“If you’re at sea in the Navy more than 45 days without a port visit, you are allowed two beers,” LeAnn Darland, co-founder of Talea Beer Co., says. The celebration (of sorts) is called “beer day,” and the beers are “old, dusty, hot Budweisers,” Darland says. “It’s such a spectacular moment for the crew, but then you get this nasty beer.”
Darland is a Naval Academy alum who served five years as a signals intelligence officer, spending most of that time off the coast of Iraq and Iran. Her last duty station was in San Diego. “That’s where I started to love beer,” she says. She launched Talea Beer Co. in NYC in May 2019 with co-founder Tara Hankinson. Their “sessionable, repeatable” beers include Sun Up Hazy IPA.
Talea joins an array of veteran-owned breweries across the country. Although concentrated in regions near military bases — there are upwards of a dozen in North Carolina, and several in the greater D.C. area — there are operations nationwide.
Many veteran-owned breweries give back to organizations that support veterans’ needs, such as Homes for Our Troops, which builds adapted homes for disabled veterans. Others contribute to the Jonas Project, a non-profit group that helps turn veterans into entrepreneurs, and Red Circle Foundation, which helps support the families of special forces members who have been wounded or killed.
They also provide places for veterans, and their families and friends, to connect. These former members of the U.S. military are now serving their country and communities through beer.
Service Brewing in Savannah, Ga., is inspired by co-founder Kevin Ryan’s time in the service. While stationed in Iraq, he and his colleagues received care packages from strangers abroad, and he wants to pay it forward.
The brewery helped raise more than $18,000 for the Chatham-Savannah Authority for the Homeless, which builds Tiny Homes for homeless veterans in Savannah.
“No matter where we go, there are people who relate to veterans,” Ryan told The Washington Post in 2015. “[E]veryone knows somebody who is, or has been, in the military.”
In Bozeman, Mont., Dog Tag Brewing Co., through its Dog Tag Foundation, operates as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Through its Dog Tag Legacy Fund, the organization partners with Gold Star families, or those whose family member died in service. Every Dog Tag beer can is a memorial, featuring the “dog tag” of a fallen soldier.
“It’s to make sure that the folks we lost are never forgotten,” Seth Jordan, brewery founder and former Marine, told USA Today in 2015. “And it’s about celebrating their lives rather than focusing on their death.”
Veterans United Craft Brewery in Jacksonville, Fla., focuses its efforts on another species: dogs. The company has helped fundraise for Florida Service Dogs, the Military Working Dog Team Support Association, We Ride to Provide, K9s for Warriors, and the Jacksonville Humane Society.
Sometimes the efforts come full circle. Veterans United launched in 2014 with 18 investors, all of whom were veterans. For Service Brewing, also launched in 2014, 20 of its 23 investors were veterans.
Talea currently operates its office out of a WeWork space secured through Veterans in Residence, a program sponsored by WeWork and Bunker Labs, which “helps veteran entrepreneurs with resources … including six months of free office space,” Darland tells VinePair. Talea is currently contract-brewed and distributed in NYC, and plans to have its own space up and running in Brooklyn or Queens by 2020.
As part of their efforts to give back, Darland and Hankinson plan to donate enough of their Sun Up Hazy IPA and Lunch Date Pale Ale to supply each Naval ship for “beer day.” The brand also plans to hire “as diverse as possible,” including veterans who are transitioning into civilian life. “I know firsthand how difficult that transition can be,” Darland says.
At Backwards Flag Brewing, in Forked River, N.J., Torie Fisher made it her mission to help with the post-service transition to civilian life. Along with founding the first female-veteran-owned brewery in the U.S., she started Arms 2 Artisans, a non-profit that teaches brewing to post-9/11 veterans.
In an interview with Military.com, Fisher offers tips for transition including setting goals to avoid the post-service slump, and finding like-minded organizations and people to socialize and work with. “I think veterans have a need to be a part of a team,” Fisher says.
That sense of camaraderie is shared by many veteran-owned brewers, both in their taprooms and the communities they serve.
Steven Gagner, founder of 14th Star Brewing in St. Albans, Vt., told CraftBeer.com that, along with his “love for process and gadgetry,” the reason he started a brewery is “the social aspect of it — especially among veterans.” He wrote the business plan while stationed in Afghanistan.
At Railhouse Brewery in Aberdeen, N.C., a “Beer Forward Wall” allows customers to purchase beers and leave a sticky note for veterans to redeem later. “The wall is filled with names or titles, like ‘Vietnam vet,’” Dan Fitfield, Railhouse brewmaster, says. “So someone who’s a Vietnam vet can come in, take that sticky note, and get a beer courtesy of whoever paid for that note.”
Giving and Getting
At the annual Craft Brewers Conference in 2015, a “Veterans Roundtable” led by Ian Schuster, founder of the Schubros Brewery in San Ramon, Calif., and a Naval Academy graduate who served in Iraq and Kosovo, included representatives from 30 breweries.
Intended as a networking opportunity, the roundtable led to the establishment of the Veterans Beer Alliance, an organization that connects veteran-owned beer businesses. “There’s a level of trust right off the bat,” Schuster told The Washington Post. “We understand each other’s history.”
Matt Wolf, an Air Force intelligence officer whose name has been changed for privacy, believes the way businesses treat their military connection is vital. “Some companies I’ve encountered are more humble about it, by working with charities and organizations, doing community work, hiring veterans, etc.,” Wolf says. “Whereas some others market their veteran status as if that automatically makes their products better, to the point of cringiness.”
In other words, just because beer is brewed by veterans doesn’t mean it’s high-quality. And even finding a craft brewery or beer bar can be “tough,” due to where Air Force personnel are stationed. (At the moment, Wolf lives “in the middle of nowhere,” he says.)
When beer and intentions are good, it makes the experience that much more meaningful. For some consumers, sipping a lager from a company that cares is an ideal pairing.
“I’m always happy to see people who find success outside of the military,” Wolf says.
American Veteran-Owned Breweries in the U.S.
Veteran-owned brewing companies across the U.S. include the more than 40 operations below.
14th Star Brewing Company
St. Albans, Vt.
608 Brewing Company
La Crosse, Wis.
Aiken Brewing Company
Backward Flag Brewing
Forked River, N.J.
Battlefield Brew Works
Bayou Teche Brewing
Bear Island Brewing
Big Beach Brewing
Gulf Shores, Ala.
Big Frog Brewery
Black Horse Brewery
Knoxville and Clarksville, Tenn.
Broken Strings Brewery
Call Sign Brewing
Kansas City, Mo.
Check Six Brewing
Common Space Brewing
Diamond Bear Brewery
Little Rock, Ark.
Dog Tag Brewing
Fair Winds Brewing
Fort Street Brewery
Lincoln Park, Mich.
Full Tilt Brewing
Haint Blue Brewing
High Ground Brewing
Terra Alta, W.Va.
Huske Hardware House
Kings County Brewers Collective
Launch Pad Brewery
Red Leg Brewing Co.
Colorado Springs, Colo.
San Ramon, Calif.
Southern Pines Brewing
Southern Pines, N.C.
Talea Beer Co.
New York, N.Y.
Talisman Brewing Co.
Third Colony Brewery & Winery
Veterans Beer Co.
Veteran Brothers Brewing
Veterans United Craft Brewery
Young Veterans Brewing Company
Virginia Beach, Va.
View more veteran-owned businesses here.