Yards' 'Good Fight' shows the brewery's softer side

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Sarah DeLaurentis, ActionAIDS director of development, and Tom Kehoe of Yards Brewing Company share a pint.

Exactly what is Yards Brewing selling in its new series of videos, Yards Good Fight?

It sure doesn't look like beer.

The 90-second pieces shown online and in social media are part of the Northern Liberties brewery's ongoing Brew Unto Others advertising campaign that aims to frame the brewery as a solid part of the community.

So far, two Good Fight videos have been posted, highlighting charitable organizations "making our backyard a better place to live and work." One lauds celebrity chef Jose Garces and his foundation's support of immigrant health care and education programs, another publicizes ActionAIDS and its Dining Out for Life fund-raiser.

The video campaign plays off Yards' feisty image, particularly its "pugilist-style" Brawler ale, to promote the company's softer side. Other than a couple of cameo shots of foamy glasses of suds, neither focuses on beer. The talk is not of malt or hops, but of social stewardship and sharing.

"It's something we absolutely believe in," said Yards president Tom Kehoe. "We've been doing this kind of work for a long time, supporting charitable organizations. We just think we should tell people we're doing this."

It's an honorable campaign, especially given the depth of Yards' charitable giving. Kehoe estimates the company donates the equivalent of three tractor-trailer loads of beer a year in cash, beer and in-kind services, equaling about $150,000.

His company is hardly unique in its corporate giving. Check out any brewery website and inevitably there's a page promoting its corporate citizenship. Many have online request forms for donations of beer to charity events.

According to Southern California writer Sean Lewis, author of We Make Beer: Inside the Spirit and Artistry of America's Craft Brewers, giving is part of breweries' DNA.

"They're a natural place to meet and organize," Lewis said. "You see it time and again, with events or donations or even getting involved in social causes. "Breweries have always been the heart of their communities."

But there's something else worth noting in Yards' new advertising campaign, namely that the city's largest brewery is beginning to grow its brand as a Philadelphia institution. Like the community organizations it supports, the company is part of the local fabric.

"Our whole goal at Yards is to be Philly's hometown beer," Kehoe said. "And that means more than just beer. We think the best breweries go beyond the beer they brew to become part of their communities."

We've seen this time and again, when breweries strive to create what writer Will McGough of CraftBeer.com recently called "the brand beyond the beer."

For example:

* Boston Beer supports Brewing the American Dream, a business-coaching program that provides loans and grants to new companies.

* Dogfish Head helped launch Pallet magazine, an eclectic quarterly for "those who like to think and drink."

* SLO Brew is opening luxury lofts in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

* Sly Fox has practically adopted the Schuylkill River Trail, organizing cleanups and donating money toward its upkeep.

Part of the motivation is strictly mercenary. With more than 4,000 breweries nationwide competing for shelf space, breweries need solid branding just to stand out.

It's also the mark of a maturing industry. Now well into its third decade, the American craft beer industry is beginning to mimic many of the tactics of more conventional businesses.

Gone are the days when marketing a brewery meant simply selling T-shirts and pouring samples at beer festivals. Those once-scrappy start-ups have evolved into highly structured companies, hiring advertising consultants, deploying sophisticated packaging, and developing licensing deals.

Which means America's small breweries are producing more than just beer. And, in the case of Yards, that's a Good Fight.

You can join the fight through April by enjoying a fresh pint of Yards' new Action IPA. The brewery has teamed with local restaurants to donate 50 percent of draft sales to support ActionAIDS.

"Joe Sixpack" is written by Don Russell. For more on the beer scene, download Bar Talk with Glen Macnow and Joe Sixpack, and sign up for his weekly email update at joesixpack.net. Email: joe@joesixpack.net.

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