ROSEVILLE, Calif. — Those in the Roseville and Rocklin beer community may know the name Bryan Russell. A thickly-bearded man who was quick to make patrons smile, Russell was a familiar face as he worked the taps at Old Town Pizza and Boneshaker Public House.
Zak Sousa, a friend of Russell, remembers him especially for his ability to make people feel at home.
"Bryan was one of those guys where I could walk in after a long day of work and maybe not be in the best mood, and within 30 seconds he'd have me laughing," Sousa said. "Funniest, nicest, sweetest human being you ever met."
Russell passed sadly and unexpectedly in mid-March, leaving behind two children, his mom, and a gaping hole in the beer-loving community of the Sacramento area.
With his passing, Russell's two kids are to be taken care of by his mother, with whom he had a close relationship. The loss will be no doubt be difficult, so friends of Russell banded together to start a GoFundMe for the family. The fund has already raised more than its $20,000 asking goal and is still growing.
Russell was immensely proud of his kids, Sousa says.
"He always talked about how great they were doing in school, sports, and all of their other activities. They were his whole world," Sousa said.
According to the GoFundMe page, the funds would go to funeral expenses and support Russell's children. Part of the success so far of the fund comes from a beer raffle, which Sousa has helped organize.
Calling out to the beer-loving community in the area, Sousa asked for people within a local Sacramento Facebook beer group to donate to the GoFundMe, and in turn, be eligible for a raffle ticket.
The prizes? Beer, of course.
"Basically we're just swapping beers around between a bunch of people that probably have a ton of beer in their fridge already and don't really need more, but it's just kind of an interesting way for us to raise awareness and draw attention to the fact that it's happening," Sousa said.
The idea is an extremely fitting way to honor Russell, who was not only a beertender and beer enthusiast, but was also part of the inspiration behind the name of one collaborative brew.
"He was another guy who had a big bushy beard, so we started this thing where we would like…I'd walk in and he would kind of run up to me and rub his beard against mine," Sousa said. "It's the stupidest anything I know, but it eventually became this inside joke between him and I and a few other people and we called it 'lumberjack kisses.'"
"Lumberjack Kisses" is a stout aged in bourbon barrels, treated with pecans and maple, that Sousa, Russell, and other beer-lovers collaborated on with local Elk Grove brewery Flatland Brewing Company. It was just released in late-February. Sousa said he was waiting to try it in the hopes of sharing it with Russell.
Mere hours after Sousa announced that he was looking for people to pitch in one or two bottles of beer for the raffle, donations came flooding in. There were many local labels, a testament to the Sacramento community's passion for homegrown brew.
Sousa said that he estimates he has received 80 or so bottles for the raffle. With every donation, a little more funds come in for Russell's children on the GoFundMe, as well.
Sousa said they've done fundraiser raffles like this in the past, and similarly, the Sacramento beer community has shown up in force.
"We had a similar situation last year where we did a bottle raffle to benefit some community members in need and it's always the same thing," Sousa. "People in this group are really willing to step up and donate what they can, and if they're not in a position to donate money, they're happy to, you know, pull a few bottles out of the fridge."
For those interested, you can learn more about the GoFundMe for Bryan Russell's family here. The beer raffle is organized by Zak Sousa, with donations coming in from members of a local Sacramento Facebook beer group.