Ales for ALS™ presents beer lovers with a win-win proposition: drink delicious beer from great breweries while supporting a good cause. The program, which will celebrate its tenth anniversary in 2023, has raised millions of dollars for ALS research, recruited some of the best brewers from around the world, and led to the creation of countless delicious and unique beers.
History of Ales for ALS™
Ales for ALS’s™ origins begin with Cheryl Hanses. Cheryl has nine members of her family that have either passed from or are currently living with ALS. Her husband, Mike Smith, is a third generation hop farmer in Yakima, WA; his family has been growing hops since 1932. In 2013, after learning about the ALS Therapy Development Institute’s (ALS TDI) mission to discover effective treatments for the disease, Cheryl and Mike decided to leverage their connections to the hop-growing and beer-brewing communities to help support the cause.
In 2013 they created Ales for ALS™, a concept where participating breweries would be offered access to an experimental hop blend, free of charge. In exchange, the breweries would brew a special beer with these hops and donate a portion of their beer sales to ALS TDI. Beginning with 33 participating brewers and proceeds totaling $130,000, Ales for ALS™ has grown each year, with more than 230 breweries participating in 2022. Over ten years, these efforts have raised more than $5 million for ALS research at ALS TDI.
Growth of Ales for ALS™
The names that have been involved in Ales for ALS™ over the years range from small local breweries to some of the biggest craft beer producers in the country, like Sierra Nevada, Sam Adams, and New Belgium. In addition to selling their Ales for ALS™ brews, many of these breweries have further supported the program by throwing release parties and regional festivals to spread the word and raise additional funds. One long-running festival put on by Faction Brewing in Alameda, CA, has raised over $500,000 in and of itself over nine years.
While many brewers participate in the program purely to support a great cause, Mike Shannon, the National Director of Ales for ALS™, says that some of the most meaningful connections he’s made over the years are with participants with a deeper connection to ALS.
“We meet a lot of people that are directly affected by ALS,” he says. “People whose father, mother, aunt, uncle, or grandparent passed from ALS or have ALS, and that connection inspired them to join the program and help get the word out there. This is not a rare disease. We even have brewers in the program who are impacted by this disease.”
For Ales for ALS’ 10th year, Mike says there are exciting new changes on the horizon. First, the program will welcome exciting new partners to the fold. In the past Ales for ALS™ has had many generous sponsors in the brewing industry, such as Untappd, Loftus Ranches Hop Farm, and Yakima Chief Hops. This year, they will be joined by Amylyx Pharmaceuticals, the makers of Relyvrio, which recently became the third drug approved in the US for treating ALS, as a national sponsor. Google’s Project Relate, a smartphone application to help people with ALS and other neurological disorders better communicate, will also be supporting the program and collaborating on events.
2023 will also see the introduction of a new way for brewers to participate. For years, participation in the program has been limited by the amount of the yearly blend of hops – there are often more willing brewers than hops to supply them with. This coming year, brewers who can’t access the hop blend, or who do not have time in their tight production schedules to make an additional beer, will still be able support the program. While brewers putting their own unique spin on the year’s hop blend will still be a cornerstone of the Ales for ALS™ brand, Mike says he hopes that this opportunity will open the door to many new brewers.
“Brewers will now have the latitude to brew on their schedule and at their leisure,” he says. “They can make decisions based on whatever beer they might want to brew and however many dollars they'd like to commit. We're hoping to grow that program in 2023 and potentially add another 40 or 50 brewers who are not necessarily brewing a beer with the Ales for ALS™ hop blend but can still support ALS research.”
With this new, lower barrier to entry, Mike is especially excited about adding more areas throughout the country with high concentrations of Ales for ALS™ brewers. He says having many brewers close by gives beer lovers the opportunity to many different Ales for ALS™ beers – and opens the door for events that can raise awareness about the program and its mission.
“This year, we’ll have about 40 brewers in Philadelphia joining us,” Mike says. “We're adding to our totals in Minnesota and the Minneapolis area. Those groups of brewers will probably also host events that will in turn create more revenue and more support for the program. We also have big concentrations of brewers in California, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Washington State. So that's the next objective – to get these nexuses of brewers to come together and help raise more revenue. In 2022 we’ve raised approximately $700,000. Next year, we hope to raise about 10-15% more.”
To learn more about the Ales for ALS™ program, including where to find a participating brewer near you, visit https://a4a.als.net/.
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