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Chico State

Beer-Crafting Alums Respond With Resilience

Josh Leavy smiles as he brews Resilience IPA in a container reading "San Francisco Brewing Co."
Jessica Bartlett / University Photographer

Current athletics students receive advice from Distinguished Athletics Alumni on Wednesday September 12, 2018 in Colusa Hall in Chico, Ca. (Jessica Bartlett/University Photographer/CSU Chico)

In the wake of the Camp Fire, members of the Chico State family have been reaching out to each other to help in the ways they know best. For Wildcats who took career cues from local craft brewing giant Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., beer-making has been the ideal way to give back.

Answering the call from alum Ken Grossman to raise money for the Sierra Nevada Camp Fire Relief Fund, brewers from across the country have signed on to sell Resilience, an IPA crafted from donated ingredients and packaged in Sierra Nevada cans.

One hundred percent of its profits will go to the relief fund. Grossman, the Sierra Nevada founder and owner who earned an honorary doctorate from Chico State in 2008, seeded the fund with a $100,000 donation from Sierra Nevada and all funds raised will be distributed to local partner organizations dedicated to rebuilding and supporting the affected communities.

Josh Leavy smiles from behind the bar while wearing a Chico Make a Difference Day shirt.
Josh Leavy, owner of San Francisco Brewing Co., hosted the Resilience IPA alumni party in November in San Francisco. His taproom’s property owner in Ghirardelli Square matched all proceeds with a donation, making for a sizable contribution to the Wildcats Rise fund.

More than 1,400 breweries from across the country and beyond have pledged to brew and sell Resilience in support of Camp Fire victims. Among them is San Francisco Brewing Company, owned by alum Josh Leavy. He helped kick off the nationwide collaboration with his company’s first batch of Resilience IPA at an alumni fundraising event in San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square on November 27, and the brew started flowing from his taps Friday.

“I love Chico. I love the whole area,” said Leavy (‘03, Business Administration), who recalled college days of hiking in the Paradise and Magalia hills, and driving trucks full of packed snow back to Chico with the campus snowboard club. “The first news we got of the fire, we knew we had to do something, and then Ken and Sierra Nevada did their callout and it was obvious. Staff, faculty, students are without their houses, and that was all I needed to hear to get on board.”

With Sierra Nevada donating ingredients and providing the recipe for Resilience, support poured forth from breweries everywhere—especially from those with a Chico connection. Among more than 150 Wildcat alumni who report as brewers, nearly 40 of them operate or work for breweries who have committed to supporting the Camp Fire Recovery Fund via Resilience sales.

Three people drink Resilience IPA in the San Francisco Brewing Co. taproom.
Patrons and alumni enjoy the first taste of Resilience IPA, brewed by San Francisco Brewing Co. for the beer’s initial release at an alumni fundraising party. 

“Every craft brewer has followed Sierra Nevada’s lead since they opened anyway,” cracked alum Walter Ramirez, Jr. (Communication Design, ’12), a brewer at Last Call Brewing Co. in Oakdale. He also operates the business’ social media platforms, so he caught the first whiff of the call for help and knew Last Call would answer. “We love making beer and that’s something we’re always going to do, so when we have the chance to help while doing it, it’s a no-brainer.

“The craft beer community has always been collaborative and open to working together, and it’s really cool to see that spirit come through—not just in enjoying a pint together,” Ramirez said, “but to rally behind a cause that will help a lot of people.”

His ties to the region remain strong, six years after graduation. His girlfriend lives in the area and he still visits frequently, so he said he acutely feels the pain of nearby communities as they suffer in the fire’s aftermath.

Jake Dickman (’15, Religious Studies) knows the feeling. Raised in Chico, he works today as the assistant brewer at Secret Trail Brewing Co. The 15-barrel brewery operates a mile from Sierra Nevada Brewing in south Chico and had already started making plans of its own to brew a support beer when Grossman put the call out to his counterparts nationwide.

Signing on to the larger effort was an easy decision, Dickman said.

“When you grow up in Chico, you have an operative understanding of craft beer to begin with. Before you know about beer, you know you like Sierra Nevada,” he said. “It’s been pretty amazing to see how people have come together. I don’t know that any private sector industry has ever done anything like this.”

“What you come to learn from things like this, is that there really aren’t ‘competitors’ in craft brewing,” Dickman added. “Brewers more tenured than myself, they turn that into ‘compatriot.’ And it’s true. We all have the same goal.”

With staggered releases throughout the next couple of weeks, Resilience IPA will certainly have multiple variations, as different breweries add their own signature tweaks—SF Brewing, for example, slightly toned down the bitterness from the original recipe, while Secret Trail opted for Comet hops over Centennial.

Josh Leavy stands atop brewing equipment.
Leavy didn’t hesitate to collaborate with Sierra Nevada in brewing Resilience. “Staff, faculty, students are without their houses. … That was all I needed to hear to get on board.”

No matter the difference in their flavor profiles, though, each version of Resilience will have one thing in common, and that is funding the recovery of Northern Californians who truly need it.

“The best thing about this all is knowing that what we’ve built has turned into something that now allows us to give back,” Leavy said. “We can tell a story about giving in a time of need, and that’s so much more powerful with this many people on board.”