NJ beer: How craft breweries use the power of beer to help their local communities

Alex Biese
Asbury Park Press

Few things can bring a community together like craft beer.

Think about it: In addition to fine libations with compelling flavors, the act of gathering over a couple of flights or a few pints is a communal act, a meeting of hearts and minds.

Here in New Jersey, as our craft brewing scene booms, independent operations are seizing on that momentum in order to give back to their communities.

Most employees at Backward Flag Brewing Co. of Forked River are either veterans or first responders or family members of one, and the brewery launched the charitable organization Arms 2 Artisans to help post-Sept. 11, 2001, veterans transition to artisanal trades.

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Backward Flag launched the Forward Assault series of canned beers to support veterans' charities in 2018. Owner Torie Fisher is a U.S. Army veteran and her wife, head brewer Melinda Gulsever, serves in the Army National Guard.

Backward Flag Brewing Co. owner Torie Fisher, left, and head brewer Melinda Gulsever.

The brewery celebrated LGBTQ Pride Month in June with a Pride Month social, special rainbow-colored merchandise and a donation to the American Military Partner Association, an organization of LGBTQ military families and their allies.

The event also included representatives of Garden State Equality and a speech from retired Sgt. Maj. Jennifer Long, an advocate for transgender troops.

Fisher told us last year that Backward Flag plans to host more events in support of the LGBTQ community in the future.

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"It was one of those things where between customers and staff coming to me and saying, 'Look, these are things that people want to hear about, people want to talk about.' (We know) we're kind of in a position to put (a) different face to those things, and so we started promoting that a little bit bigger."

Owner Torie Fisher pours a flight glass at Backward Flag Brewing Company in Forked River

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Backward Flag joins a number of breweries that have been worked on behalf of the state's LGBTQ community in recent years; Asbury Park-based advocacy organization Garden State Equality has received the support of operations including Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing Co. of Cherry Hill, Alementary Brewing Co. in Hackensack and Asbury Park Brewery.

Since opening in mid-2018, Bradley Brew Project in Bradley Beach has consistently answered calls for assistance from both near and far.

They were one of more than a dozen New Jersey operations in November and December 2018 to join forces with Sierra Nevada in brewing the Resilience Butte County Proud India Pale Ale, with all proceeds going to victims of the Camp Fire in Northern California.

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Earlier this month, they raised more than $400 in their tap room to help with relief from the fires raging through Australia and collected donations of money and food for the neighboring Bradley Food Pantry.

Chelsey Ziolkowski of the Bradley Brew Project will be among our speakers at our Jersey Shore Influencers: Craft Beer Edition event on Feb. 13 at the iPlay America Event Center in Freehold. Tickets are on sale now

"That was always a big part of our business plan, being able to give back to the community," said Bradley Brew Project co-owner Chelsey Ziolkowski. "When you're placed in an opportunity to give back, you do it. It allows us as a business, and it allows the local community, to have a purpose beyond just drinking and serving beer. I think it brings people together in a really good way, and we're happy we can do that for them."

From noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26, Bradley Brew Project will host a fundraiser for the family of Edie, a three-month-old from Red Bank in need of a live liver donor. One dollar from each purchase of the brewery's Unicorn Girls pale ale and 10 percent of delivery orders from John's Cracker Barrel in Neptune to the brewery will go to the family.

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Bradley Brew Project owner’s, Chelsey & Mike Ziolkowski, speak to APP reporter Alex Biese

Area beer lovers will have plenty of opportunities to give back while enjoying local products in the coming weeks.

The Brigantine-based Marine Mammal Stranding Center will host its annual Ales for Whales fundraiser on Thursday, Jan. 23, at Garden State Beer Company in Galloway. The $50 ticket includes beer, wine and food from more than 20 area restaurants, and can be purchased via www.mmsc.org.

The Asbury Park Beerfest, drawing thousand to Convention Hall on the Asbury Park Boardwalk on Saturday, Jan. 25, and Sunday, Jan. 26, will support charitable organizations Best Day Foundation, Clean Ocean Action and Officer Down NJ.

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Both Saturday sessions are sold out, but limited tickets remain for the Sunday session via Ticketmaster and the Stone Pony box office, 913 Ocean Ave., Asbury Park for $44 in advance, $48 day of the event. Nearly 20 local breweries are expected to be represented at the event.

Egg Harbor Township's Hidden Sands Brewing Company will host its Kegs for Kittens event to support the Funny Farm Rescue animal welfare organization from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 30. Tickets, $25, include appetizers and two drink tickets, and can be purchased via funnyfarmrescue.org.

Little Dog Brewing Company of Neptune City will donate 10 percent of all tasting room sales to the Eatontown-based Monmouth County SPCA Friday, Jan. 24 through Sunday, Jan. 26. For more information on Little Dog, visit www.littledogbrewing.com.

Kenilworth's Two Ton Brewing hosts its annual Valentine's Day Party fundraiser for the Butler-based Congenital Heart Defect Coalition 1 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15, where they'll be offering specialty flights for the occasion.