When Jason Smith’s doctor told him he had Parkinson’s Disease, it wasn’t exactly what he was expecting to hear at age 41.
“It was a WTF moment,” says Smith, general manager of Gordon Biersch. But the surprise and disappointment manifested itself in a positive way, as the active dad, now 45, soon afterward had the idea for an event to raise funds and awareness for Parkinson Support Center of Kentuckiana.
The “WTF moment” didn’t last long.
“Once you get past that stage, being involved with these types of events, it helps me keep my mind busy, which is part of my wellness,” Smith says.
So, in 2014, with the annual tapping of maibock beer at Gordon Biersch, Smith and his friends and co-workers launched Pints for Parkinson’s, figuring on a modest turnout. Instead, $3,000 was raised for the Parkinson’s charity.
“To my surprise, on a snowy night, they packed out the place,” he says. “A year later, the center came back and said, ‘Hey, can we do this again?’”
A tradition was born. In year two, Pints raised $20,000 and grew to the point that it spilled outside the patio adjacent to the brewery and restaurant located at Fourth Street Live. In year three, it took over the street outside, raising nearly $24,000. This year’s event is Wednesday, April 18, and no drop-off in attendance is expected.
In fact, the enthusiasm for the fundraiser led Smith to form a 501c3 nonprofit called the Pints for Parkinson’s Foundation, which has produced similar events around the region, with at least one more planned for this fall.
In addition, other regional breweries and distilleries have jumped on board with the Gordon Biersch event, such as Goodwood, Against the Grain, Ethereal, Falls City, West Sixth, Jim Beam and Sam Adams.
The way the fundraiser works is that all pints of maibock, an amber lager, are $3, with all proceeds benefiting the Parkinson’s center. In addition, 10 percent of food sales during the event will be donated.
This year, several other restaurants at Fourth Street Live (specifically, those owned by the Cordish Companies) also will donate 15 percent of food sales during the event.
In other words, expect the donation to be larger in year four.
Erika Branch, executive director of the Parkinson’s Support Center, says money raised at previous Pints for Parkinson’s events has paid for education programs in cities throughout Kentucky and Indiana, including a “Living Well with Parkinson’s Symposium” for 200 people impacted by Parkinson’s disease.
“Pints for Parkinson’s is more than a fundraiser for the Parkinson Support Center,” says Branch. “This is truly a partnership.”
Smith credits the people who attend, drink the beer and dine during the event, which runs from 5-10 p.m.
“I attribute the success of Pints to the local community supporting it,” Smith says. “It has really created an organic growth in and of itself.”
Interestingly, not all people fully understand the event, because they come expecting something more formal. Pints for Parkinson’s is anything but.
“There are no PowerPoint slides, no pharmaceutical presentations,” says Smith. “It’s a very social event, and that’s kind of the whole point of it. I call it the ‘7 degrees of separation of Parkinson’s.’ Everybody you talk to, it’s ‘My uncle, my grandfather, somebody’s cousin (has Parkinson’s) — everybody knows somebody. This is the goal, to raise awareness.”
The social element starts with the tapping of the beer at 5 p.m., including a passing of “Das Boot,” a giant, boot-shaped stein that attendees are invited to sip from. Brewer Nick Landers describes maibock as “basically, marzen’s big brother — an unfiltered amber lager with good malty character, about 6.8 percent alcohol.”
While three or four kegs of the beer will go down the gullets of attendees at the festival, people will be invited to bid on silent auction items such as Louisville City FC box seats, tickets to the Parkinson’s Center of Kentuckiana Annual Denim & Diamond Gala, Jim Beam bourbons, concert tickets, hotel and dinner packages, and a shot to win a 10-year-old bottle of Rip Van Winkle bourbon.
Meanwhile, vendors will line the sidewalks and live music will be provided by Jericho Woods and Whiskey Bent Valley Boys. Admission to Pints for Parkinson’s is free, and it’s family-friendly.