Brewer Spotlight - Jon & Jason of Gay Beer

In December of 2018, Jon Moore and Jason Pazmino launched Gay Beer. Both Jon and Jason had come from creative backgrounds, with experience in fashion and design, but they were dedicated beer fans. When they had the epiphany that there was no beer that really recognized them and the LGBTQ+ community, they got to work. They applied their branding expertise, passion for beer, and love for their community to Gay Beer, creating a golden lager that is so good, so drinkable, and so approachable, while simultaneously making an important statement in inclusion and representation. In time for Pride Month, TapRm caught up with Jon and Jason about how Gay Beer got started and the contribution it’s been making ever since.

How did you launch Gay Beer?

Jason: Jon and I met at a time where we were both in the same space. We were both looking to get into something new and more meaningful, that was outside of our respective career paths. We were kicking around some ideas of what we could get into, but nothing was resonating or looking natural to us. We really wanted to build something.

One day we were sitting around at Julius, which is a historic gay bar in the West Village, drinking a bunch of beer with our friends. Jon threw it out there that he couldn’t believe there wasn’t a beer that was socially representative and inclusive of this community, even though we drink so much beer...We kind of just looked at each other and had this lightbulb moment. We discussed it later and were like, “Would you do that?” Each of us was like, “Yeah, it’s new territory, it’s interesting, I’ve never seen anything like that out there.” So, we started doing research, and it snowballed really fast.

Jon: Because once we decided, “Okay, great, let’s launch Gay Beer,” it was like, “How do we do that?” You know, we don’t make beer ourselves, so we need to find someone else who can do that, and, can we get cans made? But it led into this learning curve, and it was great.

What was your goal in terms of finally recognizing and representing the LGBTQ+ community in a beer?

Jason: It was really important for us to give back. Everything was about community for us and what we could do. We struggled with a few different names -- we were a little trepidatious, because it was a fine line between a joke and a product that could be taken seriously, not just by the consumer but by retail establishments. But we we also wanted to be up front about what the product was. So we landed on Gay Beer just because “gay” means happy and is immediately identifiable. From the very beginning, we just wanted to make sure we were visible and present and letting the beer be what it is. And then, we wanted the branding and everything to be fresh, the messaging to be inclusive, and have this be something by the community for the community. Really more, “Come have a beer with us,’ as opposed to, “This beer is only for us.”

Within that, we’ve developed the idea of tying this back to the community, that Gay Beer gives back, by donating a portion of our sales. We want our voice to be one of inclusivity, both visually and philanthropically.

What has the response been like? Who do you find is the Gay Beer consumer, what is that community?

Jon: We’ve had a really great response. We’ve gotten a lot of support from the gay bars we frequented that we knew would be into it. The other bars, it depends on how they’re run. There are reasons that we heard, like, “We have enough beer, we don’t have room on our menu,” and things like that, which we were a little surprised by. We did find a lot of support from restaurant groups and other establishments who saw it as we did: as a way to reach out to the gay community or be allies of the gay community, without necessarily being a gay bar. The support came from different areas, and that was great for us, because that’s how we intended people to accept and see the beer.

Jason: It wasn’t a given that gay and lesbian bars and beer bars would carry us, because there’s never been a product like ours on the market, that’s so blatant yet so well done that it wasn’t isolating. So, I don’t think in the very beginning, even in the queer establishments, some people got it. Some people were asking us, “Is it really beer,” or, “What makes it gay?” They were just kind of perplexed by it. And then like Jon said, there were some people who were in from day one.

It was important for us, as I mentioned earlier, that this isn’t a beer just for our community. This is a transformative product on the market that would open the way. Beer is such a widely loved product by so many people, and it’s such a common product, it’s one of the easiest products to build a bridge with. I think that was one of the key factors in choosing beer. We knew there was a power in that.

Why do you think something like Gay Beer hasn’t been present in beer before?

Jason: If you sit and think about beer culture in general up until maybe the last ten years, it’s been dominated by the same bravado and machismo that have dominated the workplace and so many other areas of life. It’s really intense in beer culture. I think that is changing, yes, and we want to be part of that change. The reality is that there are so many different kinds of craft beer drinkers who are so talented and so good at making beer, and you know, just because they don’t have a beard, wear all black, and are part of a boys’ club doesn’t necessarily negate the fact that they love craft beer or spend their money on craft beer. As progression is happening with different markets, I think it’s happening in beer, as well.

Jon: When you start looking at breweries who do this or companies who do this, it’s literally called, like, Rainbow On Fire Beer. It’s so over-stereotypically gay, it didn’t really make sense to us. Are you really going to go buy rainbow or unicorn beer or whatever it is? I get that it’s kind of fun or whatever, but we just wanted to take a different approach. Our friends are going to the beach, and everyone’s bringing a cooler packed with beer, right? Why can’t they be drinking something that is supporting the community, and is also just a really good beer? Why can’t we make that name for ourselves?

