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Beer to the Rescue Taps into Year 4

The campaign to raise awareness and money for the Lupus Foundation of Southern California is bigger than ever


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Brandon Hernández is the founder of the annual Beer to the Rescue campaign. | Photo: Bruce Glassman

It's always nice to know your friends are there when you need them. For Brandon Hernández, who's been a beer writer and a member of the San Diego beer industry for more than ten years, having friends in the beer community has been especially nice. Not only are San Diego brewers particularly friendly, loyal, and generous, they also have a long tradition of stepping up to help out with worthy causes. Four years ago, when Brandon asked brewers to step up for the Lupus Foundation of Southern California, the response was nothing short of awesome—and Beer to the Rescue (BTTR) was born.

Officially diagnosed with Lupus in 2014, Brandon had actually been suffering from symptoms as far back as 2004. It took nearly ten years of testing and trial medications before some kind of effective diagnosis and treatment could even begin. "My symptoms initially came out of nowhere," Brandon says, "and Lupus affects your entire body. It's an autoimmune disease and it's chronic and it finds its way into everything." Joint problems, muscle aches, fatigue, gastrointestinal issues, rashes, and lesions are some of the most common ailments, but a wide variety of hard-to-identify symptoms can also be present. "I get these electro-shock feelings in my brain that are really, really painful," Brandon explains. "It's a really odd disease and that's why it's really hard to diagnose. There's no test to diagnose you for it. You almost have to run the gamut of everything else before a lupus specialist can say, yes, I believe that's what you have." Treating sufferers is further complicated by the fact that, according to Brandon, lupus is not a highly researched disease, which makes it somewhat mysterious, and means that people in the medical community don't really know all that much about it. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, approximately 1.5 million Americans have lupus.

Some of the symptoms of lupus can be controlled with medication—Brandon takes a drug called Plaquenil, which helps him to manage and reduce the severity of flare-ups and enables him to be more prepared to fight the symptoms when they occur. "The only way to really fight it," Brandon says, "is to just shut down and not do anything, which is really hard for my lifestyle." Like many other autoimmune conditions, symptoms can disappear completely for a period of time and then strike with severity and without warning.

Once he knew he had lupus, Brandon started to research the disease. He found some answers about medications and what current researchers are learning at the national chapter of the Lupus Foundation before connecting with the Lupus Foundation of Southern California, which—oddly—is not related to the national organization. (The Southern California organization covers San Diego, Imperial, and Riverside Counties, which, according to BTTR, have more than 20,000 people who suffer from lupus.)

Shortly after connecting with the Southern California Lupus Foundation, Brandon had an idea to get the craft beer community involved in raising awareness and money for the disease. He took the concept to the foundation, got their buy-in, and began planning the first Beer to the Rescue campaign. Brandon then set about asking brewers and breweries to take part in an organized program. He asked breweries to participate in whatever way they could; to brew a special beer, host a function, create an event where proceeds would benefit lupus, or just donate a flat amount. The response was spectacular. "We ended up with a ton of breweries the first year," Brandon says. "It's one of the reasons our community is so great. They want to help people out and they'll do it at the drop of a hat."

The first campaign was organized to be held over the course of twelve months; BBTR lined up events throughout the year, did a lot of collaboration beers, and the entire range of breweries from large to small participated. "Everyone from Stone and Ballast Point on down to tiny, tiny breweries—even some breweries that haven't been fans in the past of some of the things I've written—even they participated," Brandon recalls. "That really just goes to show you what a giving spirit we have here in San Diego."

Benchmark Brewing co-founders Rachael and Matt Akin recently hosted a BTTR event with a special release of their Hildegard Triple IPA. | Photo: Bruce Glassman

During the first year, the Beer to the Rescue program sponsored a total of more than 30 events. Although the effort was a great success, the amount of energy needed to pull it off took its toll on Brandon, who was charged with making most of it happen. Still wiped out from the first year, Brandon scaled back the scope of the second year's events to about a dozen. "The third year I really wanted to make it big again," Brandon recalls, "so we did it during Lupus Awareness Month in May and we had more than 30 events over the course of the month. It was awesome, but it was too much." After year three, Brandon realized that neither he nor his team of volunteers could commit to such a grueling schedule again. So this year—year four—the plan is to go back to a twelve-month schedule that includes an average of 2-4 events each month through December, with a large concentration of events planned for May. According to Brandon, this year will feature more collaboration beers than ever before, and—by and large—will return to a "less outlandish" approach to recipe creation. "I still remember a beer Kris Ketcham at Stone did one year. He loves Skittles and he wanted to do a Belgian Tripel that tasted like Skittles. He incorporated fresh fruit purée of strawberry, orange, lemon, lime, and Concord grapes. It was bright pink and that beer actually tasted good!" A number of this year's collaborations are still being developed, but the Mexican Lager that's slated for release tonight (March 1) at Gordon Biersch (Gordon Biersch/Three Punk Ales) is one that Brandon has especially looked forward to. "It's just the perfect kind of beer," he says. "And Doug Hasker has been saying for weeks that it's tasting great!"

So far, BTTR has raised more than $100,000 and has amassed an impressive team of supporters. This year, a record 42 breweries will participate and the BTTR program will expand to benefit other causes, including Beer for Boobs, the Challenged Athletes Foundation, St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, One More Wave, and others. The expansion of the BTTR fundraising mission comes as a result of its great success thus far, having raised, according to Brandon, more money than they ever anticipated they could. "I want to pay it forward a little bit," he says, "and we want to do it through any brewery that wants to participate and choose its own specific cause. Luckily, Beer to the Rescue has become a pretty well recognized name and I just hope we can help others through this flag."

The Mexican Lager collaboration release is happening tonight (March 1) at Gordon Biersch, from 5-8 p.m.

Events are being added to the calendar on a regular basis. To see which events are scheduled so far, go to beertotherescue.org/#events.

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