Dave Pappas insists that, for the sake of full transparency, he is identified as a non-combat veteran of the Persian Gulf War. He stresses that it is an important distinction.
Pappas has dedicated his post-service career to veterans. And, as a former active-duty marine, he can understand some of the challenges veterans face while away from home and experiencing military life.
Veterans face disproportionate amounts of stresses in their civilian lives. In addition to homelessness and extended waits for services and support, the veteran suicide rate is devastatingly high. According to a 2017 article in U.S. Veterans Magazine, citing statistics from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, each day there are around 20 veterans who commit suicide.
“As someone who was in the service but didn’t experience combat,” Pappas says, “I was frustrated and I wanted to do something.”
And so Pappas, who had dedicated time and money to visiting breweries and beer bars around New England on his motorcycle, decided to combine his love of craft beer with military philanthropy.
The Black Ale Project was born. The tagline is “Buy a Beer, Help a Veteran.”
The Black Ale Project teams up with different breweries to create a dark beer, the proceeds of which are donated to a military-based charity. So far, the project has raised almost $60,000 for a variety of military and veteran-based organizations around New England and the country.
Another thing Pappas insists is that he never touches the money. The breweries deliver the checks directly.
Other charitable causes to which Americans donate time and money, such as philanthropic 5Ks or golf tournaments, tend to garner attention because the recipients of those charities are people within our community — our moms and our neighbors, for instance. Whereas war exists as an abstraction for many Americans without veterans in their communities. It’s Pappas’s intent to take the Black Ale Project nationwide and to increase awareness for our veterans.
“Beer is a social beverage,” Pappas says. “I hope we are raising awareness to get people thinking about veterans and talking about veterans. What better way than with a brewery pouring a beer for and sometimes with our veterans?”
So far, the Black Ale Project’s reach has hit five of the six New England states, and Rhode Island will soon join via an upcoming partnership with Cranston’s Revival Brewing. California is scheduled to participate courtesy of national behemoth Ballast Point.
Other big-name partnerships are coming down the pipeline in 2018. Black Ale Project beers will be made with Delaware’s Dogfish Head, Colorado’s Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales, and New Jersey’s (veteran-owned) Backward Flag Brewing Company.
One of the project’s more prolific contributors is Massachusetts’ Wormtown Brewery. The Worcester-based company collaborated with Black Ale Project twice already — Wormtown owner Ben Roesch calls one of their collaboration brews a “bastardized dunkelweiss” made from the brewery’s winter seasonal and hefeweizen yeast and a black IPA. Wormtown will be partnering with Black Ale Project again in the fall.
“We’re involved in a bunch of different charity beers,” Roesch says. “[Pappas] has been in the beer scene for a long time. When someone told me about the project he was getting together, we knew we wanted to be involved.”
All the proceeds of both beers Wormtown has produced for Black Ale Project were donated to Massachusetts-headquartered Veterans Inc., one of the nation’s leaders in helping end homelessness among veterans. Funds have also been raised for Purple Hearts Reunited, The Veterans’ Place, Pets for Vets, and many others. The project’s first collaborator, Medusa Brewing Company, raised a whopping $10,000 for the New England Center and Home for Veterans and the Veteran Support Alliance.
Pappas says he was inspired to focus on black ales because he and his wife love dark beers. He jokes that he should have named it the Super Dank New England IPA Project; “then lines would be around the corner,” he laughs.
Pappas acknowledges the significance of black beers equaling black ops, but the more important component for him is to introduce macro drinkers to a dark beer. Supporting a good cause has crossover appeal, so the people who are typically drinking light lagers come in to champion their veterans. It “prompts people to give dark beer a try,” Pappas says.
Memorial Day has become the official kickoff to summer season. It’s a weekend of day drinking and parties. This year, raise a glass to our veterans. You might just be raising some money for them, too.