TRENDERS: Lily Ricci + Victor Bartash of Cape Commons Brewing Co.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


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Lily Ricci and Victor Bartash of Cape Commons Brewing Co.

Cape Commons Brewing Co., is a craft beer you can feel extra good drinking. The mission-based brewery run by Brown grads, Lily Ricci and Victor Bartash, provides clean drinking water for people in need around the world through their beer profits.

Every time they brew a batch, they build a community wateraid project through partners on the ground. Ricci, an International Relations concentrator, and Bartash, a Human Biology major, have paired up to serve a global problem using their beer to fund micro-finance wateraid projects worldwide.

GoLocal sat down with them to talk about how the project got started, and where it’s headed.

How did you come up with the idea of brewing beer for water?

Victor Bartash: "Beer for Water" has always felt like a social impact puzzle to us. It was in college when the pieces started falling into place. My junior year, I received a grant to volunteer at a water aid organization WellDone, where I learned how access to clean water is truly the first rung on the development ladder.

The following year, Lily and I were introduced to our soon-to-be water aid partner Rainwater for Humanity (R4H), which actually began as an academic collaboration between Brown University and the School of Environmental Sciences at Mahatma Gandhi University of Kerala, India. It was that same year when Lily's brother Jack and his best friend Jake formed our brew team in Denver, Co., piloted recipes for us, and shipped over thirteen styles of beer across the country for beer tastings in Providence.

Lily Ricci: The true eureka! moment was when I was walking down the beach Christmas before last, beer in hand, musing about what I wanted to do with my life. I was thinking about how TOMS was able to turn their one-for-one model into such a success, and as I looked out over the ocean, gazed at the beer in my hand, the idea came to me: one liquid for another, beer for water. I shared the idea with Vic and we really haven't looked back since.

You both went to college in RI--has RI inspired you or had an influence on the project?

Lily Ricci: Absolutely. The business community in Rhode Island, specifically the social enterprise business community, has created an ecosystem that promotes social innovation by offering a support network to new social enterprise start-ups (like ours).

Victor Bartash: Rhode Island has earned a special place in our hearts. This past April, Cape Commons was actually a sponsor at the SEEED summit, a collaboration between Brown University and Social Venture Partners Rhode Island to bring together both local and national experts on social entrepreneurship on Brown University's campus. It is at events like SEEED when Lily and I realize just how influenced we have been by our immediate RI community. In the past four years, Rhode Island has truly emerged as a leader in social enterprise incubation, and SEEED is one example of a RI venue that showcases how businesses like Cape Commons can create material positive impact on society beyond just making profit.

Has it been hard to start a business while in college? What kinds of roadblocks have you had to overcome?

Victor Bartash: There have been challenges and sacrifices, sure, but we like to think that there was no better time than college to start a business. There was access to every type of support from faculty to funding, in addition to the opportunity to create independent classes centered on the implementation of our business.

There was a stretch of three weeks in our last semester in college [...] when Lily and I literally spent every day, from morning until bedtime, in the school library working on our plan; a level of commitment that spurred us to begin endearingly calling the library our "librewery."

What do you hope to achieve with Cape Commons?

Lily Ricci: We want to be the first nationally distributed social enterprise beer company, making a statement to our generation that if you want things to change, you have to do something about it. We want Cape Commons to be a rallying point for people who believe their choice of beer, or any consumer product for that matter, can truly bring about meaningful, global impact.

Victor Bartash: We started Cape Commons because we wanted to address a huge global challenge, which is access to clean water for the 780 million people without a secure water source. Our mission is to show the world that beer can provide access to clean drinking water when used as a sustainable tool for collective action.

Our vision? To become the largest, most adaptive source of funding for water aid that just so happens to make damn good craft beer.

As both a brewery and a social enterprise, we hope our brand strikes a chord with a generation of progressive consumers striving to make the world a more sustainable place. We think there is no better starting point than a great beer and a great cause.

What can one beer do for the world?

Victor Bartash: For every batch of beer we brew, we commit to building one community water project through an on-the-ground partner. One batch. One Project. That's how we communicate our social impact math and promise to our customers.

During our first year of operations, we expect to brew about one batch of beer per week. For us, a batch will be roughly equivalent to 40 barrels or 80 kegs of beer. All products associated with that batch will be labeled with its batch number and associated water project, giving customers a chance to be part of a different story every time they buy our beer.

How do you turn beer sales into water? Who are you partnered with?

Victor Bartash: We will initially channel our beer sales to support our first on-the-ground wateraid partner, Rainwater for Humanity (R4H), who builds rainwater harvesting tanks in Kerala, India.

Thinking of beer as a micro investment in clean water is a crucial distinction in the work we seek to do. Cape Commons was not founded to throw money at a cause or to attach a marketable cause to a lucrative commodity. It was founded in the spirit of engineering an innovative solution to one of the world's most intractable problems.

How good would you say the beer is?

Victor Bartash: We like to make damn good, approachable craft beer.

The CC LAGER is currently the fan favorite, so it may become our flagship product. Inspired by the California Common style, the CC LAGER is a re-interpretation of the all-American ale-lager hybrid known for its pronounced hop bitterness, toasty malt flavors, and unique lager yeast that works at the temperature of an ale. Brilliantly clear and honey-blonde in hue, our version is an approachable take with notes of French bread and sweet fruit that lead into a crisp, citrusy finish.

