“Pussy Riot” for Inauguration Day: It’s all about the Beer

Cincinnati Law alum Jen Cuesta (’14) talks about brewing beer for social justice.

So, I’m scrolling through my  FaceBook feed the other day and came across an article about women brewers combining efforts to create a “Pussy Riot” beer just in time for the Trump inauguration.  I just knew—OK, I hoped—one of my former students was involved.  And I was right! Jen Cuesta (’14) is a lawyer by day, brewer by night.  With friends Kate Power and Betsy Lay in Denver, Colorado, she co-founded Lady Justice Brewing (Lady J),  one of the brewers toasting to a better world as the 45th President takes the oath of office.

lady-justice-featured
Kate Power, Jen Cuesta, and Betsy Lay/Photo by the American Homebrewers Association

Lady J is a “philanthropic brewery”– 100% of its  profits for the new beer it debuts at tomorrow’s event, “Making Noise:  A Pussy Riot Beer,” will go  to the ACLU.  I was curious about how a recent law graduate wound up brewing beer for social justice on Inauguration Day, no less.  So I contacted Jen. An edited version of my interview follows.

Who and/or what is Lady Justice Brewing?

Lady Justice Brewing is a philanthropic brewery that donates all its profits over costs through a grant-making process to Colorado-based community organizations that promote the status and opportunity of women and girls. Lady J is also a L3C, a limited liability, low-profit company. It is a new tax designation that combines different parts of a for-profit company with the charitable goal of a non-profit.

How did you decide that beer and social justice would be a good pairing?

The idea for Lady J came about when I was serving in AmeriCorps VISTA in Colorado in 2010 with the other co-founders, Kate and Betsy. After one really defeating day 13740946_988155697963702_172432932_nof calling people to try and get them to donate to our organization, we had a fair number of beers and drunkenly thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to sell beer, then use the profits to do the work we want to do in the community?”   Thus, the idea to take a very sellable product to do great community work was born. The social justice component of the equation was always non-negotiable for each of us. Lady J was the idea of how to fund that work in a reality of shrinking grants while doing something we all really enjoyed.

What’s your role?

I’m a co-owner, co-founder and director of giving. But, in reality we all do whatever needs to get done on any given day. Our titles are fluid.

Your website says Lady J is “community supported.” What does that mean?

Lady J defines itself as a “community supported” brewery for many reasons. One, we raised our first $20,000 or so through a crowdfunding campaign. That means we would not exist but for the support and confidence people showed in our idea to brew beer for a better world. Two, we distribute our beer through our “CSB” or community supported-brewery model. This model, like a community supported agriculture model, relies on people who support our business long-term and not just with one purchase. Our CSB members purchase a 6-month membership, which guarantees them a small-batch, hand bottled bomber of new craft beer each month, with other goodies as well.

So, what’s happening on Inauguration Day? 

Lady J will tap a new beer, along with 3 other beers done by different breweries in collaboration with other women that are a part of the Colorado beer industry. We’re calling this beer series “Makin Noise: A Pussy Riot Beer.” It’s a reaction to Trump and a way for those women involved to celebrate and reiterate their commitment to building a community that promotes the ideals of diversity, tolerance, and equality.  One dollar of every beer sold will be donated to different organizations of our choosing—groups that support women, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and other marginalized communities–such as Planned Parenthood and the ACLU.

Following the election, Lady J issued this statement:

We are Lady Justice Brewing. We are women. We are Mexican, we are Lebanese, and we are white. We are gay and we are straight. We are agnostic and we are faith-seeking. Most importantly, we are united by our common goal to work together, with grit and with poise, for a better world built on equality and inclusion. We have dedicated ourselves to working towards a brighter future for women and girls, and we will never waver from that commitment.

I think that our participation in this series of beer is just one more way for us to publicly commit to building an inclusive and more equal community.

I have to ask:  Do you still practice law?  If not, how has your Cincinnati Law degree helped your work at Lady J? 

While Lady J will someday be our only jobs, we all currently work full time and do Lady J on the side. I have the privilege to work with a legal non-profit helping low-income rural communities get legal services. This work has further proven to me what an amazing privilege and daunting responsibility a law degree provides.

Additionally, my law degree has been so helpful in terms of opening a brewery. From zoning law, to health codes, to licensing, to simply problem solving, a law degree has been amazingly helpful in navigating the process and also saved us a lot of money. In a more indirect way, law school helped me with Lady J because it kept me committed to being a positive and strong advocate for social justice. That fuel for this work would not have been possible without the inspiring and socially thought-provoking professors I had, without the opportunity to travel to very different countries, and without the company of some very funny and kind peers beside me during law school. Also, sometimes it really just gives us credibility, even though we are brewing beer, when we say that two of us are lawyers.

How can Cincinnati Law alums/community help Lady J’s efforts?

Since Lady J beer is not available in Cincinnati (yet), the best way is by telling people about us, or following and liking us on social media. Also, you can help by supporting Cincinnati’s local breweries and businesses that give back to the community. We are unique, but not alone, so look to your own community businesses and spend your money at those that engage and support the community.

What advice would you give students/alums interested in taking a leap like this? 

Approach it like it can be done.  For us it wasn’t a matter of whether we could create a non-profit brewery, it was a matter of how. This forced us to problem solve our way out of challenges instead of giving up. Also, be patient. There were periods when we were moving really slowly, but that was because we needed to move slowly– taking unnecessary risks for sake of movement is not worth it. Lastly, whatever you want to do, break it apart into bite-size pieces. So, instead of approaching the idea as one big thing, see it as lots of little things needing to get done at different times; that approach makes the work manageable and allows you to see progress even when it feels like you are far from your final goal.

What’s your favorite beer? 

Ooooh, well I don’t have one answer to this. My favorite Cincinnati beer is Moerlein’s Helles.  My favorite beer that I can drink at all times and never say no to is the Java Porter at Vine Street.  The first beer that made me love beer was Wild One by Bell’s.  And my favorite easy drinker is 90 Shilling by Odell.

Author: Verna L. Williams

Interim Dean, Nippert Professor of Law, co-founder and co-director of Cincinnati Law's Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice. Professor Williams joined Cincinnati Law's faculty in 2001. She teaches Constitutional Law; Gender and the Law; and Family Law. Her research examines the intersection of race and gender in law and society.

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