As a journalist in Lafayette, Louisiana, nearly two decades ago, Wes Milligan was asked to write a magazine story about Alzheimer’s disease.
Milligan had no personal connection to Alzheimer’s and didn’t even know much about it.
To learn more, he reached out to the local Alzheimer’s Association chapter to try to talk with some people who had Alzheimer’s, a progressive disease that destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks.
“I started interviewing a grandmother that was forgetting her granddaughter, a father that was forgetting his daughter,” Milligan said.
“Next thing you know I’m crying, we’re all crying. And I was like, this is not fair. This disease is not fair at all. And things really ramped up for me.”
After his series ran in the Acadiana Profile, Milligan started volunteering — and, later, raising money — to support Alzheimer’s research, care and awareness.
In 2019, on his 40th birthday, Milligan pledged to raise $200,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association in 10 years. He quickly surpassed that goal.
To date, Milligan has raised nearly $400,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association, and is now the volunteer chairman of the board for the Tennessee chapter of the group.
Another passion of Milligan’s is craft beer.
Over the years, Milligan has helped organize many fundraising events. His favorite, however, is an annual one that marries his passion for Alzheimer’s fundraising with his love of great beer.
Ales for Alzheimer’s has raised more than $25,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association since the event began in 2016.
The 2023 edition of Ales for Alzheimer’s is happening Friday, October 27, at the historic Arcade Restaurant in downtown Memphis, 540 S. Main Street, and it’s sure to be one of the best to date.
The premise for the event is simple: for a $100 donation to the Alzheimer’s Association, you can sample more then 100 unique beers that you can’t buy in Memphis, while enjoying the company of fellow beer aficionados.
“It’s the best deal in Memphis for beer,” Milligan said. “Some of these beers, for 750 milliliters, are $75 for one bottle. … And if you’re an Untappd ticker, this is your dream.”
Combining forces for good
The idea for Ales for Alzheimer’s came from Ryan Guess, an advocate for the Memphis craft beer scene and a rare beer collector, whom Milligan had met through a friend.
The event started as a small gathering at Meddlesome Brewing Co. in Cordova, before the brewery’s taproom was even open.
Guess donated a lot of beers from his personal collection, attendees got to preview some Meddlesome brews, and about $1,750 was raised that day.
Meddlesome co-founders Ben Pugh and Richie EsQuivel were both big, early supporters of Ales for Alzheimer’s, and the event was held at Meddlesome for the first four years.
In December 2019, Bryan Berretta, Jesse Lara and Milligan did a “Share a Memory” bottle share event at Meddlesome, benefiting the Alzheimer’s Association.
After the event, the three, along with Guess, had the grand idea to combine forces for Ales for Alzheimer’s.
“When the four of us got together in 2021, it was electric,” said Milligan.
For the last two years, Ales for Alzheimer’s has been held at the Arcade.
Arcade owner Jeff Zapatos, whose father had Alzheimer’s, donates food and the space for the event.
For Lara, the event also has a strong personal connection.
“Ales for Alzheimer’s has given me a way to help fight a disease that affected my grandfather,” said Lara, who lives in California and flies to Memphis for the event.
“At the time, I felt powerless to do anything to help someone who meant so much to me. I now feel like I am able to help others that suffer and to honor his memory.”
Meanwhile, Berretta said modern Alzheimer’s research has given hope to families supporting loved ones with the disease. He feels a responsibility to do what he can to help raise money and awareness to further that research, which may one day deliver a cure.
These days, Berretta and Lara also have another project in the works. They’re starting up a new Memphis brewery, MFS Brewing.
A night of rare beers
Ales for Alzheimer’s has gotten bigger over the years, but it’s still a small event, limited to about 50-60 attendees.
The beers come from all over the world, and are either donated by breweries or by the four organizers.
In addition, there’s a silent auction that includes rare beers, plus things like glassware and merchandise donated by breweries. The silent auction contributes greatly to what’s raised each year.
In planning the event, this is how nerdy it gets: there’s a spreadsheet.
Milligan, Guess, Berretta and Lara keep track of all the beers they’ve collected to make sure there’s plenty of every style, from sours to stouts, from IPAs to barrel-aged beers.
Nearly all the beers are poured from 750-milliliter bottles. The organizers try to get two bottles of each, so everyone can get a taste, though there’s no guarantees.
Throughout the night, the releases are timed, as well.
“Usually we easily have over 100 unique, different beers that are not available in the Memphis market,” Milligan said. “We bring the beer. You just show up and have a good time.”
There’s always plenty of water so attendees stay hydrated. And ridesharing, like Uber and Lyft, is highly encouraged.
While the event is still more than two months away, the organizers already have many of the night’s beers lined up.
“Most of these are beers you only ever hear about, and we can’t wait to share them with everyone.”
How to attend Ales for Alzheimer’s
To attend Ales for Alzheimer’s on Friday, October 27, visit Milligan’s fundraising page, http://act.alz.org/goto/WesMilligan, and make a $100 donation.
That money goes directly to the Alzheimer’s Association, and gets you a ticket into the event.
For additional information, view the Ales for Alzheimer’s event page on Facebook.