Josh Janos - Brew for Good

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Drink up, it’s good for you! 

In Japan, green tea is said to reduce infection and boost cognitive function.  Kombucha - fermented, tart and naturally effervescent - is thought to improve human gut bacteria and aid digestion.  Yak’s milk, a Tibetan favorite, contains heaps of calories and (as a side benefit) heals chapped lips. 

Beer, at least how Josh Janos brews it, is good for community.   

His best idea so far – hatching the non-profit, Brew for Good – was cooked up, among friends, at a backyard barbeque.  “I was brewing a lot of beer, getting ready to enter my best at the State Fair.  I had home brew to share!” Josh offers.  “A neighbor smoked some pork, someone else rented a bouncy house, and we had a full-on neighborhood event.  We chose a charity, collected money from everyone, and donated a few thousand dollars.” 

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Home brewers, on the whole, are a generous and sociable lot.  “Look at the community and collaboration of the small brewers,” Josh says.  “Most home brewers or clubs want to hang out, drink great beer, and teach each other.  The community is all about sharing, about the whole rising together.” 

Josh, equally generous and social, is also practical.  He is a change agent who knows his limits:  “I’ve always wanted to help, but I’ve never been the guy who is going to quit his job and go volunteer in Africa to end hunger,” he admits.  “A friend asked me to donate some of my beer to a good cause and I had an ‘Ah ha‘ moment.  [Giving] doesn’t have to be huge; every little bit counts.  We can actually do a lot of good in the world if we all do a small thing.” 

Gifting beer to friends and family has long been Josh’s modus operandi, so tapping into a broader philanthropy was the next step.  With each bottle he brewed in his garage, Josh extended a “pay-it-forward” invitation.  “Every time I gave away a bottle of my beer, I hung a tag on it requesting that the recipient give a few bucks to a charity of their choice in exchange for free beer.”  Thirst slaked, donations banked:  Win. Win. 

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Believing that home brewers and community do-gooders could unite around beer, Josh bet his backyard benefit model could serve a good cause and serve community at the same time.  Craft beers have been “all the rage,” Josh assets.  The emerging trend is toward beers “not on tap anywhere” and “not on shelves” of the local liquor store.  The drinking public, hipsters especially, wants “unique and special” brews with cool “origin stories” and distinct flavors.  And with 1.1 million home brewers estimated concocting individualized brews in the US (according to American Home Brewers Association), Josh figured local brew would draw a diverse crowd (even those not predisposed to philanthropy) to help him pitch in to pay it forward. 

One problem:  In Minnesota, “you can’t sell home brew,” Josh says, with faint exasperation.  “You can’t sell a ticket for a home brew event and call it a ‘public tasting.’ But,” he brightens, pointer finger in the air for emphasis, “you CAN host an event and have home brewers ‘sampling’ her or his wares.”

That’s how Brew for Good – tag line:  Local Beer, From Local Brewers, Helping the Local Community – bubbled into being. 

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Once a year, Josh wrangles a dozen or more home brewers, a couple of food trucks, a band, some tents and high top tables, lots of napkins, volunteers, and a local charity to gather on a parking lot someplace to taste, teach, judge and celebrate the ancient craft of brewing.  The dancing, laughing, beer ranking, awards, fellowship, sauce schmearing, schmoozing and giving are all side benefits.  Beers are sampled at no charge, brewers share their techniques and triumphs to the curious and the uninitiated, food is available for purchase, raffle tickets or auction items might be for sale, and a pitch is made during the entertainment to give generously to the cause.

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For the third year in a row, Think Small, a local non-profit committed to early childhood development, will be the recipient of funds raised.  “We are thrilled to be partnering with Josh and Brew for Good,” smiles Think Small Chief Advancement Officer, Tammy Tesky Ausen.  And one of the food vendors Josh invites, Freedom Truck, leverages profits made from selling hummus and falafel at the Brew for Good events (and other outings), to educate and fund programming around human trafficking. 

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Josh might be starting small, but he is optimistic about the future of Brew for Good.  He is building community for the cohort of garage- and basement-brewers who crave camaraderie and competition, and he connects philanthropic organizations with a new crop of advocates and donors.  “There are not a lot of limitations to what we can do,” he says.  “[Because our stock and trade is beer], we have to think about laws and regulations, but we can do things in a different way for big impact.” 

We can all raise a glass to that.  Cheers! 

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Photo credits:  Tracy Nordstrom, Brew for Good, Stories Foundation, Brianna Keleher Photography, Christina LeClair, Jenna Eason/Getty Images.