Faction is brewing up a strong community

Faction hosts the Ales for ALS Beerfest for 2015

Beer drinkers rejoiced over the selection of one-off brews made with an exclusive hop blend when Faction Brewing Co. presented the second invitational Ales for ALS Beerfest.  The fest was part of a broader charity initiative that provided the coveted hops to breweries that pledged $1 per pint from sales of the resulting beers to research amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. On a warm, breezy August Saturday in Alameda, Calif., the event lived up to its promise as a destination festival. The Ales for ALS Beerfest attracted more than 1,500 beer lovers who swarmed the brewery to enjoy live music, food trucks, a raffle and outstanding brews.

Ales for ALS is an annual project founded by hop growers Mike and Cheryl Smith, third-generation hop farmers in Yakima, WA. The couple knows the face of the debilitating failure of nerves and muscles brought by ALS all too well.

“My dad died of ALS, my 54 year-old brother has ALS now, as well as a cousin and an uncle,” explained Cheryl.  “Six out of eight kids in my father’s generation died of ALS.”

“When my brother was diagnosed, we just began thinking we had to get busy raising money to find some kind of treatment or cure.”

Get busy is just what they did. Their Loftus Ranches are best known for developing varieties such as Simcoe®, Citra®, Mosaic® and Equinox. To raise funds, Loftus partnered with Hopunion hop supply company to offer a proprietary blend of experimental and hard-to-get hops to participating breweries, to support the ALS Therapy Development Institute, a major research organization working on a cure.

Initially the Smiths selected the breweries, but now brewers come to them. Mike Smith said, “it’s really touching, because every volunteer brewery has a family member, friend or colleague who has ALS.”

Last year Vinnie Cilurzo (Russian River Brewing Co.) selected the hops with Ken Grossman (Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.) and John Mallett (Bell’s Brewery).

This year Mallett returned. Ken Grossman brought his son, Brian Grossman. Cilurzo nominated Rob Kent (Bear Republic Brewing Co.) and Julian Shrago (Beachwood BBQ Brewing) in his place. Although Equinox and Mosaic® have names now, these recent graduates of the breeding program were included this year. Five as yet unnamed, experimental hops also made the mix. (291, 260, 344, 438 and 522, for those keeping score at home.)

Kent poured Bear Republic’s Red Racer IPA for ALS at the fest. He said it was an honor to choose the hops. “The selection process involved the ‘rub,’ which is squeezing and rubbing hops between your hands to heat up the lupulin to release its aromatics,”  Kent explained. “At this point there was debate about which hops make the cut. There were many good varieties to choose from. They ranged from fruity to earthy.”  

Most breweries brought one-off IPAs and hoppy beers, but there were stylistic surprises, such as a dry-hopped sour from The Rare Barrel, and a Brettanomyces-fermented interpretation from Cellarmaker Brewing Co.

Night-shift brewer Molly O’Brien got to formulate her first professional recipe, a saison, for this year’s version at Drake’s Brewing Co. “When I logged on to the ALS site, everyone was kind of doing pale ales and IPAs. And I love IPAs, but I wanted to do something different,” she said.  

View of San Francisco from Faction Brewing on Alameda Island. Photo by Gail Ann Williams
View of San Francisco from Faction Brewing on Alameda Island. Photo by Gail Ann Williams

Faction’s founders and festival hosts Rodger Davis and Claudia Pamparana poured their elegant imperial pale ale interpretation of Ales for ALS.  “The ALS beer was the very first beer we brewed at Faction and released in September of 2013,” said Pamparana. By the time the second Ales for ALS hops blend shipped, Davis and Pamparana had volunteered Faction as the festival site.

According to the Smiths, last year, 68 breweries got hops, and donations more than doubled from the prior year to $325,000. This year, after the accounting is done, 89 breweries in 25 states expect to combine donations with proceeds from the festival to again more than double last year’s contribution. Faction’s donation totaled $44,000.

Davis, too, has personal connections to ALS.  He’s made friends with Corey Reich, a Piedmont High School tennis coach who was diagnosed several years ago and has beaten the odds so far. Davis invited Reich to the event at his brewery, where Reich enjoyed the festival in his wheelchair.

While there’s still no way to halt this usually fatal disease, as the ALS Therapy Development Institute website reminds us, “ALS is not an incurable disease. It is an underfunded one.”


How to visit Faction

Donate to Ales for ALS

(This story was originally written for Celebrator Beer News, which comes out every other month on paper, by Gail and Steve in collaboration. Mike Condie submitted cool photos as well. Publishing works in mysterious ways, however. So, here it is electronically at Beer By BART instead. )

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