On November 8, 2018, a faulty electric transmission line ignited vegetation in California’s Butte County. Following an unusually dry autumn which in turn followed an unusually wet spring, the heavy and highly combustible fuel load created an historic firestorm that ravaged 62,000 hectares, destroyed towns and communities and killed 85 people.
Within a week of the start of what became known as the Camp Fire, American craft beer pioneers Sierra Nevada initiated plans for a relief effort. With so many of their brewing compatriots reaching out to help, the Chico-based brewers decided to create a West Coast IPA to raise money for their community – the idea being that anyone could brew and sell the same beer and donate all the profits to Camp Fire Relief.
First brewed at Sierra Nevada two days after the Camp Fire was extinguished, the Resilience IPA was later created by 1400 breweries and went on to sell two million litres throughout North America. To date, Resilience has raised almost $13 million (AUD) and provided grants through the Butte Strong Fund for housing, business recovery, community development, education and health and wellbeing. That a business could turn something so simple as buying a pint into funding for an entire community in need is remarkable.
By almost any metric, the recent Australian fire season has been nothing short of catastrophic and unprecedented. More than a billion animals have perished, 2,800 homes and a further 3,200 buildings have been destroyed, and 34 lives have been lost.
More than 18.6 million hectares of Australian landscape have been charred, and the full impact on biodiversity and human health may not be known for years to come. In New South Wales, there were 240 straight days where at least one fire was burning.
Although much needed rain throughout February has extinguished the fires and provided some small respite from the ongoing drought, there are communities throughout Australia in dire need of assistance to rebuild their homes, businesses and rehabilitate native flora and fauna.
Hoping to replicate the mammoth effort started by Sierra Nevada in 2018, what became the Australian Resilience Beer project was conceived by a group of people in various parts of the beer community at the start of the year.
It has turned into arguably the biggest element of the fundraisers taking place throughout the beer world since late 2019, which included a coordinated day of events, Beer For Bushfire Relief, on January 18. We received feedback from 35 of the 80 event holders on that day and their combined efforts alone totalled $98,432.35.
Add in other campaigns here and overseas, from Mikkeller in Tokyo to breweries and venues across North and South America (in Buenos Aires, Dos Dingos raised $6,700 from an event and followed that with $8,000 from a fundraising collab brew), Europe and New Zealand, and it's clear people have been willing to dig deep. Of those we heard from locally, The Dutch Trading Co in Perth raised $13,000 and there were significant contributions to various causes – some in the thousands – from a collection of Geelong region brewers and venues, Sauce Brewing, Rocks, the Whistling Kite in WA, Hop Hen Brewing, Whitelakes, TWØBAYS, Aether, Prancing Pony, Lobethal Bierhaus, Mismatch and dozens more.
As for the Resilience Beer, the recipe was developed by brewers Scotty Hargrave (Balter), Shane Ferguson (Future Mountain), Nick Calder-Scholes (One Drop) and Phil O'Shea (Five Barrel). They came up with an XPA which has been or is being brewed at more than 225 breweries all over the globe, meaning punters in every Australian state and territory can share the same beer as those in Svinninge, Manchester, Munich, Milan, Pune, Tampa and Querétaro City.
Cupitt’s Estate is a small winery, fromagerie, restaurant and brewery located in Ulladulla, on the NSW south coast. Liam Jackson, the head brewer at Cupitt Craft Brewers, spent many nervous days within view of the fire front.
“We were lucky to stay relatively safe during the fires," he says. "It was very close though – just across the water from us you can see the black streak where it tore through on one of the days that the wind turned aggressively southerly.”
People like Liam, in communities directly affected by the fires, are keenly aware of what the Resilience Beer represents.
“We brewed the beer with two local breweries, Jervis Bay Brewing and Dangerous Ales. For us, the Resilience Beer embodies the kind of community closeness that is ever-present in the brewing world, and that we also saw to great effect during the fires: people coming together. To me, it is as much about that as it is fundraising.”
The people in and around Ulladulla may very well be recipients of some of the fundraising effort, something that resonates with Liam.
