Matt Smith and his wife Abby, owners of Massachusetts-based Wandering Soul Beer Co., were devastated by horrible news: eight-and-a-half months into pregnancy, their daughter Melody was stillborn. In the wake of their loss, they quickly found not being able to openly talk about their trauma to be just as painful. In 2019, their brewery released Things We Don’t Say, an IPA brewed with hopes of starting an open dialogue and reducing the stigma surrounding matters of mental health.
In this spirit, 110 breweries in four countries are set to release their own versions of Things We Don’t Say IPA, part of a nationwide movement spearheaded by a base recipe provided by Milwaukee’s Eagle Park Brewing, and subsidized by ingredient discounts from Malteurop Malting Company and Hollingbery & Son Hop Co. They’ve partnered with Shake The Stigma, an awareness campaign from Hope for the Day, a Chicago-based nonprofit focused on suicide prevention and mental-health education.
Locally, participants in this charitable effort include Armored Cow Brewing Co., Divine Barrel Brewing, High Branch Brewing Co., and Petty Thieves Brewing Co., with their batches set to release throughout May to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Month.
Every brewery I spoke with has been touched by struggles with mental health, either from first-hand or directly adjacent experience. While mental disorders such as depression and anxiety affect folks of all stripes, there’s a unique hesitancy to discuss mental health in the world of alcohol.
“Everyone is affected in some form or fashion by mental health, and we genuinely love the message that it’s OK to not be OK,” says James Amato of Divine Barrel. “It hits home. Many are scared to ask for help due to the stigma society has placed on mental health. Being able to play a tiny part in helping erase that stigma is truly what drew us in.”
“I went through a real dark time a few years ago where I felt alone but I knew I wasn’t alone,” Ted Rosenau of Petty Thieves adds. “I had to learn to embrace those moments and lean on and trust good friends, and believe that it would pass.”
Right before being made aware of this project, Andy Kalinoski of Armored Cow had a child diagnosed with depression. Last year, a close family friend committed suicide at just 20 years old. “It is not weakness to ask for help,” he stressed, while urging folks in need to “please talk to someone.”
TJ Creighton of High Branch touts his experience with therapy as “life-changing,” adding “you go to a doctor for a broken leg, you go to a therapist to be happier. You won’t regret it.”
I’m personally familiar with this as well; in a past life as a beer rep, I was poorly dealing with a major depressive episode, increasingly self-medicating with the very product I was peddling in a desperate attempt to cope. I’m not alone; in the years since righting my own ship, I’ve learned several of my former peers have lost battles with mental illness. I think of them every time I see their brands on shelves.
Eagle Park’s provided recipe is a hazy IPA, clocking in at 6% ABV and hopped with Cashmere, Azacca, and El Dorado. Divine Barrel has stayed faithful to the base beer, while Armored Cow has dropped the ABV slightly to increase sessionability. High Branch tweaked the hop bill slightly and added a bit more oats.
Petty Thieves made the most edits, turning in a 5.4% hazy pale ale using Galaxy and Mosaic in the kettle before dry-hopping with Nelson Sauvin and Mosaic.
While every participating brewery was connected by exposure to folks struggling with their mental health, none currently have a formal program to assist employees with such issues. In fact, such programs remain outliers in the beer industry as a whole. But while researching this article, I read about a program offered by Creature Comforts Brewing Co. in Athens, Georgia, for which the brewery partners with a local counseling provider.
All breweries did convey a powerful message about their company culture. While no formal mental-health programs currently exist, they all stressed how important the health of their employees is to them, and that they were trying to be available to their staff to work on personal issues of any size and type.
“I hate the thought of others suffering through it,” says Creighton, “and in reality a lot of what fixes anxiety and depression is normalizing it, making people realize they are not as alone as they feel.”
Adds Amato: “We want anyone out there who might be quietly dealing with any mental health struggles to know there are always family, friends, professionals, and even businesses who genuinely care about you, and are willing to help!”
Armored Cow, Divine Barrel and High Branch are currently pouring their respective versions of Things We Don’t Say in their taprooms, with four-packs of 16-oz. cans also available. Petty Thieves will release their version on draft only (stovepipe crowlers available) on Friday, May 14. Additional information, including a homebrew-scaled recipe for Things We Don’t Say, can be found at the Hope for the Day website.
This article was published in partnership with BeerCharlotte.com, the leading source for news and information about Charlotte’s craft beer scene since 2018.
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