick,” Hafey says. “We’re trained to be strong, not complain and overcome obstacles at any cost. But that robotic, rigid way of being is not how real life is. So that transitional period is difficult.”

After spending years fighting the federal government, Hafey finally got the help he needed. Others aren’t so lucky, however.

Hafey is now a full-time student at Camosun College in Victoria studying business management, where he developed a proposal for a non-profit craft brewery to help veterans as a school project. He says he thought a veteran-focused craft brewery would be a good way to raise awareness about veterans’ issues, and raise funds to help rehabilitate them.

“A lot of people don’t know how to navigate the system,” he says. “Many are too proud to ask for help, and when they do, many are denied benefits. A lot of people develop drug and alcohol problems. It took me six years to transition [to civilian life], I don’t want others to suffer like I did.”

Victory Ale English-Style Bitter by V2V Black Hops Brewing. Rob Mangelsdorf photo

Now he’s putting his plan into action with V2V Black Hops Brewing. Hafey is currently contract brewing his Victory Ale English-Style Bitter—which is a lovely, malt-forward traditional take on an ESB, by the way—designed and brewed by Nicole McLean at Twa Dogs Brewery in Saanich. At the moment it’s only available on draft at select taps around Victoria—as well as at CFB Esquimalt naval base—but Hafey hopes to can his next batch.

“We’re non-profit, we don’t pay ourselves, we’re totally volunteer-run,” he says. “Any money we make goes into paying for the beer and then to the organizations we support.”

Organizations like the Cockrell House in Colwood, a supportive housing project for homeless and at-risk veterans.

Much like Harris, Hafey’s ultimate goal is to open up a brick-and-mortar, volunteer-run brewery to step up his fundraising efforts, as well as provide an avenue to have a public conversation about supporting Canada’s veterans.

“There’s a lack of understanding about the military, because people only know what they’ve seen on TV,” he says. “We want V2V Black Hops to help people understand about what veterans are going through, and we want to do that through craft beer, because craft beer brings people together.”


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