Jason: I think a lot of breweries that are up and running now are more attuned to what is happening and their branding reflects that. When we started shopping around, getting information from people like Sunday Beer and Chuck at Butternuts [Beer and Ale] and a couple other breweries we reached out to, we got the same response from all of them: “This is so insane, how has this never been done this way before? How does this not exist?” or, “It’s about time.” [With] this younger set of beer makers and beer connoisseurs and beer industry people, it’s a different time, and the industry is ready for some progress.

When we’ve done in-store promos, straight men would walk by and giggle and say, “No way, I’m not trying that,” and then they’d come back to the table and try the beer and end up buying a six-pack and saying, “You know, it’s a really good beer,” and then we have a conversation. And that’s exactly what this product does. It gives the ability to find common ground where you normally wouldn’t find common ground with someone, who doesn’t really understand our community, or vice versa.

Let’s talk about the beer, itself. How did you come to nail down the beer style and recipe you wanted?

Jon: We knew what kinds of beers that we liked. We knew going into this that we wanted something drinkable. Not necessarily a light-calorie beer, but it had to be a lager style, which is what we like.

Jason: We wanted a crowd-pleaser.

Jon: Yeah, we’ve always said, we want people to grab a cooler full of this and go to the beach and drink it, or buy two or three of this at a bar and not just one. When we went to the brewery where we developed the recipe, we brought samples we liked. They had a few ideas, too -- we were all on the same page with what we wanted, the appearance of it, and the flavoring of it. We went through a few initial trials, and they created three that we went into final tastings and testings with. We got the final batch and we signed off on the recipe. We then took that recipe to a brewery here in upstate New York, and they again did a test sample brew for us, and we were really happy with it.

We’re lucky in New York, too, there’s a really good water source, so that makes the beer really, really good. That was really important to us, knowing the product had to be good. Someone might buy it once, because they’re trying to be supportive or they’re interested, but if the product isn’t good, they’re not going to buy it again.

Jason: And also, just out of self-respect as beer drinkers, we wouldn’t do a can run-off of someone else’s beer and just slap a label on it. We were very involved in the process, we knew what notes we wanted, we knew what kind of back-end flavor we wanted, the carbonation level -- we were involved in all of that. When we took it to Chuck at Butternuts, we even worked with him a little more outside of the original recipe development just to get it even more perfect, and I have to say, the most common reaction we get before anything else is, “Oh, it’s really good,” and, “I don’t typically drink beer, but I would totally buy this.”

Jon: The other thing is, Jason is gluten-intolerant. We also have a friend who has Celiac’s disease. We realized the need in the market. There are ways of using ingredients that are gluten-free; there are also treatments you can use to reduce the gluten. And that’s what we have done in the brewing process, is add treatments to reduce the gluten level to where it’s pretty much undetectable. We can’t claim it’s gluten-free, but you know, for Jason to be able to drink it and enjoy it, I mean, he’s part owner of the company, it’s something we really had to stick with.

Gay Beer gives proceeds to different LGBTQ+ causes -- can you talk a little about how that has worked so far, and what kinds of causes you’ve partnered with?

Jon: Our main partnership is with The Center on 13th Street in Manhattan. They’re quite a big organization in New York; they offer so many amazing programs and opportunities. People can come in for therapy, they can come in for evaluations, and addiction problems...they have a wide variety of services available to the gay community and to the trans community.

We have also done fundraising and smaller partnerships with Housing Works, for instance. We love the organization. We did a small fundraising for Project Renewal. Project Renewal has a smaller component called Marsha’s House, for gay and lesbian and trans homeless people, it’s like a shelter. So around Thanksgiving, we raised some money and had people bring food and canned donations, and we took a trunk of food up to the house to be part of their Thanksgiving dinner. And we work with Hetrick Martin, which again is a LGBTQ advocacy and educational group.

Jason: A very important component of our whole business plan was to give back to the community not only from a visibility and inclusion standpoint, but to also go ahead and donate monetary resources, and to give back to the community. We support them in multiple ways, and they support us. It’s full circle.

What are your plans for Pride initiatives and how will they really capture what Gay Beer is?

Jason: We had a really amazing Pride last year and sold a lot of beer, and had a big party, and it was great visibility for our brand and for the community, to see that we were out there. So this one was going to be even bigger and better, and then obviously, COVID happened, and now with the unrest, we’re putting our campaign for Pride Month on hold out of respect. Our campaign, when it does launch, takes on kind of a political angle in a weird way, not vocally, but visually. It’s almost as if Gay Beer was running for president of Pride 2020. It’s called Get Up and Pride. We took into consideration that this is an incredibly important election year and we wanted everyone to be reminded of that while they’re celebrating Pride.

Because of the need to support the causes that are happening now, we decided to take a portion of our beer sales in June and donate it to The Center for Black Equity, which supports and provides resources to LGBTQ+ people of color in building up their communities. So, we’re going to launch that in tandem with our campaign for Pride when that gets up and running. We know we can’t grow in certain ways right now [due to the pandemic], but we’re still trying to grow in ways we can, and be visible in the community, and be supportive.

We’ve created three hashtags: #GetUpAndPride, #StayInPrideOut, #GayBeer2020. Hopefully those will catch wind a little bit; people will start spreading the word that we are raising money for the queer black community, and get into the spirit of Pride without the dancing and the partying, and get back to center.

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