“It's a small, close-knit community down here," he says, "and we all felt the tension, for an extended period. Many homes were lost – of people we know, of people that work here even.
"It's hard to describe what these last couple of months have been like, really. There has been a tension which just permeated everything.”
Approximately 13,500km away in Fort Collins, Colorado, a group of twelve local breweries banded together to brew Resilience to support the relief efforts in Australia. To put in perspective how much Fort Collins loves craft beer, imagine more than 20 breweries operating in a city about the same size as Townsville.
Tim and Carol Cochran of the Horse and Dragon Brewing Company were instrumental in signing up the Fort Collins breweries to aid the cause.
“A group of Fort Collins brewers had gathered last year to brew the Sierra Nevada Resilience together at Horse and Dragon," Carol says, "and we sold it in each of our taprooms to support California’s Camp Fire relief.”
Like most international breweries who have taken part, Carol felt the urge to do something, anything.
“I think many consumers here feel a bit helpless and buying a pint knowing the money will go toward some bit of relief is an easy action. Of course we had all been horrified by the images and stories reaching us [from Australia], and to be able to take a bit of action felt better than just sitting.
"As with almost all craft brewers, [we] understand the role beer and breweries can play in communities to bring people together, spread information and cheer, and respond to hard times.”
The sentiment is shared across the Atlantic in Derbyshire. Thornbridge Brewery is one of the most influential breweries in the UK and came on board with a cask version of the Resilience recipe.
“We felt impassioned to support the project," says brewery marketing manager Rebekah Wadham. "What has happened in Australia is just devastating and we want to show how the beer industry across the world can come together in times of need”
Even a daily maximum temperature of around 8C has been no impediment to selling a light and floral cask XPA, either; “The first batch has flown out so fast we had to brew another!” she says.
In Five Dock on the outer edge of Sydney’s inner west, a grain mill is churning through bags of Barrett Burston pale malt on a rainy but warm Thursday morning. Two-and-a-half months earlier, the air quality index (AQI) at the nearby Rozelle monitoring station hit a high of 2,552; an AQI reading of 200 or more is classed as hazardous. Smoke from bushfires had placed Australia’s largest city into lockdown and inflicted potentially harmful air pollution onto the city’s five million inhabitants for weeks on end.
Dave Padden is the founder and head brewer at Akasha Brewing Company and a former director of the Independent Brewers Association. During the worst of the smoke in mid-December 2019, the brewing team had to work in sweltering conditions in a locked-up brewhouse to try to limit their exposure.
“We also kept a close eye on our sales team on the road," Dave says, "to make sure they weren't being adversely affected.”
Akasha are one of a handful of Sydney breweries taking part in brewing Resilience. For Dave, the decision to be involved was instantaneous: “We were already doing a bit of a collection over the bar but then Resilience came up and I jumped on and signed up without even thinking about it.”
This was great news for Ben Miller, gypsy brewer behind the From Ben label.
“I’d already donated a keg to the NSW RFS but was keen to do more," he says, "then I saw that an Australian Resilience was on the go so I rang Dave and asked to brew a batch at Akasha but he’d already signed up!”
With the fires extinguished and green shoots covering the once blackened landscape, it’s easy for the unaffected to assume the ruin wrought upon parts of the country is done and dusted. But the recovery and future-proofing against the inevitable return of the fires will take years and an incredible amount of money. Businesses not directly impacted by the fires are closing under the weight of a non-existent tourist season.
As Liam explains: “Business-wise, we lost out on the busiest period of trade we have in the year, as has been the case for most businesses in this region.”
The Resilience Beer was initiated as a way for ordinary people to use their skills and resources for the good of others. Even if you live thousands of kilometres away, and the only way you can contribute is through brewing or drinking a pint, each of us can do our bit.
Judd Owen volunteered at Akasha on their Resilience Beer brew day. We'd love to say it was out of the kindness of his own heart, but he's a homebrewer who loves Akasha's beers so we're pretty sure it was just a ruse to get a peek behind the scenes.
For more on the Resilience Beer and who has brewed the beer, head here.