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Craft Beer

Beer that makes a difference

skip and sarah.jpg
Skip Virgilio, brewmaster at Gravity Heights, and Sarah Loza. Sales of Cheers for Sarah, a hazy IPA Virgilio is brewing, will benefit childhood cancer research.
(Courtesy Miguel Loza)

When hard times strike San Diego craft beer lovers, the industry rallies together and steps up to help out.

The craft beer movement grew out of consumers’ thirst for better brews than the mass-marketed products that once dominated the market. What we drink is key, but Miguel Loza found another question to be just as crucial: why do we drink beer? Is it just for a good time, or is it sometimes for a good cause?

In 2017, Loza’s daughter Sarah was diagnosed with large B-cell lymphoma.

“This is a common cancer with kids and it has to be treated aggressively,” said Loza, a member of the Quality Ale and Fermentation Fraternity (QUAFF). “And her cancer was diagnosed at Stage 4.”

Led by homebrewer Nick Corona, Loza’s friends in QUAFF responded by crafting a beer recipe. Brewed last year at Vista’s Indian Joe, Cheers for Sarah raised $14,000 for childhood cancer treatment.

Loza and his wife, Maribel, also founded Chat with Champs to help young cancer patients. A nonprofit, Champs provides care packages and walkie-talkies to children who, due to weakened immune systems, are quarantined.

On May 29 and 30, a fresh batch of Cheers for Sarah will be brewed at Gravity Heights brewpub, overseen by brewmaster Skip Virgilio. By mid-June, the hazy IPA will appear at local establishments, including O’Brien’s in Kearny Mesa, Notorious Burgers in Carlsbad, Hamilton’s Tavern in South Park, Small Bar in University Heights and North Park Beer.

Each pint sold will assist families of children with cancer.

Sarah’s no longer part of that group — she’s in remission. But the 11-year-old’s dad hasn’t forgotten the assistance she received from the brewing community.

“I decided to volunteer,” he said, “and head this year’s fundraiser.”

Hair-raising event

When Mike Hess’ 12-year-old daughter was diagnosed with bone cancer last August, the San Diego brewer was shocked to learn that her disease was not a priority with many researchers.

“Less than 4 percent of the federal cancer budget goes to all pediatric cancers combined,” said the founder of Mike Hess Brewing.

One consequence of this neglect: osteosarcoma, the disease afflicting Keely Hess, is treated exactly as it was when Ronald Reagan occupied the White House.

Keely Hess

Keely, the daughter of Mike Hess, owner of Mike Hess Brewing, was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer.

(Courtesy of the Hess family)

Enter St. Baldrick’s Foundation. Since 2000, this nonprofit has raised more than $250 million with a simple, hair-raising appeal.

It’s the same appeal Hess is making: “Will you donate money to the foundation if I shave my head?”

On Saturday from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Hess tasting room, 3812 Grim Ave. in North Park, Keely’s parents, Mike and Linda, will be among the dozens losing their locks. Stylists from Mister Brown’s Barber Shop, a nearby salon, will do the close-cropped honors.

Patrons are encouraged to stop for a beer, a sartorial spectacle and a chance to see Navy veteran Hess relive an episode from his deployment to the Persian Gulf.

“Then I did it because I was hot and bored,” he said. “Now, I’m doing it to do some good.”

Read more from Peter Rowe’s weekly column here.