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Drinks Industry Rallies For Fire Benefits

As fires raged around Australia, the drinks industry did what it does best. It rallied the troops and raised money for a cause

By: Tiff Christie|January 13,2020

With the effects of climate change becoming more and more evident, it’s easy for people to feel hopeless and ineffective when it comes to helping with the disasters that are befalling our world. During the peak of the fires in Australia, social media showed us all images of devastation that compound the feeling that there is nothing we can do.

While everyone has looked on in horror, the bars, distilleries and associated businesses put out the call to do what they do best. They rallied to the cause and give their time, staff, spirits and skills to help others.

There is a long history of benefits in bars; raising money for causes that affect the community they directly serve, as well as the wider community of which they are apart. It could be said that these benefits and the other endeavours that have been made are probably the ultimate act of hospitality, where everyone is encouraged to join together to care for the wider community.

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Toby Hilton, the Group Manager at Swillhouse, who organised the recent fundraising at Sydney bar Baxter Inn pointed out that seeing the effects of climate change firsthand and right on our doorstep has made many people “think we have to do something to help, rather than sit here and accept this as the new norm.”

His efforts and those of bartenders from Sydney bars, Ramblin Rascals, Bulletin Place, Archie Rose, Proof & Co, Sweet & Chilli, Old Mate’s Place, Tio’s, Shady Pines, Lobo Plantation, Charlie Parker’s and Mary’s Newtown, managed to raise over $30K. This amount was split between the NSW RFS and the families of Geoffrey Keaton and Andrew O’Dwyer (the two volunteer firefighters who tragically lost their lives fighting the fires at Green Wattle Creek, leaving their young families behind).

“I read that some volunteer firefighters were working without the correct protective equipment and really putting their lives on the line,” continued Hilton. “So raising some money for them – it seemed to be the best thing we could do. We wanted to help.

“We’re a tight-knit industry and we have the ability to come together at the drop of a hat for a good cause. We also have a huge amount of interaction with the general public, so we should use that influence for good,” he said.

Charlie Lehmann, Director at Ramblin Rascal, who was one of the many bartenders to donate not only their time and skills to the event agreed, saying that “When we have platforms to initiate change or help those in need, then we should utilise them, otherwise we are culpable for issues either not being addressed or being ignored.

“Bartending is a career that opens your mind to new ideas, theories and challenges from either peers or guests,” he continued, “so in a way, I think we are sometimes best suited to tackling broader issues outside of our industry.”

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Ryan Bresler, General Manager for the Mulberry Group in Melbourne who is organising the upcoming benefit Drink Up at the Mill House in Melbourne next Sunday, commented “I am proud of our industry. Look at all the venues, operators, restaurants and bars that are putting events on right now to raise money to help. In a time of disaster, seeing us come together to help is pretty inspiring and makes me grateful to be a part of this community.”

With Drink Up, he is hoping to raise upwards of $25K, saying that whether they are volunteering time, resources or expertise, the industry suppliers and local businesses they have contacted have been happy to come together.

He pointed out that The Millet Group generously offered The Mill House to host and that setting up the event has been very much a team effort with the help of Iain Ling (Hotel Lincoln) and Jeremy Spencer (Colonial Brewing/ Curatif) who have experience in rallying the industry together. “They know how to throw a party for a good cause.”

“The bars didn’t even hesitate,” he continued. “Engaging with the local community shows that their bar, pub or restaurant are doing more than just making money, and they care about people.“

And the community is very much what these efforts are all about, as Stewart Gregor from Four Pillars points out by saying, “every business, regardless of industry, has an obligation to be good citizens, and play a positive role in the community.

“On the whole, I think the drinks industry does a great job,” he said. “We are very conscious that some people don’t and will never “like” or “endorse” us as we sell/produce alcohol so it’s even more important we try always to make a positive contribution. We can always lend a hand, help a mate, pitch in when folks are doing it tough.

Four Pillars have just had their own event at the distillery for their community in Healesville to raise money for Wildlife VIC and the CFA, with the help of other local businesses Payten & Jones, Yarra Valley Caviar and the good truck, By Barney.

Gregor points out that in addition to this, the distillery has supported over a dozen bar events across Australia, as well as the benefit held yesterday at the Neon Pigeon in Singapore.

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But the Neon Pigeon wasn’t the only overseas company in the drinks business to answer to call. Mover & Shaker, a business that specialises in pins and t-shirts for the industry, based in Florida were contacted by Scott Allan from Sydney bar NOLA. The brand was happy to donate money from the sale of pins in their inventory Cocktail Critters range that featured Australian animals.

“Scott reached out with a sense of urgency and came to us because he trusted our outreach,” said Nicolas Hogan from Mover & Shaker.  “If there is any way we can help benefit or better a situation we are always 100% on board, so this was an absolute no brainer.

“Plus, I don’t think anyone can look at an adorable, helpless Koala and not want to help!”

Once the company had sold out of the charity pins they had, they opened up the proceeds to include all of their Cocktail Critters pins.

Allan is quick to point out that this was really only achievable through the reach of social media and it is through these channels that the industry’s reach can go beyond just the neighbourhoods and communities in which bars exist and create a much more global awareness of issues.

“The best thing about social media is that it allows us to mobilise quickly during a crisis and widen the scale of our contribution. Through it, we have the ability to do these micro fundraisers that can help effect change. Even just a little bit of help and hospitality can make a massive difference.

One such brand that is using their social media to get a message across is Empty Esky, a campaign to encourage ‘city folks’ to head to fire effected communities to support regional retailers and producers. Eleanor Ballieu told regional radio station 2AY that they had about five thousand people jump online to offer support.

“We are encouraging everyone to grab an empty esky, do a road trip, and head into an area impacted by the bushfires when it’s safe to do so, and really shock locals, fill up that esky with everything local – wine, food, whatever you want,” she said.

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There are so many on-going efforts that we can’t list them all, but a few that are upcoming to be aware of are –

  • Tonight in Melbourne, Made In The Shade are presenting Shake Up at The Everleigh in Fitzroy featuring the skills of Above Board, Bad Frankie’s, Bar Liberty, Bar Margaux, Black Pearl, Byrdi, Capitano, Eau De Vie, Fancy Free, Heartbreaker, The Beaufort, The Elysian Whisky Bar, The Lincoln, Union Electric and Whisky & Alement.
  • Hades Hula House in Adelaide have their Beat The Heat event with live music and entertainment on 18th January
  • The Millhouse in Melbourne will be hosting Drink Up on Sunday 19th January
  • Dulcie’s in Sydney is holding a benefit on Australia Day to benefit NSW Rural Fire and Wires. As they have said, “We’re in the business of Aussie spirits, and currently the greater Australian spirit is being tested by fire”.
  • Employees Only in Sydney are also doing a benefit on Australia Day with 100% of the proceeds going to NSW RFS
  • Whippersnapper Distillery in Perth is also doing an Australia Day Bushfire Fundraiser Masterclass.

We ask that you contact your local bar or distillery and do what you can to support and donate. Alternatively, if you haven’t already, please donating to the Red Cross, your state fire services (Victoria, NSW) or WIRES. As Hogan put it “We only have one Earth, no second chances and hopefully this situation will help people act more proactively than reactively.”

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