Rich Fleischer of Hook & Ladder Brewing is a man who understands the importance of helping others.
In 1988, Fleischer spent much of his time as a volunteer firefighter in Montgomery County, Maryland putting out fires and saving the occasional cat from a tree. But after moving to San Francisco in the early 1990s and discovering a burgeoning craft beer scene, he began lighting fires under his own brew kettle as an avid homebrewer, with hopes of turning his passion into a business that gave back to the communities where his beers would be served.
Fleischer and his brother turned the idea into a reality in 1999 by founding Hook & Ladder, a mission-based business that pays homage to Fleischer’s earlier firefighting days by donating a portion of the company’s profits to local burn centers in the markets the beer is distributed. Fleischer has since moved the company back to his native state, but the charitable spirit remains.
“A penny a pint, a quarter for every case, and two bucks per keg,” said Fleischer. “We’re currently in about 25 states. And since we formalized our Penny in Every Pint charitable foundation five years ago, we’ve raised more than $80,000 for burn centers and other firefighter groups we’re involved with, thanks in part to matching donations from our distributors and some retailers.”
The company, which contract brews through Lion Brewery in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, produces about 10,000 barrels per year, and began offering a variety twelve pack in the Twin Cities in February with draught slated for April. Fleischer has been actively identifying potential burn centers and related groups to support in Minneapolis through Hook & Ladder’s foundation, with plans to help purchase necessary medical supplies, provide fire safety literature, and fund educational symposiums and conferences.
Hook & Ladder’s variety pack consists of three core beers, including their Golden Ale, an American-style wheat that won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival; their Flashpoint Pale Ale that uses Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, and Amarillo hops to deliver a tempered but noticeable bite; and their Backdraft Brown Ale, a beer that DRAFT Magazine recently called “an exquisite brew” in its rankings of the best American brown ales. The variety pack is rounded out by a fourth seasonal offering, which recently included their Anniversary Ale, a Belgian dubbel originally brewed by Fleischer for his brother’s wedding.
“There’s some really nice IPAs and imperial stouts out there, but we’re trying to make something that’s appealing to a broader group of people,” Fleischer said. “When I first got into home brewing, I’d make 10 gallons of beer and we’d have people over for Oktoberfest or some other occasion, and some of my batches were a little extreme. So today, I like to make something that more people are going to be comfortable drinking, whether it’s Friday happy hour, a backyard BBQ, or just coming home from work and sitting down to relax.”
The Backdraft Brown, in particular, is a good introduction to the company’s offerings, pouring with a mahogany appearance, an inviting aroma of toasted bread, and notes of chocolate. The taste is somewhat reserved for the style, not as rich or caramel sweet as some other examples, but is a nicely balanced interplay between flavors of nuts, chocolate, and a light hop character lending some bitterness. The beer possesses a medium body and finishes relatively dry, leaving a pleasant impression as a solid newcomer to the Twin Cities beer market.
Aaron Masterson is the author of local craft beer and homebrew blog, The Captain’s Chair.