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Brews for a Cause

Renee Willoughby vegan vegan beer

There are some things that just go together seamlessly.  Peanut butter and jelly. Avocado and toast. Craft beer and animal advocacy...wait, what?  Yes, you read that correctly!  It should come as no surprise that with a number of vegan festivals popping up that have an extensive craft beer selection, there is now a brewery dedicated to enriching the lives of animals as well as their local community. Sanctuary Brewing Company is located in Hendersonville, NC and was founded by Lisa McDonald and Joe Dinan. Lisa spent years in the corporate consulting world while simultaneously fostering, rescuing and adopting animals, while Joe honed his skills as a brewer at the highly acclaimed Wicked Weed Brewing in Asheville, NC.  So how did Sanctuary Brewing Company come to be you ask?  Read on to find out more from Lisa herself!

Sanctuary Brewing Cat Suds 

Suds, the brewery kitty!  Another great pairing, cats and beer.  Photo Credit: Sanctuary Brewing Company

How did the idea come about to open a brewery?

We had been kicking around the idea of opening a brewery for a few months.  I was becoming more and more dissatisfied with my career as a corporate consultant and we were talking about the possibility of opening a brewery and making/saving enough money to open a sanctuary, then we realized what we needed to do was open a brewery dedicated to animal advocacy! We trademarked the name the very next day and got to work on a business plan.

What is the mission of your brewery?

Per our business plan our mission is to own and operate a "nano brewery and tap room committed to enriching the lives of humans through our excellent craft beer, and benefiting animals through local advocacy", but I think we have become more than that. In addition to our animal advocacy we believe in helping our community as a whole and do so through a number of methods such as our free meal Sunday and our kindness wall (a wall outside of our brewery where people can donate items such as food and clothing and anyone can take those items they need at any time. I believe our business is a dedication to a great product and comfortable atmosphere where  kindness reigns supreme (I like to call it Kind-Commerce).

In what ways would you like to see your business grow over the years?

Ahh, where to begin! We'd like to increase our production with a new bigger and better system so we can distribute more widely. We'd also like to open the rooftop of our building for a garden, windmill, solar panels and customer seating. Finally, we'd like to open a second location that is actually an animal sanctuary as well as brewery and tap room, with a vegan restaurant specializing in North Carolina style barbecue dishes.

Since you work with local animal advocacy groups, have there been any particular rescue stories that have really tugged at the heartstrings?

There are a few actually. One is about a cat that came into Blue Ridge Humane Society. He was a tiny little guy covered in filth that someone had found in the street, nearly frozen. The woman who found him tried to bring him to a few shelters before he finally landed at BRHS. Everyone there assumed he was just a kitten, but after being checked out it turned out he was a full grown cat but weighed only 3 lbs. He was also partially blind and deaf and had a pretty bad head tilt. I immediately offered to foster him, and I named him Miyagi because he kind of looked like Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid. When I brought him home he was so weak and frail, but he had a good appetite so I was hopeful. Well after two months of fostering he came around, and was ultimately adopted by one of our bartenders!

Sanctuary Brewing Miyagi cat

(Top) Miyagi weighing only 3lbs, nearly frozen. (Bottom) Miyagi now, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Photo Credit: Sanctuary Brewing Company 

We also have a dog that comes in regularly looking for a home.  We have a wonderful customer named Amy who has been fostering Skippy for months. He was found chained outdoors in the middle of a storm, and is now the sweetest guy I know, he just can't catch a break. Here's more info on Skippy, we all love him and just want someone to give him a chance:

Superstar skippy is looking for a home North Carolina

Skippy is looking for a best friend who will take him on great adventures and will give him a safe and loving home.  Photo Credit: Superstar Skippy Facebook

Do you have any rescues of your own?

Oh boy, do we ever. Right now we have 2 dogs, 4 cats at home and one at the brewery (google brewery cats, it's an awesome concept), one pig that we adopted from someone that couldn't care for him properly, and 6 chickens that all needed to be re-homed. So that puts our current count at 14 animals, all of them either adopted or rescued. We also foster and are about to dive into kitten season!

