Craft Brewing Community Uses the Power of Beer for Cancer Awareness, Fundraising


Campaigns such as #BrewStacheStrong and Melesa’s Wings are uniting brewers and craft beer aficionados as they raise funds and awareness for cancer.

Craft breweries across the country are joining forces against cancer, one pint at a time.

“Everybody who brews beer for a living, and that's their job, it's also their passion, and they're very passionate about everything they do,” said Jose Manchola, founder of the Melesa’s Wings campaign in memory of his mother, who died of metastatic cancer in 1995.

“(Brewers) have the biggest hearts,” Manchola said. “And I think that goes hand in hand with (how), when they hear (about) a good cause, or they hear somebody who needs help, they just always extended a hand; it's remarkable how giving they are.”

The National Pediatric Cancer Foundation’s Brewing Funds the Cure effort has the Rising Hope IPA available across the country, and Pints for Prostates, which works to raise prostate cancer awareness, will host its next Denver Rare Beer Tasting to support the cause on Sept. 22.

“The craft beer community, if we could have more people like that, I think we'd figure out a lot of problems, (speaking) transparently. But I think the reasoning is because they're just like everyone else: they're focused on community (and) they're focused on creating,” said Colin Gerner, president and co-founder of the nonprofit organization StacheStrong, which helps raise funds and awareness for brain cancer research via its #BrewStacheStrong national collaborative brewing campaign.

Gerner co-founded StacheStrong with his brother GJ, who was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme in September 2017 and served as the organization’s treasurer before his death in September 2019.

This year, #BrewStacheStrong’s third as a national endeavor, will mark more than a million pints brewed and sold milestone as part of the campaign.

“I envision a million pints being raised to my brother and so many others that we've lost to this disease,” Gerner said.

Since scaling up to a national campaign in 2021, #BrewStacheStrong has enlisted more than 350 breweries, with approximately 150 breweries releasing limited-edition specialty beers for the 2023 edition in April and May. All told, StacheStrong events have raised $2.5 million and counting to date.

“They're still jumping on board this because I think it meets them where they are,” Gerner said. “You take a brewery, it's an idea, it's a passion, it's something that they want to bring up to the next level. That's what StacheStrong is and continues to be, it started as a story of two brothers and a family wanting to do more against a disease and a diagnosis that impacts far too many people without the appropriate attention.”

Part of an annual fundraiser calendar that includes a 5K returning Sept. 16 to the Gerners’ hometown of Vestal, New York and an open-bar fundraiser in New York City happening this year on Oct. 20, #BrewStacheStrong started five years ago thanks to a connection through StacheStrong board member Lou McKercher, a longtime employee of Colorado-based Oskar Blues Brewery.

“My brother and I loved to enjoy a beer together, it was really nothing more than (saying), 'Let's add this little component amidst our 5K, our New York City event' and whatnot,” Gerner said. “And I went down in person (to Oskar Blues) and brewed 10 barrels with Juice (Drapeau), their head brewer, and it went really well, sold very quickly in the tap room. And it was the first time it was like, 'Oh, maybe this is more than just a beer.' And that's the kind of become a mantra for this campaign in general.”

Manchola, a craft beer photographer and aficionado, launched what would become Melesa’s Wings a decade ago at The Coppermine, a since-shuttered pub in North Arlington, New Jersey, with a bottle-sharing meet-up among a small group of folks to celebrate the memory of Manchola’s mother.

The gatherings — dubbed Melesa’s Wings because, as Manchola explained, “Melesa was an abbreviation of my mom's full name, Maria Elena Escobar Saavedra, and wings are because I know she's still with me as my guardian angel” – became paid events five years ago.

The Seed of Atlantic City, NJ is among the craft breweries that have supported the Melesa’s Wings campaign in memory of Jose Manchola’s mother, who died of cancer in 1995.   Photo courtesy of Jose Manchola

The Seed of Atlantic City, NJ is among the craft breweries that have supported the Melesa’s Wings campaign in memory of Jose Manchola’s mother, who died of cancer in 1995.

Photo courtesy of Jose Manchola

Melesa’s Wings’ annual events have happened at New York’s Hudson Valley Brewery in Beacon and Other Half in Brooklyn, as well as New Jersey’s The Seed in Atlantic City and Alternate Ending Beer Co. in Aberdeen, with custom beers being brewed for the cause by The Seed, Alternate Ending, Mindful Ales of Jersey City and Esker Hart Artisan Ales of Hampton, New Jersey. Melesa’s Wings has raised nearly $70,000 for organizations including Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

For the fifth anniversary event in 2023, which Manchola expects to be held Oct. 21 at Other Half’s Brooklyn or Philadelphia location, there is a $40,000 fundraising goal. More than a dozen breweries are also planning to support Melesa’s Wings with specialty beers from July through October, with Manchola encouraging participating brewers to name their iterations in honor of a loved one of their own who has been affected by cancer. (For updates on this year’s event and offerings, stay tuned to Manchola on Instagram at @yankeerunner77.)

Participating breweries for Melesa’s Wings this year, Manchola said, include Alternate Ending, The Seed and Mindful Ales as well as Human Robot Brewery and Forest and Main Breing Company in Pennsylvania; Wild East Brewery, Marlowe Artisanal Ales, Tin Barn Brewing and District 96 Beer Factory in New York; Oakflower Brewing Company, Twin Elephant Brewing Company and Brix City Brewing in New Jersey, Timber Ales Brewery of Connecticut and Origin Beer Project of Cranston, Rhode Island.

The craft beer world, Manchola said, “is one of the few communities that I've been a part of where they really just do anything they can to help out needed, and they come together in droves. It's amazing.”

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