But really – can beer save the world?
To tackle this question we spoke with Jesse Woods, General Manager of the Black Tooth Brewing Company in Sheridan, Wyoming. Pioneers of Sheridan’s first modern-day microbrewery, Black Tooth wants to put Wyoming on the national craft beer map. Along the way they have committed to investing back into the local community, supporting nonprofits like Project Schoolhouse.
“Beer is a social drink, it brings people together,” said Woods. “I’ve seen business meetings happen on a regular basis where big decisions are made. And I’ve seen people have celebrations. It’s a social gathering pot.”
Special events like Community Pint Night and the Sod Farm Festival build on that togetherness. Soon after its founding just 7 years ago, Black Tooth owners Tim Barnes and Travis Zeilstra began giving back to the Sheridan community. They now host two to three Pint Nights a month, where one dollar of every glass of beer is donated to a local charity.
According to Woods, “We try to work with nonprofits that are maybe looking for exposure, that the Sheridan community or the surrounding area doesn’t necessarily know about. It gets them a foothold and some traction in the area. And it’s a great way for us to pay back the community, say thank you for supporting us.”
The love and payback are certainly mutual. Woods added, “I think we get people that go, ‘You know, I’ve been meaning to come in, but never really had a reason to,’ and now they’re connected to a cause they see is very beneficial. So they go, ‘Wow, this is really cool, thanks for doing this, thanks for supporting the nonprofit that I’m involved in. I’m glad I came in, and I’ll be back!’”
As the official beer sponsor for Project Schoolhouse’s Sod Farm Festival, Black Tooth gives hundreds of attendees a sample their finest brews — a tasty respite from the warm August sun. For most locals this will not be their first or last taste of Head Brewer/Co-owner Travis Zeilstra’s award-winning craft. But as part of the bigger picture, this all fits Black Tooth’s mission to make Wyoming a “beer vacation” destination.
Over the past two years Black Tooth has doubled production from 4,000 to 8,000 barrels, with distribution in four states (WY, MT, ND, NB). This year they will aim for 10-12,000 barrels — that’s about 300-370,000 gallons of beer! And they are not alone: since Black Tooth’s inception, Wyoming has seen the craft industry grow from just eight breweries to a couple dozen across the state.
To keep up with this growth, Black Tooth, much like Project Schoolhouse, relies on the abundance of clean, locally sourced water. In Nicaragua, Project Schoolhouse works with community partners to tap natural springs and distribute water using large, gravity-fed holding tanks. In Wyoming, over 3000 miles to the north, the snowmelt and run-off from the Bighorn Mountains provides what Woods declares “the best water in the country.” For both organizations, Project Schoolhouse and Black Tooth, environmental stewardship and sustainability are critical to long-term success. Building community and maintaining Mother Nature’s balance go hand in hand.
And so we return to the big question: Can beer save the world?
Woods responded with this: “[Laughter] I don’t know if it can save the world, but it’s sure as heck worth trying! Like I said, [beer] helps stimulate conversation. Anytime you can do that, if you can cross boundaries or cross borders and get someone listening to someone else, that’s a great option. And if it takes handing them a pint, to have them drink it — and that way their mouth can’t run and they can listen instead — it’s helpful.”
At Project Schoolhouse, we could not agree more. Whether you are a craft brewer introducing barrel-aged saisons to a Bud-drinking crowd deep in cowboy country, or a small organization building schools and water systems in rural Nicaragua, dialogue is vital to all success.
For those in the Sheridan area (or planning a beer-vacation across Wyoming), be sure to mark your calendars for Saturday, August 19th at the Green Carpet Sod Company — the 2017 edition of the Sod Farm Festival, benefiting Project Schoolhouse.
Bonus: Here are a few more sound bites from our conversation with Jesse Woods at Black Tooth…
Project Schoolhouse (PSH): Do you have a favorite beer-making theme song or soundtrack?
Jesse Woods, Black Tooth (BT): [laughter] Oh man. You know, it’s…no, we absolutely listen to everything. It’s amazing, you go down on the floor, we have speakers going, and we’ve got guys listening to everything from Lady Gaga to Shania Twain…to AC/DC to Randy Rogers and Texas dirt country. It’s all across the board. I wouldn’t say there’s a specific theme song — it’s everything. There’s a lot of tunes rockin’ on the floor, keeps everybody changing up.
PSH: Do you run into any tensions between beer-drinkers and wine-drinkers?
BT: I wouldn’t really say tensions, no. I think everybody has preferences, but generally that’s one of the cool things about beer. Right now we have a beer — it’s a saison that’s barrel-aged in chardonnay wine barrels — and someone that maybe has a preference toward wine over beer, they give that a try and they’re like, ‘Wow, that’s kinda got a little bit of wine characteristic to it.’ So they really like it. And so I think if everyone keeps an open mind and you don’t say ‘Nah, I don’t drink beer,’ or you know, the other way, ‘I don’t drink wine.’ Someone walks in and says ‘I don’t drink beer.’ Well, try this. Before you close your mind, let’s keep it open, and let’s try something different. Worst-case scenario, you can stick with your opinion. Best-case, you’ve opened your mind and tried something new. So no, I don’t think there’s tension between the two.
PSH: Two truths and a lie. Tell us two obscure things that are true about Blacktooth and one that isn’t…
1. We’re looking at building a rocket ship here in the back of the brewery with the leftover tanks to draw some attention in downtown Sheridan.
2. Our staff are all highly trained, Cicerone-certified beer servers. [Cicerone is a standard of excellence in the craft brew industry.]
3. Our staff is from all over — CA, NC, MT, WY, all across the region.
(Lie: Contrary to urban legend, Black Tooth is not building a ship. But as they expanded operations downtown and added larger tanks, the locals began asking about the large metal cylinder deliveries in the street. Some really thought they were building some kind of rocket.)
PSH: Do you guys have a spirit animal?
BT: Since our icon is a buffalo head and our state of Wyoming [has] the buffalo on the flag, I’m definitely gonna say it’s the buffalo.
PSH: What does the buffalo symbolize for you?
BT: Old-fashioned values, integrity, stamina. It’s a powerful force, unmoveable.
PSH: Give me three words to summarize Black Tooth Brewing Company.
BT: Drink the West!