That taverns were the heart of the American Revolution, hell, of most revolutions, feels like it’s common knowledge, but why taverns as opposed to private homes or churches is something that escapes people. The fact is, it had very little to do with alcohol. In early America, especially in rural areas, there was a tavern but no town hall. Court, which was held monthly or quarterly, was held at taverns. Taverns were big enough to accommodate a lot of people and central enough to be nondiscriminatory (to white guys who owned land, but still…) so people didn’t get preached at in a way that made them uncomfortable.

As we cruise into the second decade of the craft beer revolution, people who own small breweries are tapping into that culture. Brewery owners don’t want hangings or public floggings, per se, but they do want to demonstrate how they can be a central place for the community to come that is outside of church, home, or politics.

A place in the sun

The gathering place motif was high on the list of Bryan Brushmiller’s priority list when he started Burley Oak Brewing Company. If you’ve never been, the property does have a very public sensibility. It is easy to access and, with the parking lot cleared, has plenty of space for vendors and displays.

I’ll never endorse Prohibition as a high point in the country’s history, but it is fair and important to say that, without it, today’s craft brewers might not appreciate how afraid of drinking and beer public officials can be made to be. Small, community breweries have to overtly be about anything but getting loaded.

The people who go to craft breweries, broadly speaking can handle their beer. They tend to be sensitive to that sweet spot just on the edge of inebriation and walk it carefully. Bryan, and a lot of the small brewers in the area, have hit upon the notion that being a town center means cultivating more than a watering hole. It would be fair to say that Burley tends to have an almost backyard barbecue motif that celebrates enjoying beer, not drinking it. To that end, in addition to the beer festival-style events Burley holds regularly, Bryan and the crew tend to hold charity events to raise awareness, cash, or both about local nonprofits. Last month it was for Worcester County Habitat for Humanity.

The house that beer built

Habitat for Humanity fits organically into the whole notion of community building, figuratively and literally. The nonprofit builds houses, sells them essentially at cost to the working poor, who pay a no-interest mortgage. The cash Habitat gets from its mortgage is then rolled into more houses. The point is as much an example as it is a practical solution: it’s not that hard to make people’s lives better (see also, “Many hands make light work”).

The Burley Benefest concept fit in nicely. Andrea Bowland, who runs Worcester County Habitat, said the event was successful for its existence, even though the threat of rain likely dulled the attendance numbers. In the long term, Habitat would like to buy a largish plot of land in Berlin and use it to construct a Habitat for Humanity development (these are becoming more common in the larger nonprofit because it saves the company the money and effort in buying land piecemeal). Getting people excited about their involvement was crucial.

The merch included a shirt with “This shirt helped build a house” on the back and a pint glass with “I helped build a home” below the “Burley Build Benefest” logo.

Like beer that is made with you in mind, the idea was to get people invested not just for their own good or even the community’s good, but rather because they like being in a world where taverns are part of civic life and the stuff that happens there is revolutionary.

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