'Brewing Means Hope' for the people of Ukraine and a Kalamazoo brewer supports the cause

“This early morning we hid in a cellar as Russian planes bombarded the International Peacekeeping Center 30km from Lviv. 35 innocent people killed, 135 wounded. It’s 20km from the EU border. Today we send around 1000 USD of your donations to help the wounded.” — text to international brewers from the owner of Pravda Brewery,  Ukraine

If you know a craft brewer, you know that the recipes they create are their lifeline, their heart, their very existence — well-kept secrets, never to be revealed lest another brewer capitalize on their success. In recent days, a Ukrainian brewery openly and freely shared their coveted recipes as they stopped brewing. They had switched instead to making molotov cocktails to be used in the fight against the Russian invasion that began Feb. 24.

Last week Pravda (meaning “Truth” in Ukrainian) Brewery in Lviv Ukraine shared their “Victory beer series” recipes, label artwork, and expertise to the world in the hopes that other brewers would take up the call and donate a portion of the sales to the Ukrainian people as part of a relief effort. And it’s working.

Brewers in Philadelphia, Denver, and Oshkosh, Wisc. are all helping in raise money for Urkaine. So are brewers in Poland and Nova Scotia in Canada. 

When Second Wave learned a Kalamazoo brewer was among those brewing beer to help Ukraine we reached out to Pravda Owner and Master Brewer Yuri Zastavny and asked his thoughts were about the response to his pleas. In the early hours of March 19 he responded:

Kevin Christensen, Owner and Master Brewer Final Gravity, which is lending its weight to support the people of Ukraine by brewing and selling a beer called Anti Imperial Stout.“Craft brewing is always a bit rebellious. It’s always for a good cause. For wider choices, democracy, and diversity. When we were attacked, I thought — how can we, a small craft brewery in Ukraine, raise awareness? What’s that we have that can get people to support? It’s simple — our beers themselves. 

“So we decided to open the recipes and visuals for our top beers to the international brewing community and welcome them to brew, drink, sell and donate. As of now, over 150 breweries from Australia, Hong Kong, US, Brazil, Canada, Belgium, UK and other countries joined and supported us. To us, it’s a crucial sign of support. We welcome breweries in Michigan to join too.”
 
And a Facebook group, Brew for Ukraine, formed in response to Pravda's pleas. 

As a fellow brewer who knows how much time, effort, love, and care goes into craft beer recipes, the fact the the Ukrainian brewers were willingly giving them out touched Michael Christensen, Head Brewer and co-owner of Final Gravity Brewery. Michael's father and co-owner of the brewery Kevin Christensen tells Second Wave, “He called me and said ‘Dad, we can’t just stand by and not do something. We can do this!’”

Between baking artisan pizzas in his brick fired oven, Kevin Christensen shared with Second Wave how his brewery, Final Gravity, is lending its weight to support the people of Ukraine by brewing and selling a beer called Anti Imperial Stout. As we spoke behind the Kalamazoo location at 246 N. Burdick in Kalamazoo, the senior Christenson choked up, tears welling and spilling over, as he shared his heartfelt connection to a people half a world away. 


“We get to go home to our beds, we get to get up tomorrow and go to work, not get bombed in a subway station while holding my baby…” He shook his head. 

When asked why he and his team of brewers have taken up this cause, he says, “All they ask is for help to defend their homes, their children, their freedom. How can we not…?” he broke off to wipe a tear. “Donations are needed,” he explains “to move the supplies to Ukraine, the logistics are huge and I want to help.”

The Pravda invitation to brew was made on Saturday, March 5, and by Monday, March 7, Michael and Kevin Christensen had already committed to brewing their Anti-Imperial Stout.  

“What did they (the Ukrainians) do?” asks Final Gravity regular Amanda Commissaris of Kalamazoo. “They don’t deserve this (invasion) but this Ukraine beer will let us be able to help when you think you can’t.”

At Final Gravity, from left, are Kevin Holman, General Manager Final Gravity; Kevin Christensen, Owner and Master Brewer Final Gravity; and Brian Mc Donald Bartender and an aspiring brewer, enrolled in the KVCC brewing program. David VanDyke, another regular patron and a member of OCD-C a cover band who plays at the venue says: “It blows our mind that someone would craft brew just to help out people so far away, but that’s just like Kevin (Christenson).”  VanDyke recently came out with his wife Sherri, daughter Angelina, and their friend Kyle Owens to share a glass of brew. VanDyke adds, “It would be great to see other breweries doing more of this,” referring to taking up the challenge to create a Pravda recipe and helping the cause. At the time of writing this article, Final Gravity (Decatur and Kalamazoo) and Sister Lakes Brewery (Decatur) appear to be the only local breweries doing so.

Elsewhere in Michigan, Red Jacket brewing at the Michigan House Cafe in the Upper Penninsula has also taken up the cause.

Final Gravity expects their first batch of Anti Imperial Stout to be ready by April 9,  for a fundraiser to take place at their Kalamazoo location at 246 N. Kalamazoo Mall. Members of the community are stepping up to help, whether that is donating their time, supplies or coming out and making donations. Hop Alliance is donating the hops used in this 6 keg batch. More will be made as demand warrants.

Suppporing the fundraiser are Viktoriya who will donate her garlic buns to be served with borscht and James who met while he was in the Peace Corp in Ukraine from 2005-2007 and now live in the Okemos area. The couple asked that their last names not be reported for fear of retaliation against Victoriya's family. 

Viktoriya emigrated to Michigan in 2016, after living through the first invasion of Ukraine in Donetsk, the unofficial capital and largest city of the larger economic and cultural Donbas region. She was a bank manager, who recalls how she had to help protect money for the business people who were fearful as they made their deposits. 

“The Russian soldiers came through and robbed the armored cars, looking for cash to fund the invasion. And the people let it happen, we had no directive to fight back as we had a puppet government.” 

Her husband adds, “Now it’s different. It’s one thing for a bully to say ‘I’m going to take your lunch.’ It’s another when they say, ‘I’m coming to your home to kill your mother.’” 

Viktoriya says, “After years of independence, Ukraine figured out its own way and they want to emulate Europe and America — the people want their freedom. And now we have a government that agrees and wants us to fight” “it makes me think,” she stops to ponder, “of America in 1776, our people (of Ukraine) will fight to be free people and not Russian slaves.” 

Or, as Ukrainians say “Slava Ukraini!” (a slogan forbidden during the Soviet Union) which means “Glory to Ukraine.” When someone says that the response is “Heroiam slava!” That means ‘Glory to the heroes!’ who stayed behind in this war.

“As peaceful craft brewers, we want to return to the normal life ASAP and enjoy brewing and drinking. But first we must kick the cockroaches out of our land. No more Gulags, Holodomors and oppression. It’s a decisive moment for Ukraine, Europe and democracies of the world. Soon (we) will win this war and have a good beer. The Beer of Victory.” — Pravda Brewery “This early morning we hid in a cellar as Russian planes bombarded the International Peacekeeping Center 30km from Lviv. 35 innocent people killed, 135 wounded. It’s 20km from the EU border. Today we send around 1000 USD of your donations to help the wounded.” — text to international brewers from the owner of Pravda Brewery,  Ukraine

Read more articles by Channon Mondoux.

Channon Mondoux is a published author, food historian, and local food chef. Her work reflects decades of experience in private and commercial kitchens, having food adventures that have taken her across the country and places beyond. She is an avid historical re-enactor who puts her culinary skills to work by creating dishes from bygone eras as well as reinventing modern cuisine using time-honored traditions. A native of Windsor, Ontario, Canada she is married to Dan and has three sons.