Free beer for Hudson Valley's worthy causes

The Gilded Otter Brewing Co. brew pub in The Gilded Otter Brewing Co. brew pub in New Paltz is perched near the Wallkill River in an airy building made of stone, referencing the town's historic Huguenot Street, famous for its old stone houses. Photo Credit: Alison Gregor

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In April, 2012, when Newburgh Brewing Company first opened in the Orange County city it's named after, the requests for free booze began right away, said company president Paul Halayko.

"From an overall production standpoint, 10 kegs out of a production of 300, it's a small part of the portfolio," he said.

Newburgh Brewing Company isn't alone: The lower Hudson Valley's small but growing number of microbreweries are finding themselves on tap for donations to nonprofit organizations as traditional charitable funding sources dry up in a slow economy.

The win-win situation not only gives needy groups a helping hand; the beer makers can write off their donations on their taxes and put their brands front and center at fundraising events.

The giving involves more than just rolling out a keg to a nonprofit organization's fundraising event. Halayko and other employees show up to help serve the beer -- and in the process, bond with the community

"We're all so happy to do it that the idea of the tax benefit is an afterthought," Halayko said.

Newburgh Brewing also contributes tours and free use of the company's 6,000-square-foot tap room overlooking the Hudson River. It has created a fundraising beer called von Steuben's Gose, to help the Washington's Headquarters State Historic Site, around the corner. The site was used by George Washington during the Revolutionary War. A portion of price of each pint sold goes to help the site.

"In the short amount of time that they've been here, they've made an incredible mark on the community," said Elyse B. Goldberg, manager of the historic site.

Breweries are still a very small component of the state's $5 billion beer industry. In 2010, brewing accounted for just 2,238 jobs, compared to 5,414 jobs in beer wholesaling and 51,858 jobs in the beer retail trade, according to The Beer Institute.

In the lower Hudson Valley, the 10 or so microbreweries are part of the evolving, locally sourced farm-to-table movement, said Laurence Gottlieb, Westchester County's economic development director and co-founder of the Food & Beverage Alliance, an industry association run by the Hudson Valley Economic Development Corp.

Gottlieb says he has seen the microbreweries become more important resources to nonprofits "that were used to going to Westchester County for money, or to bigger companies like the PepsiCos and the MasterCards for help.

"Both sides . . . are seeing their dollars dwindle," Gottlieb said. "So nonprofits are even going to solo entrepreneurs now, looking for support."

The Captain Lawrence Brewing Company, which opened in Pleasantville in 2006 and moved to Elmsford in 2011, saw so many requests for free beer it automated the request process, including on its website a special tab marked "donation request form." The form spells out guidelines for thirsty applicants.

"We give away an enormous amount of beer every weekend -- we're giving away cases and kegs," said Scott Vaccaro, brewmaster at Captain Lawrence.

Vaccaro said the company requires four weeks notice from applicants for free beer, and insists that applicants have a 501(c) tax exemption code from the Internal Revenue Service.

"I don't think there's any way to quantify what we get back but we feel good about what we do," Vaccaro said.

Neill Acer, owner and brewmaster at seven-year-old Defiant Brewing Co. in Pearl River, says his company has been writing a $1,500 check to a college scholarship fund run by the Rotary Club of Pearl River. But Acer still enjoys dreaming up fun giveaway ideas, like the Beer For A Year raffle sponsored by Defiant at Rotary's fundraisers. The winner gets half a gallon of beer every month for 12 months.

Acer says he sees the charity work as a way to give back to the consumers who buy the 30 different styles of beer he'll make in a normal year.

"You've got to give back, it's not an option," he said firmly. "You have to do it."

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