Beer Me

Lost Tribes Brew Helps Silicon Alley Startups Hit the Ballmer Peak

"We supply the beer and energy."
screen shot 2012 10 04 at 7 22 31 pm Lost Tribes Brew Helps Silicon Alley Startups Hit the Ballmer Peak

(Photo: Lost Tribes)

At a recent event hosted by and Tumblr, hip New York Internet types milled around in a DUMBO loft space plastered with photos and sculptures of house cats bathing in cash. A DJ booth blasted hip hop from the early aughts as well-dressed girls with Tumblrs mugged for the photobooth camera like it was their first high school prom.

Towards the back of the party, a table was set up where men wearing yarmulkes were exchanging drink tickets for paper cups of beer. At one point the line for drinks, full of plaid-shirted programmers and slight women in glasses, stretched and looped all the way around the room–much to the chagrin of the understaffed bartenders.

These beer-wielding men of faith hail from the local New York brewing company Lost Tribes and have become a staple at startup events around the city. In addition to working with Forced Meme Productions and Cashcats, Lost Tribes also provides beer to startups like Plyfe and Tumblr. The brewery is also in the process of setting up deals with WeWork and GroupMe to serve beer at some of their events. Think of them as the evening version of that other startup perk, Joyride Coffee.

As NYU grad David Itzkowitz tells it, the idea for Lost Tribes was planted back in 2009 when three of the business partners went on a research and development trip to Israel in search of native hops. While checking out the microbreweries in the area, the crew became acquainted with people who hail from lost tribes in regions in Ethiopia and India. Now living in Israel, they were looking for a way to protect their culture.

“They told us their tales and their stories, and they both had this tasty homebrew–neither of which was produced commercially,” Mr. Itzkowitz told Betabeat by phone. “On top of that, they were concerned that their children and grandchildren didn’t know about their cultural heritage or the beverages, the food and the products that were grown and went into everyday life. These beverages kind of embodied that.”

Mr. Itzkowitz and his partners brought the brews from the lost tribes back to the U.S., paralleled them with their own pale ale and pilsner, and sold them to professional wine, sake and beer makers.

“We partnered up with that on a social and charitable level,” he said. “They taught us the recipes in their kitchen in those little towns in Israel. We brought it back here along with an agreement that we’d give a percentage of proceeds for each recipe back to the community.”

Lost Tribes’ business is multi-pronged. They brew their own beer, but also brew recipes from lost tribes. They also founded a nonprofit organization that helps lost tribes from all around the world meet and discuss their cultural heritage online. Through their boutique online theological institute, which is licensed to feed students into thousands of accredited colleges, they began meeting professors and religious leaders who knew a lot about the lost tribes. At the same time, people from tribes all over the world began reaching out to them, hoping the men behind Lost Tribes could help educate them on their past.

“We realized there was this big gap here of academics who had the information and people who were searching for the information, but they weren’t connecting,” explained Mr. Itzkowitz. “So we started something–which is under construction now–called the iTribe. iTribe is going to be a social media platform where we can supply content from these professors and scholars, as well as allow individuals in second and third world countries with whatever limited Internet access they have to log in and interact with other people in other countries. They can upload content of their own–stories, images, family traditions–and it can be a space where people can learn about each other.” The founders’ interest in technology isn’t just relegated to their startup clientele, they know how to code and are building the site themselves.

“We realized we wanted to sell great, quality tasting beverages, and we wanted to help make the world a better place,” he added.

At a dinner party, the Lost Tribes team was introduced to some of the people who work at Tumblr, and soon after they began providing the beverages for Tumblr’s monthly meetings and beer pong tournaments it hosts with other startups around the city, like Vimeo and CollegeHumor. Mr. Itzkowitz said that they would provide the “beer and energy” to the events.

“We’ll do events where we’ll charge for the keg, we’ll serve the Tej [a special brew] for free and a lot of times they’ll purchase some product and then we honor a buy x get x times 2 for free,” Mr. Itzkowitz said.

“In the tech scene, people appreciate good craft beer and other beverages,” he added.

As for the future, Lost Tribes is considering setting up an official beer pong league for startups. Better start practicing.

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