As pipes burst and boil-water notices were issued across the San Antonio area amid power outages and rolling blackouts in the deep freeze of mid-February, Dustin and Hannah Baker, founders of downtown’s Roadmap Brewing Co., let their Facebook fans know they had clean water for the taking.
Over the next two days, they distributed more than 1,400 gallons of the clean, reverse-osmosis water used to make their signature beers. Most of that went to people who showed up with their own jugs, but state Rep. Diego Bernal and the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office also got involved by picking up the lifesaving liquid and getting it out into the communities.
Within hours, numerous San Antonio breweries got involved by letting their neighborhoods know they were there to help, sometimes enlisting the aid of local leaders and elected officials to get the word out beyond the world of artisanal beer fans.
In New Braunfels, a nursing-home worker contacted a friend with ties to Guadalupe Brewing Co. about an immediate need for clean water. Brewer Andrew Serafino and brewery owners Keith Kilker and Anna Luna soon had kegs of pure brewing water delivered to senior citizens and staffers before opening up the brewery to the broader community to take its fill.
In times of crisis, major brewing companies have stepped up to assist major humanitarian efforts, usually by canning clean water at their plants and getting it into areas ravaged by flood, hurricanes or other disasters. Delivering the precious fluid to communities most in need, however, is a tricky prospect and can take days.
That problem is solved when the brewery with its boilers and ready supply of reverse-osmosis clean water is already in the neighborhood.
“A Pint More” talked with Dustin Baker about how it all came together and how San Antonio’s brewing community has always positioned itself as a force for good whenever it can.
Q: How were the connections made between the brewery and the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office?
A: It really was all very organic. I think so many people wanted to help out but didn’t know how. After our initial post about the water, we were contacted directly by a couple of different organizations, the sheriff being one of them. We let everyone know that we had plenty of water to go around but didn’t have any containers to provide. They then were able to get in contact with a local dairy farm who generously donated 250 gallon jugs. Similarly, Rep. Bernal’s office was able to get in touch with a local barrel-salvage company who donated the 15-gallon barrels for us to fill for an apartment complex.
Q: In total, how much water did you all get out there and how many people from the community showed up with their own jugs?
A: We ended up giving away about 1,400 gallons of water — 250 of that was with the sheriff, another 300 gallons to Rep. Bernal, and then the remaining 850 gallons were directly to people coming in for their families or neighbors. We saw people filling anything from 10-gallon water coolers to 20 individual small water bottles. We took the approach that we’d fill anything and everything that had a lid on it. We were really amazed at the stories we heard about people filling jugs for their elderly neighbors or their newborn niece, etc. We even helped out a couple of local coffee shops and bars who needed water as well in order to stay open.
Q: It seems to have snowballed (no pun intended) after you posted about it, with Weathered Souls Brewing and Islla St. Brewing following. Do you know who else followed suit?
A: Yeah, it was really awesome to see everyone join in. A couple of them reached out to me directly to get involved early on. Weathered Souls and Black Laboratory were definitely some of the first to jump on board. My ultimate goal was for there to be water available all around the city so people didn’t HAVE to venture downtown to get it from us. I kept telling people, “It’s not the time to go to your FAVORITE brewery, it’s the time to go to your CLOSEST brewery.” Eventually, I think we reached that goal with nearly every brewery in town able to offer clean water doing so.
Q: Pretty early on in the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, you decided to address food insecurity in the community by raising some money for the San Antonio Food Bank. Tell us what happened.
A: It started out as raffling off my old homebrew system (pilot system for the brewery). Then we added some memberships and a brew day into the mix. Then we were able to reach out and get a lot of other breweries around town to donate some beer to the cause as well. … We’ve learned that when we try to get involved in or help out our community, it isn’t about doing it all by ourselves. Even if at first we were the only ones, we want others to join in because that’s ultimately going make a bigger impact. We’re a relatively small brewery, with an extremely small staff, so the more involvement the better. Frankly, we don’t really care if anyone even remembers who started it, we just want them to remember the end product of massive community outreach.
ONE MORE THING
Here’s a link to a short video from Islla St. Brewing about water and brewers helping out their communities during the severe storm
Travis E. Poling has written about beer and business issues in the San Antonio area and across Texas for more than three decades. He is the co-author of two books on Texas beer, including “San Antonio Beer: Alamo City History by the Pint.”