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Mountain Home Magazine

Using Our Livers to Save Our Rivers

Here’s an easy way to help protect the bald eagles that nest on our rivers—drink a beer.

I’m being serious. The Friends of the Chemung River Watershed (River Friends) in Elmira and Birdland Brewing in Horseheads have formed a creative partnership to brew craft beers to protect our rivers. Birdland donates a portion of the beer sales to River Friends to help the five-year-old organization protect the fresh water used to brew the beer.

I know about this collaboration. As River Friends’ executive director, I helped develop it. When I pitched the idea in June to Birdland owners, husband and wife Dennis and Susan Edwards, they loved it.

“No one had done anything like this,” said Susan. “It was a great opportunity for us to do something good for the community and to get our name out there and make people aware that we were in business.”

That business started twenty-two years ago, when Dennis received a home brew kit as a Father’s Day gift and he began brewing in his kitchen. Today, the business operates out of a former car wash at the corner of Chemung and Kendall streets.

The Birdland and River Friends project began brewing in February 2013 after I learned about a similar partnership with a river keeper group on the West Coast. I decided to try the same thing here. I brought in two Elmira College senior business majors, Brian Shuppel and Cameron Ware, who volunteered to help develop a business plan and presentation.

At the time, River Friends, like many nonprofits, was facing funding cuts—a trickle-down result of the limping economy. As a small nonprofit, we depend upon businesses to support us and reinvest in the community. When we approached Birdland, it was a less-than-one-year-old brewery without the resources to make a cash donation to River Friends. We discussed it and decided that a partnership could help both of our businesses grow. We had a lot in common.

Beer is 98 percent water; River Friends protects that clean water. River Friends’ eco-recreation events and the brewery attract tourists; Birdland is part of Finger Lakes Beer Trail. Birdland and River Friends are new small businesses in need of publicity, public awareness, and support. Our unique partnership became a news story and we earned plenty of free publicity in the local news media.

Birdland names its brews for birds—after the bird-named streets in the Birdland owners’ neighborhood.

The Chemung River and its tributaries are home to plenty of birds, including bald eagles and a pair of ospreys nesting on a river island in Elmira. Our first collaboration, Osprey Pale Ale, is named for that regal bird of prey.

A good promotion needs T-shirts and catchy slogans. Our shirts read, “Drink a beer and save a bird” and “Using our livers to save our rivers.” The shirt sales also benefit River Friends.

The beer-river partnership is much like the Earth’s never-ending water cycle of evaporation and precipitation. River Friends protects the clean water that makes the Birdland beer that helps River Friends protect the clean water.

Now here’s where that cycle gets personal. Birdland craft brews are tasty, but they don’t stay with us for long, and eventually return to the water cycle. By enjoying a Birdland brew, you are recycling and helping the environment, a small business, and a nonprofit, because the river is literally flowing through you.

Buying Birdland brews helps New York’s economy. Birdland gets its ingredients—hops, barley, yeast, water, and glass growlers—from New York State farmers and suppliers, and only sells its products in the state. Craft breweries, like wineries, bring tourists, jobs, dollars, and recognition to the Finger Lakes region.

Since September 2013, Birdland has sold more than 2,000 pints of River Friends Osprey Ale—at the brewery and at the seven bars and restaurants that serve the brew, including one in Syracuse and one in Rochester. The types of River Friends brews will change throughout the year, from pale ales to stouts and wheat brews.

“I think it’s a great project that helps the river, helps our business, and helps the brewery,” said Katie Boland, owner of Horigan’s Tavern and Patrick’s Bar, two Elmira tavern/restaurants that sell the brews and give a portion of the profits to River Friends. “Everybody wins.”

Without the River Friends partnership, Birdland would not be serving its beers in Horigan’s and Patrick’s, Dennis said.

“The partnership has definitely helped us pick up more customers, business, and publicity,” said Dennis. “We have people stopping in the brewery asking for River Friends beers. They like the beer and they like helping the environment.”

He’s right about protecting the environment. Birdland even recycles the leftover mash from the brewing process. It’s given to local hog farmers to fatten their pigs to make succulent barbecued baby back ribs that go so well with a cold pint of Osprey Pale Ale.

First-time Mountain Home contributor and former Elmira Star-Gazette reporter and columnist Jim Pfiffer is the executive director of the Friends of the Chemung River Watershed.

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