By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
One word can sometimes sum up the character of a city. While Flint, Mich. has a long and complex history, the story of that particular place can begin and end with “tenacity.” Turns out, it’s not just a fitting term for a city that’s struggled with unemployment, violence and now tainted water. The only craft brewery in town has adopted the name to not only describe Flint’s determination; but also the resolve it took to open the business. More than 2,000 miles away in Portland, tenacity is what it will take for one homebrewer to rally the city, the state and perhaps even the rest of the nation to do more than feel sorry for Flint’s latest crisis. He’s created a call to action for anyone who’s connected to the craft beer community: use your passion for this beverage to raise money for Flint.
Tenacity Brewing sits just several hundred feet from the source of the city’s contaminated drinking water. In a cost-saving move in 2014, Flint stopped buying water from Detroit’s system and tapped its eponymous river, which bends and curves through the heart of downtown right past Tenacity. Although the source was meant to be temporary, complaints about the taste and appearance of the water begin rolling in almost immediately. Then-Mayor Dayne Walling repeatedly brushed off safety concerns despite mounting evidence that the chemistry of the Flint River was causing pipe contaminants, including lead, to leach into the water supply. Children developed rashes from bathing in the water and test results showed higher levels of lead in their blood, which can lead to significant developmental delays.
Additionally, two outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease sickened at least 88 people, nine of whom died. There’s no proven link between the spate of illnesses and the river water because not a single government agency has tested Flint’s water for legionella. However, these bacteria thrive in water with iron that flakes off of old pipes. Conditions worsen when water temperatures increase during summer months. A Free Press analysis of data collected by the state also discovered that 62 of the 88 people with confirmed cases were exposed to Flint’s water. For two years, residents of the city grew sicker simply by completing life’s daily tasks: showering, brushing teeth and lifting a plain old glass of water to their lips. But a Flint General Motors plant managed to switch to a different water supply a mere six months after river water came online because it was corroding car parts.
As Flint suffered, Dylan VanDetta got mad. He learned about what had essentially become a public betrayal by tuning into MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show,” as he often does.
“And when I heard what was actually happening and the lack of motivation from the local politicians, I was outraged. Absolutely outraged. And I thought that this is something that we really need to do something about. And we can,” he explained. “And we have a large number of brewers and homebrewers and people that care that would be willing to help out.”
That’s the thing, though, about these large-scale crises — we want to help, but don’t know how. But instead of throwing his hands up and saying ‘Oh well,’ VanDetta, who is treasurer of the Oregon Brew Crew, resolved to reach out in the best way he knew how — by turning to the oldest and largest homebrew club in the state.
“It was unanimous. Nobody even questioned it. They’re like, ‘For sure. Let’s send some money. Let’s do something and help these people.’ I think that helped spur me along and everyone I’ve talked to has similar feelings about it, is they’re outraged,” VanDetta said.
And of all the emotions, anger is one of the most powerful motivators. The Oregon Brew Crew voted to approve a $500 donation, which is being used to recruit additional contributors and volunteers. The effort is still in its infancy, but during the next several months VanDetta is looking for individuals to give their time and ask breweries, as well as beer- and water-related businesses, to get involved. Any and all forms of support are welcome — cash, free kegs and donated space where VanDetta wants to help organize events that would be used as fundraisers. Art Larrance has already promised the use of the Raccoon Lodge & Brew Pub patio in Southwest Portland. The Peninsula Odd Fellows has also pledged its location to the cause. Additionally, a GoFundMe page is now accepting gifts.
VanDetta and those assisting him at this point have already made connections with entities in Michigan, such as the Genesee Brewers Club (named after the county where Flint is located), to ensure the funds raised will eventually be directed by the people who need it. And he has a specific goal: $20,000.
“The reason I came up with that number is it costs — I read an article where it costs about $10,000 to replace the pipes in a single home. That would be about two homes,” he said, “or one home and $10,000 worth of fresh water that we can distribute to the neighborhood.”
He’s also exploring the possibility of distributing water in 5-gallon jugs or borrowed beer kegs, which would be a more sustainable option than the 12-ounce plastic bottles currently employed. The average family in Flint uses about 151 of those containers a day.
The number of requests for assistance these days can already feel overwhelming, particularly with the rise of crowdfunding sites that allow pretty much anyone to ask for help. What would prompt Oregonians, then, to pay special attention to a city more than halfway across the country? Well, if you’re talking to beer lovers, it all begins with the precious nature of water.