Cape Commons is undergoing transition to Brooklyn, New York, where it will begin building a 20-barrel brewery and taproom set to hopefully open next fall.

Keep an eye out for Cape Commons CC Lager to come out in the market soon; in the meantime, feel free to reach out to [email protected] if you have questions or want to know more about Lily Ricci and Victor Bartash and Cape Commons.


Related Slideshow: The Brown Alumni Who Run This Country

Let's take a look at the Brown University graduates who currently play vital roles in running this country:

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Jack A. Markell

Governor of Delaware (2009 - Current)

Class of 1982

After obtaining his undergraduate degree in economics and graduate studies from Brown in 1982, Governor Markell went on to earn his MBA at the University of Chicago.  He left the private sector in 1998 upon his election as State Treasurer of Delaware, a role which he served until becoming his home state's Governor in 2009.


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Piyush "Bobby" Jindal

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Governor Jindal is one of the more recognizable names to come out of Brown, largely due to his role in dealing with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill off of his state's coast in 2010. He earned degrees in biology and public policy from Brown in 1991, and has since held many public offices; including a term in Congress as the Representative of Louisiana's 1st District. 


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Lincoln Chafee

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Rhode Island born and bred, Governor Chafee has been in the public sector for most of his adult life. After serving as Mayor of Warwick, he followed in his father John Chafee's footsteps, becoming a U.S. Senator before becoming Rhode Island's 74th Governor.  He recently announced that he would not seek re-election in 2014.
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Maggie Hassan

Governor of New Hampshire (2013 - Current)

Class of 1980

After Graduating from Brown in 1980, Governor Hassan went on to the Northeastern University School of Law.  After working as an attorney for several years, Hassan went on to hold a seat in the New Hampshire State Senate for three terms before losing her seat in 2010.  She won last year's Gubernatorial election, carrying every county in New Hampshire.


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David Cicilline

U.S. Representative - Rhode Island - 1st District (2011 - Current)

Class of 1983

Along with John F. Kennedy Jr., Cicilline established Brown University's branch of the College Democrats of America.  He held several roles in Rhode Island politics, including Mayor of Providence from 2003 to 2011 before representing Rhode Island's 1st District in the U.S. House. 

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Dan Maffei

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Representative Maffei received his degree from Brown in history before beginning a career in journalism.  He worked as a reporter and producer for ABC's Syracuse, NY affiliate for several years, then worked behind the scenes in politics until deciding to run for office himself. 

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John Hugh "Buddy" Dyer

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Mayor Dyer received a law degree from the University of Florida after earning his Bachelor's Degree from Brown.  He went on to serve ten years in Florida's State Senate before becoming Orlando's 32nd Mayor.


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Janet Yellen

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Federal Reserve Board of Governors: Chair (Nominated)

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Yellen graduated summa cum laude from Brown University in 1967 with a degree in Economics. She went on to hold many prestigious titles in the field of economics, including serving as Chair of the Council of Economic advisers under President Bill Clinton.  She was recently nominated by Barrack Obama to become the Chair of the Federal Reserve, if confirmed, she will become the first woman in U.S. history to hold that title. 

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Richard G. Olson

U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan (2012 - Current)

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Ambassador Olson graduated with honors from Brown with 1991 with a degree in law and society.  Before being appointed to his current role, he also served as Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, U.S. Consul General in Dubai, and as Deputy Chief of Mission to the the U.S. Mission to NATO.

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Rosemary DiCarlo

U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations (2010 - Current)

Class of 1969 (M.A. 1971, Ph.D. 1979)


Ambassador Dicarlo has led a very distinguished career in diplomacy following her graduation from Brown University.  She has received multiple honors, including the Department of Sate's Sustained Superior Achievement Award.  She also served as acting U.S. Ambassador to the UN in July of 2013. 

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Thomas Perez

U.S. Secretary of Labor (2013 - Current)

Class of 1983

Following his 1983 graduation from Brown, Secretary Perez began a long and distinguished career in the public sector. Before the 2013 appointment to his current role, Perez worked for the Department of Justice as Assistant Attorney General in their Civil Rights Division.

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Jim Yong Kim

President of the World Bank Group (2012 - Current)

Class of 1982

Before being elected as the 12th President of the World Bank Group, Dr. Jim Yong Kim was a shining star at Brown.  He graduated magna cum laude in 1982, and went on to become a physician and anthropologist, serving as an adviser to the World Health Organization.  In 2009, he was named President of Dartmouth College, becoming the first Asian-American to head an Ivy League school.

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Norman L. Eisen

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Class of 1985

After graduating with honors from Brown in 1985, Ambassador Eisen went on to study at Harvard Law and was classmates owith future President, Barack Obama.  In the private sector, Eisen made a name for himself, earning the distinction as one of Washington's top lawyers by Washingtonian Magazine. 

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Adam Namm

U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador (2012 - Current)

Class of 1985

Ambassador Namm graduated magna cum laude from Brown in 1985 with a degree in  International Relations.  He has spent his entire career in foreign service, and was the Acting Director of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations before being appointed to his current post. 

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David Wade

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Class of 1997

While at Brown, Mr. Wade was awarded the prestigious Harry S. Truman scholarship.  He went on to serve some of this Nation's top leaders, first acting as Joseph Biden's National Spokesman and Communications Advisor. He then became Senator John Kerry's Chief of Staff in 2008, transitioning with the same title in Kerry's new role as Secretary of State.


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