Saturday: 2:15PM. Gowanus, that smelly little stepchild of a neighborhood, was very much alive. Thirsty denizens in neon wristbands gripped four-ounce tasting cups and milled about the Bell House’s cavernous performance space. Some wandered out onto the food truck-lined sidewalk, where clusters of happy beer nerds feasted on piping hot Pizza Moto slices, Calexico tacos and tiny DUB pies. Inside, every tap handle in the joint bore the signature orange-and-black Sixpoint logo, and volunteers in bright yellow Beer Advocate t-shirts manned dozens upon dozens of jockey boxes, sweating and smiling as they poured. The fourth annual Beer for Beasts benefit was well underway.
Beer for Beasts is a collaborative event hosted by Beer Advocate, a craft beer website and print magazine, and Brooklyn’s own Sixpoint Brewery. Each year, two sessions invite charitably inclined beer enthusiasts into the Bell House for a jam-packed day full of exclusive brews, live entertainment, and tons of tasty treats, all for a good cause. 100% of ticket sales benefited one of the region’s oldest animal advocacy organizations, the Humane Society of New York, which actually got its start during New York’s first brewing heyday, in 1904.
“It’s a one-of-a-kind event for a one-of-a-kind organization – a perfect blend of beer and beasts,” explains HSNY Associate Director Anne-Marie Karash, stationed at a booth beneath professionally shot portraits of adoptable cats and dogs (no live animals were allowed inside the event due to health regulations, so adorably hilarious headshots had to suffice). “We began as a no-kill shelter, providing medical services for work horses on the streets of New York, and we’ve been at it seven days a week since then.”
That level of dogged devotion (pun deeply intended) is a perfect match for Sixpoint’s trademark “beer as culture” ethos. “Shane [Welch, Sixpoint’s founder] loves animals, and he’s so passionate about what he does,” continued Karash, scanning the jubilant, tipsy crowd with a smile. “He just thought, ‘What would bring the most people together around this issue?’ Beer people tend to be laid back, good people, and it gets bigger and better every year.”
And beer people they were. As the afternoon barreled forward, discarded compostable tasting cups began piling up on every available space, tossed aside to make way for more and more pours before the kegs inevitably kicked. Volunteers scrambled about with trash bags attempting to keep order, but festivalgoers were too entranced to notice. With over 30 beers brewed exclusively for the event, one-of-a-kind is an understatement. The beers ranged from collaborative brews with local talents like Barrier Brewing, 508 Gastrobrewery and Grimm Artisanal Ales to experimental one-offs from the far reaches of the Sixpoint team. Behind the scenes, everyone from the bookkeepers to the sales reps got their hands dirty, coming up with batches of rich chocolate-caramel porters, refreshing citrus-infused cream ales and Sriracha-inspired belly-warmers, to name a few. It was a Beer Geek’s Christmas.
Which is not to say it was complete ruckus–at least not during the afternoon session. As Sixpoint regional brand rep Dan “Jersey Dan” Bisogno noted, “The day crowd, they’re talking tobacco notes and mouth feel, much more beer snobby – taking notes and checking every sip in on Untapped. But the evening crowd, they come ready to rock. At night, they’re just like, ‘Give me that barrel aged imperial stout right now.’”
Bisogno had a point, yet that relatively tame group of drinkers managed to pocket their smartphones and let loose a bit when Biz Markie took the stage. The forty minute set was surprisingly intimate – lights dimmed, bass bumping, bodies dancing and beer, of course, still flowing.
“We’re here for the Beer Advocates, you know what I mean?” Markie spat into the mic, head down, cup in hand. “Where my beer drinkers at? I’m up here acting like I’m at my bar, getting down to my favorite song.” By the time he closed with the eternal crowd pleaser, “Just a friend,” the tone shifted, more focused on good vibes than critiquing hop profiles.
Standing by the door as hordes of happy Brooklynites filtered back into the sunlight, Sixpoint Account Manager Adam Zuniga smiled dreamily. “I can’t imagine another company, another platform, that would do this,” he marveled. “To let me scheme on a couple beers and then put this whole thing on–I just feel so lucky to be a part of it… but it’s really Heather’s baby.”
That Heather was Heather McReynolds, Sixpoint’s brewery manager, who leaned against the bar as a grown man in a Knicks jersey grooved spastically to the music, surrounded by whooping, Hawaiian shirt-clad buddies. “I made that happen,” she says, pointing to the dancing man’s enormous grin. “Everybody who’s having a chill time right now, I am a part of that. I am a part of their fun Saturday. It’s a pretty great feeling.”