“The fact that we have such access, readily access to clean water, and beer is such — it’s such a big component of beer I thought that this would be a great opportunity for us to give back to the community as Oregon Brew Crew, as well as the brewing community across the country — not just Oregon,” VanDetta described. “The fact that we couldn’t make beer without water is disheartening — let alone, you know, drink or bathe in it or wash your clothes or anything like that in that stuff. So whatever we can do to help them is really what we’re trying to do.”
For VanDetta, the cause is also personal. Most people, particularly those fortunate enough to access water from the Bull Run Watershed, don’t think twice when they turn on the faucet. But VanDetta grew up in a poor town in northern New York where they tapped into city water of neighboring Poultney, Vt. The liquid used to be treated in a chlorinating plant until the source changed and the processing ended. Ultimately, VanDetta said officials had to drill a well for the family. While he was only about 6 or 7 years old when his water became unreliable, he never forgot it. The experience allows him to empathize with Flint’s population, but even he can’t imagine going without easy access to water at home for as long as they have.
“It’s something that you just don’t normally think about. And the hassle! Oh, I’ve got to brush my teeth, so I’m going to do down to the store and get water with money that I really have already spent on water. These folks are still paying their water bills for water they can’t drink, so it’s crazy,” VanDetta said. “Most of these folks are poor and they don’t have vehicles. They can’t drive, so they’re carrying the water or they’re not getting the water — they’re using water out of their taps and that’s even worse.”
Family brought VanDetta to the West Coast and the beer is what rooted him in community. He considers joining the Oregon Brew Crew the best $35 he’s ever spent. Membership provided artistic and creative balance to his life that’s occupied, in part, by a 20-year career in IT. While his first meeting in 2012 was intimidating since he says he “knew nothing” about beer other than the fact he loved it, he’s learned a lot from watching others and taking in their feedback on his own brews. He was also drawn to the open, supportive nature of brewers, which he believes will translate into backing for the Flint project.
“I consider it a blue-collar kind of business. They’re really in tune with the work that they do and their hands,” explained VanDetta. “And they make a product that people put in their bodies, and you really kind of have to be careful with that.”
If you’d like to volunteer or donate, email VanDetta at email@example.com. The fundraiser is starting on a modest scale, but plans are big.
“My dream is that it would be nationwide. We would have the brewing community — homebrewers, commercial brewers and water companies across the country helping with this effort. Because, you know, it takes a village to raise a child, right?”
And it’s now becoming abundantly clear that the children of Flint who’ve been affected by tainted water will need an army of support for decades to come.
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Nicholas Hill just wanted his beer to taste good.
“I couldn’t find a growler available on the market that could keep your beer cold and fresh,” says Hill. “I found my growlers going flat faster than I could drink them, which was very frustrating.”
He began to wonder: What would it take to have a growler that kept beer cold, fresh and carbonated?
At the time, Hill and his father Timothy co-owned a water bottle company. That experience gave them an idea for a new type of growler, which was developed by founding Bend-based DrinkTanks in 2013. Now with two successful Kickstarter campaigns and four products, DrinkTanks has brought to fruition two insulated, stainless-steel growlers that can keep beverages hot for up to 12 hours, cold for up to 24 hours and fresh for up to a week.
DrinkTanks products are powder-coated, engraved, designed and assembled in Bend by a staff of 18 humans and one canine, Paisley, “The Shop Guardian.” Timothy Hill passed away in 2011, but Nicholas Hill knows “he’d be proud of what DrinkTanks is today.”
“We’re committed to supporting our local economy, and with the help of previous Kickstarter backers, we were able to create 10 new jobs in 2014,” says Hill. “Bringing most of our production work in-house, we are also able to ensure that our products adhere to the highest quality control standards. Our goal is to create a product worthy of your beer.”
The Growler That’s a Keg
Flagship BPA-free growlers are available in 64-ounce (classic) and 128-ounce (The Juggernaut) sizes. The double-walled, vacuum-insulated, dishwasher-safe growlers are secured by a leak-proof, dual-bail cap system, and are designed not to pick up or impart flavors from materials or from whatever was last in the growler. Keg Caps are the company’s secret weapon to keep beer fresh, carbonated and unspoiled by oxidation. “It can usually stretch out a growler for three to five days after it has been opened,” says Hill. “We’ve even had some of our customers write in to tell us it lasted seven days or more.”
