Belgian Table Beer made by Surrey-based Russell Brewing. (submitted photo)

Sales of Surrey-brewed beer help bar/restaurant employees deal with mental health issues

Russell Brewing’s Belgian Table Beer made in partnership with Mind the Bar non-profit

Sales of a made-in-Surrey beer will benefit an organization set up to help hospitality industry employees deal with thoughts of suicide, depression, anxiety, addiction, workplace harassment and other issues.

Russell Brewing’s low-alcohol Belgian Table Beer, available in 473ml cans, is brewed with spelt and “a healthy amount” of flaked wheat and hopped with saaz and fermented with Belgian trappist yeast, according to operators of the Newton-based company.

Fifty cents from each four-pack sold, and $15 from each keg, will be donated to Mind the Bar, described as a mental health resource, information and support system, and “community hub” for the hospitality industry.

Based in Vancouver, Mind the Bar was launched as a foundation last July.

“It started with a Facebook post,” says an “About Us” note on mindthebar.com. “Founder Shoel Davidson wrote an honest account of a difficult year – from a major depressive episode and suicidal thoughts to finding a therapist and discovering new tools for coping with what he knew would be an ongoing process, and the frustrating time he had trying to find the resources he needed in those moments of crisis.”

Davidson and business partner Christina Cottell operate Gringo, which Davidson describes as a “‘white-trash’ taco bar” in Vancouver’s Gastown district, and also Dixie’s BBQ in Strathcona. Both eateries are listed among Mind the Bar’s participating venues, along with Pidgin, The Sardine Can and Clough Club.

Following Mind the Bar’s launch event, Davidson said Russell Brewing employees Doug Embury and Jimmy Darbyshire “eagerly approached us” about a partnership in fulfilling one of the non-profit’s goals: making available quality zero- and low-proof beverages at bars and restaurants.

“When Doug and Jimmy approached us,” Davidson told the Now-Leader, “the only stipulations we had was that it would be ‘affordable,’ ‘low-proof,’ which we as a board deemed to be no higher than 3.5% abv (alcohol by volume), and ‘very drinkable’. It was the crew at Russell that took these parameters and came up with the finished product, which I must say is absolutely delicious. Ultimately our (goal) is to have a completely 0% abv quality option available in the near future, much like they do throughout the U.K. and Europe.”

In the hospitality business, the phrase “mind the bar” is said to a co-worker when someone needs a quick break, “or just step away from service for a few minutes to collect yourself,” Davidson noted.

“So the name seemed appropriately fitting on a multitude of levels and because the mental health aspect of the hospitality industry exists on both sides of the bar,” Davidson explained in an email. “But more applicably because the vast majority of those who work within the hospitality industry can only afford to take a few minutes to prioritize their mental health. This due to the increasingly high cost of living and unaffordability throughout Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.”

Other factors include a lack of extended medical coverage in the hospitality industry, Davidson noted: “Even then, extended medical coverage is almost entirely useless for mental health-related purposes,” with strict limits on such appointments.

”This is why one of our goals will be to eventually offer moderated financial coverage for those wishing to seek support in speaking with mental health professionals who offer sliding-scale fees,” Davidson explained. We also hope to host seminars about the importance of greater personal fiscal responsibility. Because while someone working in the hospitality industry may not flinch at spending $100 or more on a night out at the bar as a means to cope with their poor mental health, the idea of spending that money on a psychologist or counsellor may seem like a complete waste of money.”

The Vancouver-raised Davidson, who said he got into the restaurant business at age 19 when he moved to Montreal to help pay for her post-secondary education, would “happily welcome a day that initiatives like Mind The Bar wouldn’t have a need to exist because properly funded mental health care systems were readily and accessibly in place.”

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tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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