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Inland Journal, Dec. 12, 2019: Craft Beer And A Social Purpose

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Doug Nadvornick/SPR
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Today on the Inland Journal podcast, brewing with a social purpose.

We bring you the story of two Spokane home brewers who have just launched what they call a “social purpose corporation brewery.”

“Our mission statement is the provide the Inland Northwest with high quality craft beer with a social cause and that is to help fund biomedical research and also for education," said Jason Gerstner, the co-owner of the Golden Handle Project.

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Credit Golden Handle Project
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Before we delve into the Golden Handle Project, let’s take a couple minutes to get to know these two guys. Stoltz manages Tin Roof Furniture in east Spokane. Gerstner is a clinical assistant professor in the WSU College of Medicine.

Jason Gerstner: “Even before graduate school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, my first beer we brewed in the lab. This was about 1999, 2000, something like that. The guy who was teaching me, he actually works at the National Institutes of Health now, introduced me to home brewing and I still have his equipment to this day. We brewed a red ale and we had a picture of Bucky Badger on it, in a straitjacket; we worked at the psychiatry department. Things kind of took off from there and I started meeting a lot of the local brewers in Madison, Wisconsin and things have gone well there, as have many places in the country in the beer industry.”

Gerstner's business partner is Tim Stoltz.

"Living in the Portland area, I just fell in love with craft beers back in the ‘80s and, a long time ago, my sister lived in Yakima and gave me this funny little beer kit, which didn’t work very well. Then, all of a sudden, one day I was going by the home brew shop and I said it’s time to dive in. I dove in head first and started brewing. I stopped for a little bit because my job got a little too crazy and my wife said you need to start brewing again because all you’re doing is working. Then I got serious and I had a lot of support from professional brewers in Portland. I just started going and refining everything," he said.

Doug: “So how did you two meet?”

Jason Gerstner: “My wife actually works with Tim during the day at the Tin Roof. My wife had known that, for a little bit of time, I had wanted to get a brewery started. She had mentioned Tim and that he was a big beer lover and that he was from Portland and she said why don’t the two of you meet. We hit it off, right off the bat. Since then, things have been rolling really quick and really fast, but I can’t say enough about Tim and how great of an expert that he is to bring to the table this program and this project.”

Doug: “So how do you go from home brewer to doing it professionally?”

Tim Stoltz: “It’s basically the same process but it’s on a bigger scale. We ramp up our beer recipes. We just have to figure out how it works within the equipment and, to be honest with you, I’m a little shocked at how it’s worked out so far. I figured we’d run over more humps, but it seems to be working really well. It’s basically just a bigger version of what we’ve done at home.”

What was once their hobby is now a business in its infancy at the Steel Barrel incubation facility in downtown Spokane.

“We have a beer that we think is pretty good right now," Gerstner said. "It’s an Ales for ALS beer. We have it on tap in the business next to the incubator space for people to try.”

Jason Gerstner mentioned Ales for ALS. It’s a national program that encourages brewers to donate a dollar per pint from their beer sales to the ALS Therapy Development Institute. In exchange, the brewers are gifted free hops from two organizations in the Yakima area that grow them. The beer to which Gerstner referred is the Golden Handle Project’s contribution to Ales for ALS.

It’s a natural for Gerstner, who investigates neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS. He was recently named a fellow at WSU’s new Steve Gleason Institute for Neuroscience in Spokane.

“If there’s any hope we can gain from this it’s from the spirits of the likes of Steve Gleason, who’s also bringing a lot of awareness and a lot of attention and a lot of research funding, but it’s still not enough. We need to bring more awareness. You may have heard of the Ice Bucket Challenge. That’s raised over $100 million toward ALS research. In as many ways as we can do this, we want to help. So Ales for ALS Foundation is another means to do that. Local breweries, not just ours, but other breweries are invited to participate in this,” Gerstner said.

He says proceeds from other beers Golden Handle brews will go toward other science and research-related programs.

“We have local chapters for Parkinson’s, for Alzheimers’ Disease, Huntington’s Disease and also cancer. You can visit our website at GoldenHandle.org and we’ll have links on there for you, not just for the institutes and the foundations that we support, but also links to information for each of these diseases and local events that are up and coming," he said.

The next one for Golden Handle is December 19 at 5 pm at the Steel Barrel Tap House at 154 South Madison in downtown Spokane.

For the amount of money that you do raise, how do you determine where it will go?

“Obviously for events where we’re hosting for a particular cause, that makes it simple. But for a keg of beer that’s not Ales for ALS beer, but a general beer, we’re going to form a local community board where we can discuss with them and ask where do we think that these moneys are best well spent," Gerstner said.

Beyond raising money for research, Jason Gerstner says their focus is also on promoting science and its importance.

Jason Gerstner: “I really feel that at this time in our society and our country that it’s really critical that we engage science in a productive and positive fashion. I feel, right now, engaging the community, particularly at a local level over a beer or two, is a unique way to really get us together, get us conversing, get us talking. I feel like there needs to be more of a intellectual discourse in ways that science information, the scientific method, the way that things are disseminated can be communicated better.”

Tim Stoltz: “My grandfather had Alzheimers’ and so I know a little bit about that from our family dynamics and the whole idea of doing social purpose is very important to me. One of the things that Jason and I have really talked about and I think we feel very strongly about is we both are very much into the beer culture. It’s amazing when you go to a brewery how you’ll strike up conversations with complete strangers. It’ll be a whole group of people talking and what a better way to break down some of the barriers because it seems like the world is really divisive now. People come together over beer.”

Jason Gerstner: “Tim and I had talked about doing a non-profit brewery. Believe it or not there are a few out there. We had done some due diligence and looked at some of those who had started this in Oregon, Texas and some other areas. We ended up finding out that many of them would actually switch to a limited liability company or a corporation. We were interested in why that was and what we found was the current tax laws actually made it much more challenging to do the good that they wanted to do with the money that they were able to do it with as a non-profit, compared to a for-profit. We looked into it a little bit more and what we found out is Washington state has a unique business entity here. It’s starting to become more popular, but it’s called a “social purpose corporation.” What this is is basically the idea that your company, which is considered a regular corp, while it is a for-profit, you do have some societal force behind it, some social impact that you wish to have. In the case of our SPC, we want to provide some funding for biomedical research, but also have an opportunity for education and awareness. This seemed like a really good fit for us and for our mission and so we went with it. We’re happy to say that we’re Spokane’s first SPC brewery.”

Tim Stoltz: “We have contacts with lots of really great breweries, not only here, but also in Portland and in Wisconsin, so our plans are to do some collaborations with them and get them involved. We can have a Golden Handle thing going in Portland. We can have something going in Wisconsin. Something going in Philadelphia. So it becomes an even bigger community. I think it’s going to be really fun. A lot of the beer community is really supportive in social pu rpose kind of stuff and I think we have an opportunity to spread the wealth. We want to be the spokespeople for that.”
 
Tim Stoltz and Jason Gerstner are the owners of the Golden Handle Project, a social purpose corporation brewery in Spokane.

Glad you joined us this time for the Inland Journal podcast. You can subscribe at Apple Podcasts, NPR One or Google Play or hear it at the Spokane Public Radio website.