Team FINNEGANS on the farm
(Photo courtesy FINNEGANS)

Jacquie Berglund’s 30-second pitch about her job and what she does isn’t exactly uncommon. As a “social entrepreneur,” she’s straightforward in her goal to make a difference in the lives of others and leave the world a better place.

But the way she accomplishes it is rather unique in the beer industry.

Berglund, the Rambunctious Social Entrepreneur, CEO and co-founder of FINNEGANS, oversees a beer company that donates 100 percent of its profits to charity. Every Hoppy Shepherd session ale and Irish Amber sold in the brewery’s five-state footprint isn’t just quenching the thirst of drinkers, but helping to put food on the plates of those in need. In 2016, after 16 years in business, Berglund expects FINNEGANS to cross the donation threshold of $1 million, which goes to food banks that partner with local farmers in order to buy produce that feeds the hungry and homeless or other charities.

“People are demanding more meaning in their work and how they spend their time, so they also look as consumers to support products that are doing good in their community,” Berglund said. “I’m a believer that some of the world’s biggest problems can be solved by people sitting down and talking and beer is a perfect vehicle to address challenging social issues.”

With FINNEGANS, that extends from rallying people behind beer sales or joining special events like an annual bike ride to raise money for multiple sclerosis research. But given the number of charity events partnered with breweries around the country, from fun runs to special pint nights, Berglund isn’t alone. In 2014, the last year data was available, the Brewers Association reported its member businesses contributed $71 million to charitable causes, averaging $20,664 per brewery. National companies like Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors are in on the act, too, giving hundreds of millions to support education, the environment, military personnel and more.

Open Hands Farm Group Minnesota
(Photo courtesy The Food Group)

Over the last four years, FINNEGANS has donated about $50,000 annually to Minnesota’s The Food Group, one of several partner nonprofits for the brewery. Each dollar helps The Food Group buy one pound of food from Minnesota farmers, with FINNEGANS’ donation representing 40 percent of 2015’s total pounds of food.

“Their help makes the whole process more reliable and I don’t know how it would all be possible without these kinds of donations,” said Jared Wallow, produce specialist with The Food Group. “It becomes a hyperlocal effort that supports farmers, hunger relief organizations and benefits the local economy.”

Nestled among the mountains of North Carolina, Appalachian Mountain Brewery (AMB) is doing much of the same. As a publicly traded company, AMB works to focus on the community in western North Carolina as much as its bottom line. In the first quarter of 2016, the brewery handed out $18,000 of donations to support art organizations, humane societies for animals, sustainability projects and more. The company has also established its own nonprofit, “We Can So You Can,” to further invest in socially responsible projects.

Appalachian Mountain Brewery
(Photo courtesy Appalachian Mountain Brewery)

Jeremy Barnes, chief financial officer for AMB, said annual donations are set to grow fast in coming years as the brewery has seen rapid expansion since partnering with Craft Brew Alliance for wholesale distribution. From 2014 to 2015, barrel production jumped from 890 to 3,840. Barnes said the company plans to donate 25 cents per case equivalent of beer sold moving forward, meaning it will hand out $3.45 per barrel, which is 20 cents above the 2014 average donated by members of the Brewers Association.

Between 2015 and early 2016, the Blue Ridge Conservancy was a beneficiary, receiving $6,154, which helps the organization protect land and water resources spread across western North Carolina.

“We’ve found that people who are appreciative of local businesses tend to be people who support conservation in their community,” said Walter Clark, executive director of the Blue Ridge Conservancy. “Developing these kinds of relationships isn’t only a way of getting our mission out in the public eye, but it means we’re better able to protect lands for recreation, farming and scenic value.”

Creating deep community connections is wholly embedded in the mission of the Oregon Public House, who, like FINNEGANS, exists as a business to serve others. Since opening in May 2013, the restaurant and bar has donated all of its profits to local nonprofits in Portland, Oregon, totaling almost $100,000 so far. When customers come in to enjoy a cheeseburger and fries or Scandinavian potato sausage with a pint of Do Gooder IPA, a beer made specially for the Public House, any profit goes to a monthly charity.

Oregon Public House
The Oregon Public House in Portland. (Photo by Rachel Hadiashar)

Ryan Saari, director of the “philanthropub” Oregon Public House, said he and six other volunteer board members spend upward of a combined 100 hours each spring sorting through applications from nonprofits who want to partner with the business. About 220 charities have applied to be one of the beneficiaries in the last three years and among the lucky 42 that have so far been selected, tangible results have included local projects to plant 1,200 trees, help in-need families pay off daunting medical bills and provide hundreds of lunches for at-risk youth.

“We love being in this industry because we have the ability to foster change structured around our community who come to share a meal or a pint,” said Saari, whose day job is to act as pastor at Portland’s The Oregon Community church. “There can be significant impact in the ability to do something extremely local.”

At the moment, the Public House contracts beer production at nearby Zoiglhaus Brewing Co. for batches of its Do Gooder IPA and Autobahn Helles Lager, partnering with board member and brewmaster Alan Taylor on the work as well as local brewer Dean Ivester. Saari said a dream is to open up another business, Aletruism Brewing, to follow the same business plan as the Public House and funnel more money to those in need in Portland.

“This is not a sacrifice in my mind because doing this for our community means we’re living out our values every day,” Saari said. “We have lots of dreams for what we can do. Giving back is part of what makes us who we are.”