Help the World: Drink Beer

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It's a common experience: years after leaving high school, you run into an old classmate. She's a lawyer, he's a doctor; she's drop-dead gorgeous, he's had cancer. Mostly, unless they're old friends, there's not much to report—the sad fact is, most folks lead pretty boring lives.

Then you run into someone doing something great. Over Christmas, I had a few drinks with Mark Dunkerley, a fellow graduate of Nashville's Montgomery Bell Academy, class of 1995. Mark always struck me as a stand-up guy. But we ran in different circles, and we went different ways after graduation.

I should have kept in touch. Mark has spent the last several years building toward his dream of starting a brewery. His first shot was a victim of the recession, but his second, Jubilee, is just getting off the ground—his first release, a nut brown ale, is already available in Nashville beer stores, with an official launch set for today, March 11.

I haven't tried the beer, but what makes it worth noting is that 50 percent of Mark's profits will go to the Oasis Center, a one-stop-shop nonprofit for at-risk youth in Nashville. Why Oasis? In part because another classmate of ours, Anderson Williams, is a director—oh, and also because it's an amazingly successful effort to bring real change to the lives of Nashville's lower-income families.

Mark's not making a one-off charity beer, though. He plans to turn Jubilee into a viable brewing business, and the mid-South craft-beer market—which the few regional brewers, including Yazoo, in Nashville, and Old Towne, in Huntsville, are much too small to fill—is a great place to start. At the same time, he hopes to keep his commitment to Oasis, thereby proving that craft beers can be good for the palate and the community at the same time.

Mark's new ale isn't the first charity beer—Louisiana's Abita Brewing Co. gives a 25-cent donation to St. Joseph's Abbey for each bottle of its Abbey Ale sold—but Jubilee is, as far as I know, the first beer company to donate a sizable chunk of its entire profit flow. Looked at one way, it's a horrible way to get rich. But for those who go into brewing for the love of the beer, it's a great way to give back to the community. Let's hope it can catch on.

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Clay Risen is an editor at The New York Times, and is the author of A Nation on Fire: America in the Wake of the King Assassination. He has written for The New Republic, Smithsonian, and The New York Times Sunday Magazine.

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