When Jeff Norman found out his sister had been diagnosed with ALS in 2020, he knew he needed to do something to help. Luckily, he had extensive connections to utilize throughout his Pennsylvania community.

For more than 25 years, Jeff has run two major beer festivals in his hometown of Kennett Square, PA that draw breweries from throughout the Philadelphia area. Knowing that he could find support among the brewing community, he came up with a unique spin on the template of the Ice Bucket Challenge.

I had this extensive brewery list from my events that I throw,” Jeff says. “So, I set up a brewery beer challenge for my sister. I went around the Philadelphia area, with my wife videotaping. It was probably about 30 breweries – and I had them pour beer over my head. We had set up a GoFundMe page for my sister, and part of each video encouraged people to go there and make a donation if they were inclined to do so.”

Jeff’s campaign was a success, raising $50,000 to support his sister. This was a testament to the impact the beer festivals he runs – the Kennett Brewfest and Kennett Winterfest – have had on his community. Kennett Square is a small town of just under 6,000 people about an hour outside of Philadelphia. In the mid-90s, with a big-box store opening just outside of town, several local businesses banded together to form the Kennett Square Collaborative to promote tourism and preserve their historic downtown.

To fund their efforts, Jeff helped organize the Kennett Brewfest in 1998. Beginning with just 14 breweries and about 125 attendees its first year, the festival has grown into one of the area’s premiere craft beer events, drawing around 90 breweries and 3,500 to 4,000 people.  In 2013, they added a second event, the Kennett Winterfest, which draws about 1,500 attendees and 60 breweries every year.

Sadly, Jeff’s sister passed away in 2022. However, after all the money he was able to raise to support her battle with ALS, he knew he wanted to continue using his connections to make a difference for others with the disease. Soon, a longtime Kennett Brewfest brewer, Matt Katase of Brew Gentleman in Braddock, PA, introduced him to an organization that was a perfect match - Ales for ALS™.

“[Matt] knew about my sister and he said to me, ‘we've been doing this program called Ales for ALS™ for a few years,” says Jeff. “He told me what it was about and how it worked, and I immediately cold emailed [Ales for ALS™ program director] Mike Shannon and introduced myself.”

Through Ales for ALS™, brewers around the country create a special brew using a unique hop blend, which they recieve free of charge, courtesy of Yakima Chief Hops and Loftus Ranches. Then, they donate one dollar pint from every pint sold to supporttALS research at the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI). After learning more about the program and its mission Jeff dedicated himself to spreading the word among the brewers he worked with over the years.

“I went to the Ales for ALS™ website and saw that, for 2022 there were only six breweries participating in the whole Mid-Atlantic region,” he says. “I thought, ‘wow, that's really not good enough.’ So, I told Mike I could help. We had a couple conversations and then I started contacting breweries, telling them the story about my sister. By the end of 2023, we had signed up 28 new breweries.”

In one year, Jeff’s efforts helped to more than quadruple the number of breweries participating in his region. He also invited the Ales for ALS™ team to set up a booth at last year’s beer festivals, further spreading the word among brewers and festivalgoers alike. This year, he’s hoping to recruit even more – as of February 2024, he already had recruited 15 new brewers.

“After doing my beer challenge, one of the things my sister was able to convey to me was, ‘I hope you can help raise money for other people,’” Jeff says. I thought the best way I could help was to get that money to people like ALS TDI, who can best use it to try to find a cure for this disease. It’s serendipitous now that I have this background that melds exactly with this program, Ales for ALS™. That is a spot where I feel most useful, and it's as simple as that for me. It's where I feel I can do the most to help.”

To find out more about this year’s Kennett Brewfest, taking place on October 5th, 2024, click here.

Do you know a brewer who might be interested in joining the Ales for ALES program in 2024? Find information about becoming an Ales brewer here.

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