On his overnight shift Saturday, Los Angeles County, Calif., firefighter Rob Nowacyzk responded to calls of a cardiac arrest, a drunk guy with a head injury and a disabled man falling out a wheelchair.
Then, on a couple hours’ sleep, he drove to the beach town of Malibu and spoke to a brunch crowd about the merits of pairing a pilsner-style lager and albacore tuna served with papaya and jalapeno sorbet.
Such is the life of the co-founder of Los Angeles-based craft beer company Fireman’s Brew, which specializes in gateway craft styles and donates a portion of its profits to a foundation for firefighters.
The brewery, started by Nowacyzk and a colleague, started distributing in Colorado in the past two weeks – its first distribution outside California and the start of planned national distribution.
“I’m dedicated and I’m devoted,” Nowaczyk said this afternoon by phone after the pairing brunch. “Our motto is, we are a beer created by firefighters and for firefighters. I hold it close to my chest.”
The idea for the brewery was born about 12 years ago, after a crew that included Nowacyzk and Ed Walker knocked down a brush fire on a hillside in Glendale. Tired and thirsty, they started talking about brewing beer to raise money for firefighters. Nowacyzk had experience as a homebrewer.
Their first beer was a “simple, basic pilsener.” Eventually, the roster grew to three:
The brewery started selling in high-end supermarkets and restaurants; with deals now in place at Albertson’s and Ralph’s Supermarkets and nearly 1,000 accounts in southern California, it contract-brews at Mendocino Brewing Co. in Ukiah, Calif., said Nowacyzk, who eventually bought out Walker.
Since the beer arrived in Colorado via Republic National Distributing Company, about 500 cases have been sold spread across about 100 accounts along the Front Range, Nowaczyk said.
With all the growth in craft brewing, it’s unusual to see a new brand forged around a personality or a profession like firefighting. But Nowaczyk said he was not trying to fill some marketing niche.
The brewery, he said, donates 5 percent of its proceeds to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and makes other charitable contributions. Nowaczyk said the goal is to raise $1 million. He did not have figures-to-date readily available, except to say it was “in the thousands.” (A spokeswoman followed up to clarify that the company does not publicly disclose financial information and is being even more guarded because it just released a private stock offering).
As for the beer itself, Nowaczyk said the brewery considers itself to be brewing “transitional” or “middle-of-the-road” beer that would appeal to a drinker of Coors Light or Miller. Yet he made of point of saying, too, that the Brunette packs a considerable ABV punch but still drinks “extremely smooth.”
“In Colorado, you guys have a great palate and you know good beer,” Nowaczyk said. “We think this will appeal to everyone’s palate, but our target audience is that middle-of-the-road person.”
Nowaczyk said the beer’s arrival coinciding with the end of Colorado’s worst wildfire season in a decade is purely coincidental; the opportunity to distribute here simply arose, he said.
“The first question everyone asks, whether it’s a bar manager or restaurant owner, is ‘Are you a real firefighter?’ I have been a firefighter for 15 years and an EMT for 20. I am in special operations (doing things like air operations and swift-water rescue). We have 12 firefighter investors. We are not out there doing a gimmick.”
Nowaczyk, in fact, expects to be in a helicopter above Southern California on Sunday morning. There’s a red flag alert for brush fires.