When you have a passion for saving animals, improving the lives of people in your local community, and brewing amazing craft beer what do you do? If you’re Lisa McDonald and Joe Dinan you decide to open Sanctuary Brewing Company in Hendersonville, North Carolina.
I have known Lisa and Joe for a few years now and I think they are on their way to becoming not just a player in the very competitive craft beer scene because of the amazing beer Joe brews -- the beers are already winning awards, but they will become a force for positive change that will go beyond their local community and end up changing the way people think about doing business,
I sat down to talk with them to discuss the origins of Sanctuary Brewing Company, how their personal philosophy became a successful business model, and what they see for the future of both their business and the industry as a whole.
Lisa and Joe moved to North Carolina six years ago from Chicago where Lisa was an international business consultant and Joe had moved from the corporate world of accounting to the world of craft beer. Lisa says, “We moved to Western North Carolina with the intent of buying a farm…to grow our own food and have a peaceful respite in the world.” Both Lisa and Joe are passionate animal rights advocates, so fostering and rescuing animals was something the farm in North Carolina would allow them to do on a larger scale as well. Lisa was able to continue her consulting work and Joe got a job with Thirsty Monk, one of the top craft beer bars in America while at the same time going to school to hone his brewing chops.
After finishing brew school, Joe moved on to Wicked Weed Brewery in Asheville, NC where he helped open their Funkatorium — a separate brewery dedicated to sour and funky beers. Lisa had decided that her career was “lucrative, but painful,” and that the time spent away from Joe, the farm, and Hendersonville wasn’t worth it anymore.
Lisa explains, “So we were talking one day, in our backyard, about how it would be really cool if we could take this mission of doing some good in the world and saving animals and his love of making beer…and put them together to eventually start a sanctuary. We both looked at each other and the bells just went off.” Sanctuary Brewing Company was born.
What followed was a six-and-a-half month whirlwind of activity. Lisa remembers, “Once we had that ‘eureka!’ moment about opening Sanctuary there was so much passion in both of us just to turn it into something tangible.” Lisa quit her consulting job, she and Joe took classes on running a small business, and in the process of writing their business plan they came across their current location on First Avenue in Hendersonville. In what Lisa and Joe describe as, “one of the most terrifying moments of their lives,” they signed a lease much sooner than they had planned. Joe says, “I had this great job at Wicked Weed that I didn’t really want to leave because I didn’t think I was ready, but Lisa was like, ‘Come on Joe, you can do this,’ so I took the leap.” Soon thereafter they created a Facebook Page, started a Crowdfunding site to help get off the ground, and did interviews with the local media announcing their brewery and what they wanted to accomplish. One of the most amazing moments of the entire build up to opening their doors came in August of 2015 when comedian Ricky Gervais Tweeted, “Love the idea of @Sanctuarybeer. A micro brewery dedicated to animal welfare” with a link to their kickstarter funding page. The money they raised from people all over the world as a result of Gervais’s tweet put them over the top. In September, 2015, Six months after finding their location, Sanctuary Brewing Company opened to the public and they have been going strong ever since.
But delicious beer isn’t the only thing that sets Sanctuary Brewing Company apart from other craft breweries. As animal rights advocates it only makes sense that Lisa and Joe have embraced a vegan way of living. Lisa’s passion for all things vegan stems from a time spent living with vegan friends over a decade ago. She has volunteered at animal sanctuaries around the region, and has used the brewery to screen films and have discussions on the benefits of eating a whole food, plant based diet and the negative environmental impact of the commercial meat industry. All the food available at the brewery is vegan (and very tasty!), as are all the beers on tap — even guest taps from other breweries that pop up from time to time have to meet the vegan standard.
One of my favorite things Sanctuary does is host regular pet adoption events in coordination with local animal shelters. Folks can enjoy a beer and possibly meet a new furry member of the family! They even have an annual Puppy Bowl that draws HUGE crowds. For the 2018 Puppy Bowl they even got the internationally famous "Vegan Bros" to come and do the announcing! They also count vegan race car driver Leilani Munter, and Patrik Baboumian -- one of the world's strongest men -- as personal friends.
One other thing that is very exciting is that Lisa and Joe have finally gotten non-profit status for their animal sanctuary Sweet Bear Rescue Farm. It's home to 20 animals including dogs, cats, chickens (including the above pictured Charlotte), a pig named Oliver, two goats (including Shadow, one of the world famous Sandberg goats), and the newest arrivals, two turkeys.
"As a vegan activist and lifelong animal lover, opening Sweet Bear is a dream come true," McDonald says. "We get to provide a permanent, loving home for animals that have been through some pretty awful things."
"It also means we get to wake up every day to unconditional love," she added. "Joe and I are incredibly grateful for that opportunity."
One of the things both Lisa and Joe mentioned time and time again in our chat is how grateful they are to the people of their adopted hometown of Hendersonville. They have been embraced by the community and in return, they look to give back. Every Sunday the brewery offers a free meal to anyone who wants to come in and eat, and outside they have a “kindness wall” that contains items like coats and shoes, bags of hygiene products, umbrellas and rain gear, all donated and provided free of charge to those who can use them.
It’s safe to say that Lisa and Joe have created a place that is not just a great place to grab a beer, it’s become a real community center where regulars and first timers can enjoy a warm, friendly atmosphere that feels like home.
So what will the future bring for Sanctuary Brewing Company? When I ask Lisa and Joe are pretty tight-lipped. All I can get out of them is that some “big announcements” are coming soon. Will that mean expansion? Distribution of some of their beers? A bigger regional profile for the brewery? Even a close friend like me isn’t sure. You can be assured that whatever it is, Lisa and Joe will embrace it with the same enthusiasm and gusto that has made Sanctuary Brewing Company one of the top emerging craft breweries in America.
If you want to visit Sanctuary Brewing Company they are located at 147 1st Avenue East in Hendersonville, NC. You can also visit their website @ www.sanctuarybrewco.com the see what beers are currently on tap and what events are coming up.