September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and, for the second year running, Whitelakes Brewing in WA have collaborated with a group of dads with children with cancer to create an awareness and fundraising beer.
Guy Southern spoke to one of those dads, Stephen Ralph, ahead of the release of the 2019 beer.
In 2016, Stephen Ralph’s daughter Alice was diagnosed with Stage 4 high risk neuroblastoma at just seven months old. The family lived at Princess Margaret Children’s Hospital, rotating through shifts, for half a year during her treatment and eventual recovery.
Keen to find a way to support other families facing similar experiences, the avid homebrewer and craft beer drinker set about trying to create a beer that would raise awareness as well as funds for families of children with cancer. While noble, this proved challenging due to the connection it drew between children and alcohol; thankfully, help was at hand in the shape of Sean Symons and the Whitelakes Brewing team.
“We developed the dads brew day, where a bunch of the dads went down to Whitelakes last year, mashed in, did a bit of cleaning around the place, threw in some hops, tasted some awesome beer and food and, most importantly, got to talk to others who are going through the same stuff," Stephen says. "Some of the dads had lost children, some had children right in the thick of treatment, others were out of treatment with healthy kids, luckily.
“As brewer Dennis [Langley] says, beer is a catalyst for people to talk – it’s a starting point for guys to have a chat and it really allowed the guys to talk about things. It's the first time that some had talked to other people about their situation.
“Realistically, it’s the only semi-organised event for these dads. It was the first day off work for some and some have come out of hospital just for the brew.”
As for the naming and design of Bear Beer, that came from Sean and the Whitelakes team. The idea is that the Bear represents the fathers: strong, reliable but with all the things that they have to bear.
"You will notice the bear looks tired," Stephen says. "It was deliberately designed that way, because that is what we are. The gold colour links to the gold ribbon used to identify childhood cancer awareness.”
As for the liquid, the choice was an Oktoberfest style amber lager that, in 2018, was sold throughout WA venues and the Baldivis brewery. It raised more than $3,000 for Kids Cancer Support Group, which assists families with a childhood diagnosis.
Following feedback from the venues, this year the dads partnered with Father Bears, a charity that supports fathers of children with life-threatening disorders.
“Dads really get left behind in regards to dealing with a child's diagnosis," Stephen says. "We are really in limbo, stuck between continuing to work, looking after other children and our partners, plus the worry about our child.”
The second Bear Beer is now ready to hit taps from this week with the brew day set to become an annual event. You'll find it pouring at Whitelakes Brewery and their associated venues as well as other WA venues during September. Follow Father Bears to find out more about the collaboration and stockists.
Photo at top shows the dads on brew day. Stephen is second from left at the very back; Whitelakes brewers Sean and Dennis are crouching down second and third from the right.