Fort Bragg is a 250 square mile U.S. Army base in North Carolina, home to the Airborne and Special Operations Forces and about 40,000 military and civilian personnel. Railhouse Brewery is a much smaller operation sitting on a tract of land not far from the western edge of the base.
Veterans Brian Evitts and Mike Ratkowski started Railhouse after Evitts served eight years in the U.S. Navy in the Nuclear Propulsion Program, and Ratkowski spent more than eight years in the Army assigned to the 82nd Airborne. After retiring they kicked around the idea of opening a brewery, and in 2009, when the time finally came, they promised to remain true to their fellow veterans.
“We get the opportunity to serve our military each and every day,” said Evitts. We have done multiple events for military and special forces.”
Most recently, Ratkowski lead a group of more than 200 local residents to protect two military funerals that were being interrupted by a Kansas-based protest group. Their protection efforts were successful and the brewery also raised money for the fallen soldiers’ families.
Along with many more events and fundraisers throughout the year, Railhouse has special growlers available with various military badges so customers can signify their careers and achievements to others.
“Without question, our best walk-in customers are our military and military veterans,” said Evitts. “We wouldn’t exist without them—for many reasons.”
As the country pauses on November 11 to honor its veterans, it is also a chance to see the very real connection between the military, craft beer, and the role that the brewing industry plays in taking care of those who serve.
America’s Veteran Brewers
You don’t have to look far to find a craft brewery with a veteran connection that is doing right by America’s heroes. At the Diamond Bear Brewery in Little Rock, Ar., they are supportive of their local military bases—Little Rock Air Force Base and Camp Robinson. Not only do they offer veteran discounts on brewery tours, they also send beer with airmen participating in the biannual Airdrop International Competition and to the Wounded Warrior Project when they hold events in the area.
This is due, in part, to the close military ties within the brewery. Owner Russ Melton is retired from the Army, and his son is currently an operations manager for the Arkansas National Guard. Andy Applegate, a minority owner of Diamond Bear, retired from the U.S. Air Force after 28 years of service.
More Veteran-Owned Breweries
- Orlando Brewing | Orlando, Fla. - Honors active and retired military with free beer on Veteran’s Day, a tradition they started in 2006.
- Aiken Brewing Company | Aiken, S.C. - Five of the six brewers at are veterans at Aiken, which is owned by retired Marine Rob Pruiett.
- Rust Belt Brewing Company Youngstown, Ohio - Founded by veteran Ken Blair who is also currently a full-time police officer and still finds time to brew, bottle and clean at the brewery.
Finding Inspiration Through Service
At least two of the rising names in craft beer can thank Uncle Sam for partial inspiration. Brewer Karlos Knott first discovered good beer while serving as Cavalry Scout while stationed in Germany for six years. After being submerged in such a frothy culture, he returned home and later began Bayou Teche Brewing in Arnaudville, La.
Megan Parisi spent nearly five years in the U.S. Navy Band stationed at Washington Navy Yard which, ironically, is only a few blocks from the future site of Bluejacket Brewery, an operation she will command.
“It finally occurred to me that the only other thing for which I’d had any real passion was brewing,” said Parisi. ”I had been homebrewing for nearly ten years by that point and it clicked that I could make this into a career. It’s ironic to have come full circle this way. One career came to an end—one that I would have preferred to not end at all—which led me to my next career, eventually bringing me back to the point of origin. Had it not been for my Navy career, my brewing career would never have been possible.”
Brewers Giving Back
The Fort Street Brewery in Lincoln Park, Mich., has been in operation since February 2005. Brewmaster Doug Beedy spent 10 years in the Army, Army Reserve and Army National Guard. A few years ago the brewery decided they wanted to create a charity event around Veteran’s Day.
Being brewers, they often celebrated odd holidays, including National Indian Pudding Day (NIPD), which falls on November 13. Fort Street decided to combine the two holidays and make a beer using the ingredients found in the pudding. Their NIPD event serves the group Homes For Our Troops, and donations are collected for the cause.
“This year we are celebrating NIPD for three days, so we hope to raise a record amount for Homes For Our Troops,” said Beedy.
There are many ways to thank a veteran that goes beyond mere words. One obvious suggestion, buy them a pint and don’t just limit the gesture to one day a year.
John Holl writes, speaks, and educates about craft beer. He’s the author of several books and is a contributor to many newspapers, magazines and websites. Check out BeerBriefing.com for more information or follow him on Twitter @john_holl.
Last Updated: December 7, 2012