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Tonka Beer: The Cause That Refreshes

Tonka Beer is the latest in a line of local brews to eschew profits.

Tonka Beer: The Cause That Refreshes

What is it about beer and philanthropy in Minnesota? Twin Cities suds purveyors Finnegans, Founding Fathers, and Fulton are all pledging as much as all of their profits to various good causes.

The newest brew-gooder is Tonka Beer Company in Minnetonka. Founder Jason Landstrom wants to devote 100 percent of the fledgling brewery’s profits to reverse the tide of milfoil, zebra mussels, various species of carp, and other foreign invaders of our precious natural fluids. “Minnesota lakes are part of the fabric of my being,” he says. So what’s the beer/good cause connection? The tie-in may be something about beer itself. “Beer is the communal beverage,” notes Andrew Schmitt, director of Minnesota Beer Activists, a consumer organization. “It’s something that people enjoy together, and I think that that’s something that people identify with when it comes to beer. I think it’s also an easy vehicle to get that point across.”

The idea here: Beer can build a sense of community that lends itself to feel-good deeds. Locally, Surly Brewing’s Surly Gives a Damn gathers dozens of Surly fans once a month for service projects such as fixing up houses and weeding around the Midtown Greenway in south Minneapolis. (Beer is served afterwards.) Nationally, the Pints for Prostates program raises awareness of prostate cancer at craft beer festivals.

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As for Tonka Beer, it will disperse funds for invasive-species research and prevention through Save Our Lakes, a nonprofit Landstrom founded in conjunction with Tonka Beer. Landstrom says that Tonka expects to turn a profit and donate the funds by year’s end.

Landstrom and his two business partners aren’t home brewers, nor do any of them have a beer industry background. According to partner Chad Mayes, the three are keeping their day jobs. (Landstrom, for instance, co-runs a manufacturer’s rep agency.)

Tonka’s first beer, introduced in May, is Big Island Shandy, a summer-light citrusy brew named for the Lake Minnetonka landmark. In late August, Tonka brought out its second brew, Preservation, an India pale ale. The beers are being produced and canned on contract at the Minhas brewery in Monroe, Wisconsin. As of mid-August, Landstrom says, it’s available in more than 150 locations, including several outside the Twin Cities metro. —Gene Rebeck

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