CINCINNATI — "Thank you for your service." It’s a pretty standard response when someone discovers someone else served in the military and they want to show gratitude.
The next time you’re at a local brewery, you might see a sign from Vets & Brews and realize you could add a cold pint of craft beer to that sentence.
“It’s really that simple. I go around to breweries and I buy vets beers,” said Matt Demaris, co-creator of Vets & Brews.
The idea came to him and a Marine Corps veteran during a discussion in October 2019. The idea is pretty straightforward: take in donations and then hand out the free pints at area breweries in the Tri-State.
“I’m going to be at this brewery on this day. Do you want to show up and buy some beers? And I was like yes, that’s exactly what I want to do with this program,” Demaris said.
A partnership with Operation Honor out of Northern Kentucky was formed as a way to take the leftover change from buying each pint and using it to help veterans.
Homefront showcased part of their mission back in 2016, when the organization decided to replace Chinese-made burial flag cases at Kentucky Veterans Cemetery with ones made by local veterans.
“It’s a win-win,” said Operation Honor founder Joe Montgomery.
He said the organization has come a long way since we first met and they’re on the cusp of fulfilling his dream of building Patriot’s Landing. It will be built on two-and-a-half acres adjacent to Kentucky Veterans Cemetery and will be a place where local veterans can come and immerse themselves in woodworking. From making flag cases to tables, veterans can lose themselves in the grain.
“They come into the shop and they just start creating products, and they kind of turn off and they’re not thinking about a lot,” Montgomery said. “A lot of them say it takes the anxiety away. They can talk shop with other veterans and not feel like they’re in therapy.”
According to Montgomery, veterans are given a purpose as they’re creating something.
“They love signing the back of the products,” he said.
The extra dollars coming in from Vets & Brews will continue to support that mission.
“I think we’re around 1,500 or so, which equates to about 150 beers we’ve given out,” Demaris said.
The pandemic slowed down Demaris’ mission since so many breweries were closed or at limited capacity for an extended period of time, but he’s seeing things pick back up and donations are coming from places like Germany, Colorado and New Jersey, on top of the local donations.
At each of the breweries participating, one of Operation Honor’s flag cases is on the bar where donations can be dropped inside. There are also table-top displays which explain what the Vets & Brews mission is and an easy-to-scan QR code where donations can be made on the spot.
“We collect $10 donations and then we buy veterans craft beers at local craft breweries, so whatever the cost of that beer is, the balance goes to Operation Honor,” explained Demaris.
As of this May 17, Rebel Mettle, Narrow Path, 16 Lots, The Common Beer Company and March First are all participating.
Demaris said he'd like other breweries to get on board and encourages veteran groups hosting meetings or gatherings at area breweries to give him a call.
“I would love for my phone to start ringing off the hook and me just showing up at places and buying pint after pint until my donations dry up,” Demaris said.