In reflecting upon a country in chaos from two major hurricanes of late, I have been awed by the generosity of spirit people have shown toward one another in their time of crisis. I have also been inspired and humbled by the philanthropic actions taken by so many. JJ Watt thought it would be a challenge to raise $200,000 for hurricane Harvey victims, and instead raised over $20 million! The Cajun Navy traveled at their own expense to rescue so many of those trapped by the flood waters, and returned with provisions to aid those survivors in need. Many volunteers went back to flood ravaged neighborhoods to save quadrupeds left behind and terrified. Several animal rescue organizations like Best Friends and the Humane Society mobilized to help those animals in Texas, and were already in place before Irma struck. We witnessed the creation of Corpus Craft Cares, a non-profit disaster relief fund set up by three Texas breweries (Lorelai, Lazy Beach, and Rebel Toad) to aid disaster victims. Lone Star Brewing set up a disaster relief fund, donating $25,000 as seed money with a goal of raising $250,000 for disaster victims by December.
In light of this, it seemed only appropriate to take this time to address those historic craft brewers of Maryland and their charitable contributions to the communities they resided and operated in. Many brewers provided regular donations of food and goods during extreme weather events be it winter storms, or summer droughts, for the homeless and indigent populations of Baltimore that could not survive without it. This was laudable, and greatly needed but they also rose far above almsgiving. Brewer John Wiessner, son of George F. Wiessner, proprietor of the 19th century Fort Marshall Brewery in Highlandtown started an orphanage in 1905. Originally titled the J. F. Wiessner Children’s Asylum the name has since been changed to perhaps a kinder moniker, The Wiessner Foundation for Children. This institution is still operational today funding organizations whose sole mission is to help children. A remarkable accomplishment considering John’s own brewery was closed down.
A contemporary of Wiessner, George Guenther Sr. was the son of the mayor of Wirtheim, Germany who immigrated to Baltimore to open a brewery. He successfully produced high quality lager beer for decades. Guenther’s son kept the brewery open during Prohibition to provide jobs for the workers and beer for the neighborhood, but was forced to sell the operation two years prior to repeal. Despite the sale of the brewery, the Guenther family still operated a home for ‘incurables’ which also served as a foundation to support humanitarian efforts across Maryland. Other post Prohibition brewery philanthropists include the Hoffberger family, owners of the National Brewing Company. The brewery opened in 1885 and survived into the modern era due to the acumen of the Hoffberger family, who purchased the brewery in 1933. Often noted for their support of professional sports teams like the Orioles and the Colts, their charitable accomplishments outshined all other interests. They created the Hoffberger Family Philanthropies to support children’s development, health, and education in Baltimore. These consolidated foundations fulfilled that mission for more than 70 years and continue to do so today.
Some historic brewers went far beyond financial philanthropy and were willing to risk their lives for those in need. John G. Lipp immigrated to Frederick Maryland to seek his fortune in the brewing industry in 1840. His brewery was an incredible success and staple of the community for 44 years. The remarkable generosity Lipp demonstrated was not the housing of his workers, or his notable contributions to the city of Frederick, but in offering his home as a safe house on the Underground Railroad, aiding countless slaves in their quest for freedom. Lipp left an enduring humanitarian legacy that far outlived his brewing contributions.
Fortunately for the beer drinkers of today modern brewers have taken up this philanthropic mantle, by supporting charitable endeavors, and honoring the legacy of those that came before. Communities know that in times of trouble they have an ally in their local brewery.