Ales for ALS – Beer For Good and an Important Project Afterburner Brewing

Ales for ALS – Beer For Good and an Important Project Afterburner Brewing

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

There is a fundraiser/conscientious-raising beer coming out soon from a project called Ales for ALS. The effort started almost 10 years ago with the marriage between a third generation hop grower, Mike, Smith, and his wife Cheryl Hanses, whose family has endured dozens of deaths from ALS due to their genetic predisposition.

ALS, short for amyotropic lateral sclerosis, sometimes called Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a terminal disease of the upper motor neurons, lower motor neurons, or both. As the disease advances, there is a degradation of the nerves that control voluntary muscle movement, with  progressive weakness/spasticity. Eventually, the muscles that control breathing become involved and death is usually from respiratory failure or pneumonia.

It’s a long, grueling way to die, and until recently research had not come up with anything other than palliative treatment. A two-drug combination was developed in 2020 that does help slow progress, but much more research is needed to find causes and preventative regimens. Sporadic ALS can happened to anyone, but Cheryl Henses’ family is part of the 10% of cases that are familial.

image credit: Ales for ALS

Mike and Cheryl wanted to help fund research with the ALS TDI (ALS Therapy Development Institute), so their hop farm, Loftus Ranches, along with Yakima Chief Hops, developed a yearly hop blend that they donate to breweries willing to make a beer for which at least $1/pin would be donated to ALS TDI.

Over the years, the Ales for ALS program has been responsible for more than $3,500,000 in donations for ALS research, and for 2021, Afterburner Brewing is joining the effort. Afterburner is a newer brewery in Terre Haute that is currently finishing out their taproom, but has been selling beer in restaurants and stores for about 8 months.

Afterburner got involved with the program earlier this year, as related by co-owner/co-brewer John Null. “Dustin, Greg, Butch and I were having lunch at one of our local bars when the bar manager (Jeremy Lovell) asked if we’d heard of the Ales for ALS program (which none of us had). He was interested in the program because his father suffers from the disease and he wanted to put an Indiana beer on tap but discovered there were no breweries in Indiana that participated in the program. We agreed to look into it and easily found the information on the internet.”

John added, “We input our information on the site and received a call from Mike Shannon the next afternoon with a breakdown of how the program works. Yakima Chief develops a hop blend each year that they provide for participating breweries free of charge with the request that $1/pint is donated to the Ales for ALS program. Being this late in the year, they only had about 400 pounds of hops blend left so we agreed to do a couple small batches with the 11 pounds they sent.”

image credit: Afterburner Brewing

The beer Afterburner is making is called Pardo, a dry hopped pale ale with tons of flavor. The 2020 blend #1 that they used from Yakima chief contains a healthy portion of Mosaic and Citra, with a couple of number hops (not named yet) and a bit of Talus and Sabro.

Making a beer for a cause as good as this is self-explanatory, but for the guys at Afterburner it goes much deeper. All four of the owners/brewers are Air Force veterans, either in the reserves or retired. When the spoke with Mike Shannon from Ales for ALS, he mentioned to them that veterans, especially pilots, seem to be more susceptible to the sporadic form of ALS. None of them were aware of this, but it’s so.

It was noted several years ago that veterans and especially pilots had a higher than expected rate of ALS development and recent research has started to expand on that as a link between prolonged exposure to electromagnetic fields may promote development of ALS. Navigators and pilots (both commercial and military) are exposed to high levels of EMFs from all the electronics in the cramped flight deck, and this has been looked at for short- and long-term health problems. There is also research going on concerning the mutation of the VEGF gene in susceptible populations (from EMFs?) that affects blood vessel growth and maintenance, perhaps around the motor neurons.

Afterburner brought in Chief Master Sergeant (Ret.) Chad Tabler dry hop the first small batch of “Ales for ALS” beer with nearly 3 pounds of Yakima Chief’s Ales for ALS 2020 hop blend. Chad lost his father to the disease a few years ago. image credit: Afterburner Brewing

But there’s more to the story. Perhaps more serendipitous than anything else, John was reading a book at the time called “Fly Into the Wind” by Air Force vet and founder of Folds of Honor, Dan Rooney. The author recalled an incident that John then related to me. “Rooney retold the story of Pardo’s Push. This maneuver was heroically displayed by Bob Pardo as he risked his own life to literally push his wingman (Earl Aman, who had lost all power and was rapidly descending) 58 miles by pressing the nose of his aircraft against the tail hook of Aman’s. This slowed Aman’s rate of descent and allowed them to fly to friendlier territory before ejecting.”

Amazing yes, but Null then told me of the pertinent connection. “Several years later, when Pardo heard that Earl Aman had developed ALS, he created the Earl Aman Foundation and raised enough money to buy a voice synthesizer, a motorized wheelchair and a computer.  The foundation along with another Fighter Pilot organization later raised the funds to buy a handicap accessible van, which he used until he passed away. This was more than anything a sign we needed to be involved in Ales for ALS.”

Afterburner recently dry hopped “Pardo” with more of the donated hops and will soon be kegging and serving the beer around Terre Haute just after the first of December. Try to find some if you can, but even more importantly, spread the word of Ales for ALS and get your favorite brewery to join the effort for 2022. Beer tastes good and can do good, and in this particular instance, it ties a bunch of brewers to a very important subject that hits home for them.

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