Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Helping Hops/ Get Drunk for the Troops

Joel Veak for Stuff
It wasn't so long ago that you could drink your way through all of the Massachusetts beers and come out the other side with nothing more than a decent buzz and a hankering for a plate of chicken wings. At the rate new brews are popping up now, you couldn't repeat that same experiment without a stomach pump and a medevac helicopter at the ready. That's a good thing as far as I'm concerned. (Although I wouldn't recommend actually trying that little challenge. Not on a weekday anyway.)

Speaking of helicopters, more specifically of the military sort, the latest entree into the crowded beer market comes from 50 Back Brewing Company, based in Pepperell, Massachusetts. Fifty percent of the company's proceeds from its new 50 Back American Lager are donated to military-based charities like the USO, as well as local efforts like the Taunton-based Homes For Our Troops, which builds handicapped-accessible homes for disabled veterans, and the Massachusetts Soldiers Legacy Fund, which provides scholarships to children of fallen soldiers.

It was a desire to get involved in such charities that provided the impetus for founders Kimberly Rogers and Paige Haley to start selling beer. Both of them had a limited background in home brewing, but plenty of experience when it came to dealing with service members in their own families. Instead of selling a one-off product, they came up with an idea with continually renewable sales potential: beer. "The avenue that we chose, through beer, was a way we thought we could give back, but also give back repeatedly," Rogers told me over the phone while I was carrying out my dangerous professional duties and sipping one of her lagers far too early in the morning. "Usually someone buys an item for a fundraiser, and then they don't need another one. That's why the beer was a good idea." Beer is always a good idea, right? She's got a good point though. People don't buy beer to put it on the mantel at home and look at it; it's meant to be consumed again and again, then re-upped when supplies run dry. A military mind could appreciate that logic, although I'm pretty damn far from that description, so I'm just sort of assuming.

Rogers's charitable instincts made sense, but the plan wouldn't work if the beer sucked. She and Haley wanted to make sure they settled on a recipe with broad appeal so that sales might actually have a financial impact. "Our goal was to try to get a lager hitting the middle of the spectrum," Rogers says. "To reach across the entire spectrum of beer drinkers and attract a traditional American-lager beer drinker as well as a craft-brew connoisseur."

Shooting for the middle ground isn't always the best idea when it comes to making a brew, and craft-beer snobs probably won't find this American-style lager complex enough, or esoteric enough, for their tastes. For everyone else, it's entirely drinkable, with mellow hoppy notes up front from Czech Saaz hops (as in the roughly analogous Pilsner Urquell), hints of citrus in the middle from Cascade hops, and a sweet finish with little aftertaste. If a light lager like this isn't to your liking, there may be other options on the horizon. If all goes well with this first offering, Rogers says they'd like to expand into other styles of brews. She's already getting requests for an even lighter style of lager as well as a 50 Back IPA style. A recent partnering with Burke Distributing Corporation should expedite that process significantly, but 50 Back's first brew is already being sold in 300 stores and bars across the state, like LirJacob Wirth Restaurant (31-37 Stuart Street, Boston, 617.338.8586), and The Burren (247 Elm Street, Somerville, 617.776.6896). (903 Boylston Street, Boston, 617.778.0089),

The reason for that rapid growth is evident. By now, almost everyone has been affected by the military conflicts we've been engaged in for years. "I see that same desire to give back I had in a lot of people," Rogers says. Giving to charity while getting drunk on your couch is just the American thing to do.

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