Left Hand Brewing founder Eric Wallace on beer, racism and corporate responsibility
Beer and community building go hand and hand, says Eric Wallace, founder and president of Left Hand Brewing Company. Over the years, the Longmont-based business has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for issues as varied as theater, flood relief, the YMCA and, most recently, Intercambio, an organization teaching English as a second language. In advance of the June 21 Culture Jam, an intercultural night of music featuring Ozomatli, Westword spoke with Wallace about his business, corporate social responsibility and how beer forms communities.
Courtesy of Left Hand Brewing Company Left Hand Brewing Company's Culture Jam is a benefit for the Longmont YMCA and Intercambio.
Westword: Talk about Left Hand Brewing Company's relationship to corporate social responsibility.
Eric Wallace: It started really early on. It was a natural evolution. We were coming to a town we didn't know. I was an Air Force brat, and I've lived all over the world. We ended up starting a business in Longmont. If we're going to live in Longmont, we need to become a part of this community where we're going to work. That was a starting premise for us.
We were about as broke as you can get for quite a few early years and we still would support all kinds of different nonprofit things: Colorado Shakespeare fest, various service clubs and organizations and the Colorado Brewers Guild. In our opinion, that's what you do.
Our goal was never, "We're gonna start a brewery and get rich and sell the company and retire gillionaires." It's good that wasn't the goal, because it's a really hard way to do that. There are a lot easier ways, in the end, to go out and start a company. A lot of the folks in business schools teach you how to do that. There is a lot of "maximize your return on investment."
There are friends of ours who are venture capitalists. Even early on, they never lent money to us: "Once you take money from us, we're going to make as much money on your company as we can, and you guys are going to get run over in the process."
It was about making great beer and changing the world and having an impact on the beer scene and our community. We don't look at success on a purely bottom-line monetary basis. We've had a lot of positive impact on our community, and we try to take care of the people that work here. Those are other important aspects of being a business to us. Of course, you strive to be profitable in the long run, or you perish, but that's just one of several goals.
Talk about immigration and where that fits into the philanthropy work that you're doing. Is there a political framework as well?
We try to stay apolitical on all issues unless they are directly beer-related. We have a wide variety of political opinion within our 96 people who work here. Our involvement in Culture Jam is not political. It's more community.
Do you see a relationship between community and politics in addressing the needs of immigrants in the region?
I'm sure many would say, yeah, there's a strong connection there. There is a lot of political activism around that issue -- but for us, it's more of a community thing. We do a lot of things to try to build a better community and unite our community and to get people to come out for our events.
We want to try to tap into all segments of the community and use beer as a unifying force. Good food, good beer and good music are good ways to get everybody together. You can create a lot of positive benefits and side effects by doing stuff like that. And we're able to raise money for a variety of really good causes. At the same time, we're going to get people to come out and have a good time and know that they are contributing to something that's supporting other agencies, whether it's basic needs or arts or flood recovery or whatever it is that we're supporting with those events.
Read on for more from Eric Wallace.