We often take inspiration from animals and nature to create something unique, especially in the food and beverage business. Plenty of craft breweries come up with nifty, playful names that invoke notions of animals, like a moose or grizzly bear. One Washington, D.C.-based business, Hellbender Brewing Company, took inspiration for its name from another type of animal: the salamander.
The hellbender salamander is a giant water amphibian that used to live in rivers from Georgia to New York. They used to call the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia (DMV) area home, but urban development and sedimentation forced them to move into the mountains. Silt, construction runoff, and other debris hurt the hellbender’s natural habitats. The salamanders are described as “habitat specialist” creatures, meaning they need a specific environment to survive, in this case, a river or watershed. To protect salamanders, founder Ben Evans embarked on a mission for a more sustainable brewing process.
Hellbender’s sustainable method is different, grinding grains into a fine powder. This practice helps reduce water and energy levels and break down starch, with more enzymes extracted during the boiling process.
While most breweries pull 75 to 80% of the grain starches, the mashed grain powder allows Hellbender to withdraw 98%. Then, the mash is run through a filter to get all the sugary water needed for brewing large batches. Nothing goes to waste during Hellbender’s process.
“We brew around 25% faster from start to finish while using about 18% less grain and 30% less water per batch than most breweries in the world,” according to the company website.
On top of honoring the legacy of the hellbender salamander, the brewery has been actively involved in numerous philanthropic efforts. One of the most notable initiatives was the custom line of pale ales created to honor Najavo Code Talkers, Navajo servicemen who made a complex code used to communicate during World War II. Brewed by LT Goodluck, who is of Navajo descent, the beer features an image of John V. Goodluck, who served in the Marines during World War II.
Being LT’s grandfather, he was the perfect representative for a beer that honors a forgotten military division that deserves more recognition. “As a Native American brewer, it was important for LT to bring awareness to the history of the Navajo Code Talkers,” Hellbender commented. The can’s label also includes John wearing traditional Navajo jewelry and his medal from service.
In August 2020, the brewery partnered with Tim Bryson to create Amplify Black Voices, a hazy pale ale that supports educational opportunities for underserved children. In February 2021, they teamed again to create Support Black Businesses, a Trappist-style triple, to magnify Black-owned restaurants. Bryson, a University of Maryland doctoral student who now serves as an adjunct professor at Marymount University, carries a strong social media presence, tweeting mainly about Black issues and student-career development.
Support Black Businesses successfully brought awareness to Black-owned stores and eateries around the DMV. With Amplify Black Voices, “… 100% of the proceeds will go to Capital Partners for Education, a D.C.-based mentoring program,” Evans said about the charitable contributions generated by the initiative. Bryson added, “We wanted to brew a beer that says ‘We hear you’ and ‘we want to help’ as we believe education can help all students identify their passion, inspire shared visions, and walk in their unique purpose.”