Sanctuary Brewing Company rescue animals

Some of their rescue animals! That's a good-looking gang right there.  Photo Credit: Sanctuary Brewing Company

What can people look forward to when they visit the brewery for the first time?

Well, we really aim for consistency in service, so hopefully an interaction with one of our bartenders that consist of some guidance with our menu. We are very big on letting people taste our beers on their first visit, so we try to give out at least two beer tasting samples right out of the gate. We have 16 taps and all of them are filled with our beer at the moment, so there's a lot to choose from. Our brewery is a wide open space and very inviting. We have a glass garage door and giant Adirondack chairs up  front, so it always has a very al fresco feel no matter the weather. Friendly pets are always welcome, so you'd probably see some dogs at our place, and most nights we have live music!

Sanctuary Brewing pet-friendly

The local crowd.  Photo Credit: Sanctuary Brewing Company

What is one of your favorite beer and food pairings?

My favorites are doughnuts! Every Sunday we offer vegan doughnuts from a place called Vortex Doughnuts, which is in Asheville. They are amazing and they do flavors for us that pair with a selection of our beers. We also offer ice cream floats, so yesterday I had our Carolina Panther Chocolate Porter with a Dark Chocolate Truffle float and it was awesome!

By having an all vegan food menu, do you find that it helps introduce some people to a vegan lifestyle that otherwise would have never considered it?
Do you ever have any pushback on the menu being that it is meat-free?

I think it's definitely an eye opener, especially the free food we do on Sundays which always goes over very well (I do all the cooking for our Sunday meal, this week it was a pasta and meaty/cheesy sauce I made with the Stallion from No Evil Foods, a local plant meat business. The cheesy comes from a ricotta I make with Tofu and nooch. We also have a vegan pimento cheese dip that's made at Bean Vegan Cuisine, and it's just delicious. Non-vegans ask for it all the time, people absolutely love it.  I've personally never gotten any negative feedback on our menu, but we do let people bring in outside food as we host a lot of parties and we wouldn't be able to keep up the demand.

If you could let your imagination run wild and brew an experimental beer, what would it be?

We actually create all of the beers that we dream up! We have something called small batch Sundays where we switch up one of our beers by adding a new flavor profile. For example, we added maple to our black IPA, habanero to our house IPA, lemon ginger to our Hendo Weisse Berliner Weisse, and we created a mole version of our chocolate porter. This has been really fun for us as it allows us to get really creative and if it doesn't work it's not too big of a deal as we typically only make 6 gallons
of these small batches.

Other than brewing and being animal heroes, what do you like to do in your free time?

We love our home, we have 3 acres and a pool and hot tub, so we like to have friends over whenever possible. We also tube on the French Broad River whenever we can!

And finally, how awesome is it to brew beer and help save animals for a living? :)

It's exactly as awesome as it sounds! I really love what we have built and getting to contribute some good to the world while making beer is just surreal and crazy!


...As if they couldn't get any better, Lisa also informed me that they have two adoption events every week. One is Yoga with Cats on Saturday mornings.  It's a yoga class taught by an instructor from an awesome yoga studio (YAM Yoga and Massage in Hendersonville) and adoptable cats from Blue Ridge Humane Society!  And they also have an adoption night every Wednesday where one of their local shelters/rescues brings in adoptable animals.  Cheers to that! 

Sanctuary Brewing Yoga with Cats

 Yoga with adoptable cats from the Blue Ridge Humane Society.  Photo Credit: Sanctuary Brewing Company


For more info about Sanctuary Brewing Company, visit their site here! 

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  • Nise on

    What a great cause!!!! ❤ Love all the pictures of the animals – they are too cute! Have to take a road trip there someday!

  • Pat McDonald on

    Great interview
    Love you both xo

  • Big Mama on

    We would love to send you some of our Vegan Dog Biscuits for the pups that come in. Maybe it is something you might want to be able to offer!!!!

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