Thank these brewers for their service.
Veterans are crafting beer across the country and giving back to their local communities, one pint at a time.
Ron Gamble was a naval flight officer stationed in Jacksonville, Fla. when he got deployed to Iraq during the first Gulf War in 1991.
“As a 26-year-old, when you start to experience loss of life, it’s very sobering; you realize you’re not immortal,” Gamble, 54, told FOX Business of losing friends in combat.
Adjusting to civilian life and finding meaningful work was a challenge for Gamble when he finished serving in 1995.
“You have a lot of responsibility when you’re in the service and when you get out, it’s like going from 60 miles-an-hour to five-miles-an-hour,” Gamble said. “I think most people who leave have a hard time. I wasn’t happy for about a year until I got involved in internet startups. I liked it because it was a fast-paced business - there were a lot of risks.”
He realized he wanted to be more entrepreneurial. His wife, Sheryl, got him a home brewing kit, and it became his at-home hobby. In 2007, he went to brewing school in Chicago, and finished his studies in Germany. He started volunteering at a brewery in Mass., worked his way up to a brewer’s assistant and eventually raised close to $1 million to start up his own brewery back in Jacksonville in 2013 he called Veterans United Craft Brewery.
“I wanted to take everything I learned from the service and take that same pride and passion and put it into a new company to sell beers at the brewery,” he said.
His staff of nearly a dozen workers are primarily veterans who served in the U.S. Navy and Air Force. And the beer is served up with patriotic branding, like the Raging Blonde Ale, a golden blonde, malt ale with World War II icon Rosie the Riveter on the bottle. Veterans get 10% off beer in the tap room, and a six pack of his beers cost between $10 and $11 in grocery stores.
Like Gamble's, many veteran-owned breweries provide work to local veterans who need jobs, a crucial service considering just one in four veterans said they had a job lined up after discharge, while others have said it can take up to a year to find employment.
More than one in 10 U.S. business owners are military veterans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And a number of venture capital funds have made it their mission to help veterans start their own businesses. The Veterans’ Opportunity Fund (VOF) helps fund businesses that are started, owned or managed by veterans of the U.S. armed forces, and investments can reach up to $3 million.
Kevin Ryan, a West Point graduate and former Army commander, started Service Brewing Co. in Savannah, Ga. in 2014, with the help of more than two dozen investors, many of them Army, Navy and Marine Corps. veterans. He raised $2.5 million to get his brewery off the ground, and today he sells around 3,000 barrels a year.
“I have an engineering background, and as soon as I started doing home brew I was like, ‘wow this is great I can build things; I have a recipe.’"
Service Brewing Co. sells year-round brews like its medium-bodied, Ground Pounder Pale Ale, and a hop-forward Battlewagon Double IPA with floral and pine aromatics. Then there’s seasonal offerings like Lincoln’s Gift Oyster Stout brewed with May River Oysters.
His beer is distributed in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia with six packs on sale for between $8.99 and $11.99. Ryan donates 25-cents of every pint purchased in the tap room to rotating charities the brewery supports, including Wounded Warriors and the Leukemia & Lymphoma society. He says more than $150,000 has gone to charity through fund raisers the brewery sponsors.
"Our mission is to give back to charities that support services," Ryan said.