New for 2016, Kegulator Auto-Regulating Keg Caps also turn any DrinkTanks Growler into “personal, portable kegs,” a feature that’s been enjoyed by early adopters in the homebrewing community for force-carbonating up to a gallon of homebrew. Kegulator caps are compatible with 16 gram and 74 gram CO2 cartridges, and an adjustable dial and pounds per square inch (PSI) gauge lets you control carbonation from 0-40 PSI. A purge valve keeps oxygen out, and a hose dispenses from the bottom of the growler.
While built primarily with craft beer in mind, DrinkTanks growlers can also carry hot drinks such as coffee, cocoa and tea, along with other chilled or cellar-temperature beverages such as wine, spirits, sodas and kombucha.
DrinkTanks are available in brushed stainless steel or 15 stock colors, with custom colors, laser engraving and screen printing also available.
Kickstarted Into Gear
DrinkTanks found social proof for its products and mission early on. On March 13, 2013, the company launched a campaign on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to raise capital for production of its classic 64-ounce growler. Seeking $30,000, the project closed on Apr. 15, 2013 with 1,959 backers pledging $236,772.
“Every Kickstarter campaign brings the challenge of bringing a new product or service to market,” says Hill. “I would guess most Kickstarter creators don’t take into account what happens in the aftermath. It’s often hard to tell whether you’ve created a company or a nightmare.”
The successful campaign did bring in more money — but it also brought in new challenges and higher expectations.
The aftermath of the first campaign saw the young company facing manufacturing and supply issues. “I made the decision right away that we wouldn’t compromise on the quality or integrity of our product, and because of that, we delivered late on the first Kickstarter campaign,” says Hill. “We did our best to keep our backers informed during this process by implementing a weekly update. I believe managing the supply chain is key. We have been very fortunate to have a team of talented individuals as well as a community that has been very supportive of what we’re doing.”
In 2015, DrinkTanks was ready to bring their 128-ounce Juggernaut to market, and they decided to turn to Kickstarter again. This time they sought $75,000, and launched the campaign on March 2. Three days later, they posted this:
“We’ve hit our funding goal on our third day of being live!”
By the time the campaign closed on April 9, 2,076 backers had pledged $304,142. Now DrinkTanks is fulfilling supporter orders as well as orders from the general public. Word is even actor Tom Hanks has one, and in 2015 DrinkTanks was also named the Official Beer Growler of Central Oregon Beer Week.
“The joy of being a Kickstarter-launched company,” says Hill, “is that it’s gained us a worldwide group of supporters who’ve helped get us where we are today.
To date, DrinkTanks has shipped more than 45,000 64-ounce growlers and more than 28,000 Keg Caps. Juggernauts began shipping in September. The Kegulator will be available to backers and the public in January, but other DrinkTanks products are in stock for the holidays.
In the Wild
DrinkTanks customers have run a wide gamut, says Hill, from the weekend beer drinkers taking beer to a friend’s house to watch the game, to homebrewers force-carbonating small batches of brew. “We’ve also heard really good feedback from people who like to take their beer into the outdoors,” says Hill.
“The homebrewing community is very passionate about beer and has supported us from day one,” he adds. “They tend to really zero in on the technology and quality of our products — not that the average consumer wouldn’t — but they tend to be first adopters of new craft beer technology.” Customers point to the guaranteed no-leak lid, a threshold of 70-pounds of pressure and a lifetime warranty on manufacturer defects as positives.
Hill also carries his favorite beers in DrinkTanks growlers. “This time of year you’ll usually find my growler filled with Snake Bite Porter from Silver Moon, Black Butte Porter from Deschutes Brewery or Lights Out Stout from Worthy Brewing.”
Currently, DrinkTanks products are available to order from its website, on Amazon.com, in more than 250 growler refilling stations and breweries throughout the region and at more than 100 outdoor retail stores and websites nationally, such as Sportsman’s Warehouse and Backcountry.com.
For Hill, he is focused on continuing to grow the company and pursue the perfection of their perfect growler. “I love that my beer will stay fresh all week,” says Hill. “When I fill my growler on Monday and get caught up with work until Thursday, my beer is still fresh.”
[a] 1375 SW Commerce Ave. #160, Bend
Follow on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and more @drinktanks
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.