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After 23 years of working for a high-density, automated storage company in Minneapolis, Phil Knutsen decided to cut ties and take a giant leap in a very different direction: beer.
Knutsen formed Founding Fathers Brewing Co., a Minnesota-based business that helps consumers revisit what it means to be an American.
Knutsen has now brought his venture to South Carolina. Founding Fathers formally launched two premium domestic beers at a special Greenville Drive game Friday, Aug. 31.
Knutsen began his endeavor with the simple concept of developing a brand name that aligned with the solid American ideals of old. He decided he would donate 50 percent of all his profits to local organizations that support the U.S. military and their families. In South Carolina, that means the S.C. Armed Forces Relief Trust, the National Guard Association of S.C. and The Independence Fund.
"I formed Founding Fathers based on a concept very similar to Newman's Own," Knutsen told the Journal. "I wanted to donate to an organization that I felt was aligned to the founding fathers of our country, and that being the United States military. Newman's donates to thousands of organizations but I wanted it to be specific – to support our military's families."
Knutsen's cause wasn't a whim. His choice to support the military hits close to home – his father, father-in-law, son and college roommate all served in the armed forces for a time. As a result, Knutsen "feels strongly about our military and the freedoms it gives us."
In the last decade, craft beer variety and sales have exploded, while domestic premium beers like Budweiser, Miller and Coors have suffered, according to the Brewers Association, the largest association of independent brewers in the United States. Knutsen sees the weakening of the domestic premium market as his chance to stake his claim in the brew industry – but don't call Founding Fathers a craft beer.
"We are not a craft beer, not your typical microbrewery," Knutsen said. "What we've done is we've launched a domestic premium beer. This is the first time in my lifetime that there's been a new competitor to compete directly with Budweiser, Miller and Coors."
Another reason Founding Fathers avoided the craft scene and chose to brew a domestic premium is the rise of foreign-owned breweries in operation in American territory.
"With the sellout of Budweiser to the Belgians, Miller to the South Africans, and Coors, which is a Canadian-South African venture, we thought it was time to launch an American product that competed directly with them," Knutsen said.
Still, his main focus is on providing support for military families. Beer lovers can rest assured that their contributions will go to the right people, he said. Founding Fathers is equipped with a military advisory board to help vet which organizations will receive donations.
"Obviously, we want to be aligned with organizations that we feel are the most highly regarded," Knutsen said. "My advisors make sure the organizations we partnered with are doing a tremendous job."
Currently, Founding Fathers has two beers on the market: Founding Fathers Lager and Founding Fathers Light. Knutsen promises more varieties down the road. In the meantime, he says, go indulge in a truly American beer for a great cause. But, please, don't call it a craft beer.
For more information, visit www.foundingfathersbrewingco.com.