For Watch City Brewing Company's owner Jocelyn Hughes and brewers Aaron Mateychuk and Kelly McKnight, it all started with a desire to help a family that had lost its husband, father and provider in a terrible fire.
It was December 8, 2011, when firefighter Jon Davies ran into a burning building in Worcester, Massachusetts to search for a missing tenant. He never came out. Jon left behind a fiance and three sons. Brewer Aaron Mateychuk's brother, Jason, a member of the Worcester Fire Department, was looking for ways to help Davies' family and Aaron offered to help. Together with Jocelyn and Kelly, the Waltham, Mass. based pub brewed Rescue One Kölsch to honor Davies and raise money for his family.
To date, the German-style golden ale named after Worcester's Rescue One Fire Company has raised $3,000 for Davies' family. It's raised thousands more as supportive firefighters from across New England have purchased the beer in bottles and kegs and auctioned them off at local firefighter events.
The response has been tremendous. "We've brewed and brewed and brewed," said brewer Kelly McKnight to Boston's local Fox News affiliate. "We can't even keep up with the demand almost."
Rescue One Kölsch isn't the pub's first beer for a cause. In 2004, they worked with Red Sox ace Curt Schilling on a Scottish ale to fight ALS. Watch City has even brewed ale to help the Bermuda Family Centre. "There's more poverty on the island than people realize," said Hughes. "We responded to where the need was."
However, most of Watch City's giving is local, and Hughes said they're looking at animal charities to help next. Will it rival Rescue One Kölsch, which owes its success to the firefighters that flocked to its tap? Hughes isn't so sure, and neither am I. Watch City tapped a deep vein of loyalists with Firefighters. As someone who started his career working with firefighters, I know firsthand how dedicated they are to each other.
While dog and cat fans may not match firefighters, the larger lesson for businesses is to commit themselves to causes they care for first, and then to target causes with loyalists that bring energy and money to the effort. A big reason why we see so many pink products and ribbons in October is because companies know they sell more with pink than not.
For Watch City Brewing Company, the priority is making a difference first, but the benefits of cause marketing are clear. They've sold a lot of beer and a distributor has already approached them about expanding their business. At the very least Watch City has earned a few karma points.
According to John Craven, founder and CEO of BevNET, a recognized authority on the beverage industry, Watch City won't be the last local brewery to mix malt and hops for a cause. "With almost 2,000 breweries in the U.S. craft beer market, connecting with the local community is very smart business on the part of local and regional craft brewers," said Craven. "And what better way to do that than to support a good cause. It's a win-win for everyone."
Watch City is a great example of how cause marketing is trickling down to local businesses. The trend is being fed by a larger desire for all things local. Hughes was quick to point out that the community is a priority for Watch City. They source as much as they can from local suppliers. "The less the food and ingredients travel the better."
Small businesses that buy and give locally are something we can all raise our glass to.