Tuppers’ Hop Pocket Ale: Beer before Business

I was so knocked out by the New River Pale Ale in Virginia (see story below) that in picking up a six-pack I also purchased, on sight, a six-pack of Tuppers’ Hop Pocket Ale. What the hell, I figured: I already had over a case of Virginia wine in the car to bring home; what difference would a few beers make to the load?

I was interested in the Tuppers’ Ale partly because it was, like the New River Pale Ale, custom-brewed by Old Dominion, but also for its announcement, on the label, that half the profits go to homeless charities. You’ll be used to seeing companies, especially those jumping the green bandwagon, announce their generosity – but half the profits? Were these people at Tuppers not out to make money?

Not really. Not by the look of their web site, where they freely admit that half the profit on a bottle of Tuppers’ Hop Pocket Ale, once you allow for all the manufacturing and distribution costs, amounts to all of about one and a half pennies. They readily suggest that their drinkers skip buying their beer occasionally and give the price of a full bottle directly to their supported charities instead.

The Tuppers’ Hop Pocket Ale gives half its profits to homeless charities – and now, itself, looking for a home.

“They” are Bob and Ellie Tupper, and their enthusiasm for craft beer surpasses that of almost any of the wine geeks I’ve come to know. In the early 1990s, having traveled America, Europe and despite having made notes on some 6,000 beers, they still “envisioned an ale that no one had made—one that would encompass bold American flavors and traditional European brewing techniques.” To this end, like New River a few years later, they asked Old Dominion Brewing Co., which they believed to be “one of the very best craft breweries in the country,” to custom-produce this beer, and Tuppers’ Hop Pocket Ale was the result.

Though I bought it untasted, I couldn’t imagine being disappointed and, indeed, the Hop Pocket Ale gave the New River Pale Ale a close run for its money. In some ways it’s an even better beer – it’s fuller (and slightly higher in alcohol at 6%), rounder, more luxuriant and golden, as you’d expect from a beer conditioned in both keg and bottle over a six-week process. As such, it’s also a tad more “serious,” and the same way that every wine lover has their “easy-drinking” bottles and their “special occasion” bottles, I’d be more inclined to reach for a New River for refreshment, and save the Hop Pocket Ale for a long meal or a special friend.

All of which is currently irrelevant: both six-packs were drained and shared a long time ago. Still, I’m almost as enamored with the Tuppers’ story as with that of the deceased Kenny Lefkowitz at New River. The Tuppers have been able to donate $150,000 to charity since launching their Pocket Ale. They’ve established a Pils. And they’ve continued treating beer as a hobby first, business second: they’ve now made notes on over 15,000 beers, many of which can be found online.

But changes are afoot. Old Dominion, once revered in the DC/Virginia area, has been purchased by a new company, itself a partnership of Fordham Brewing and Budweiser giant, Anheuser-Busch. And as happens any time an indie is swallowed by a major, the roster is being reduced, costs are being cut. The new company, Coastal Brewing, decided to drop the Tupper Pils from its roster; the Tuppers have rightly decided not to split their beers across two different companies, and are currently seeking out a new custom producer and distributor for both their Pils and their Pocket Ales. The quality and success, at least of the latter should ensure they don’t find themselves homeless. (Old Dominion is continuing to produce both beers in the meantime.)

Bob and Ellie Tupper, for your contribution to both culture as both producers and reviewers, and for putting charity above profit, this beer’s for you. Cheers.

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