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Brewing up something in memory of Willie Bowman

The large tribute procession that flowed through the streets of Elmira and into Union Cemetery following the passing of Willie Bowman in February underscored how many people he’d known in the community.

Three months later, a special beer brewed as a fundraiser in his memory sold some 1,200 cans in a matter of hours, reflecting that same regard for the Elmira man.

Now, Rural Roots Brewing is releasing a second batch, with all proceeds again going to the Canadian Mental Health Association and Parkinson’s Canada, the charities chosen by Bowman’s wife, Angie Hill.

“We knew it would be big. We didn’t know it would be that big. It was the same with the beer,” she said of the response to Bowman’s sudden passing on February 3 at the age of 59, including the impromptu procession and the charitable fundraiser.

“They wanted to take part in this to honour him,” said Rural Roots owner Roger Lichti of the rapid sales of the special brew he made in Bowman’s honour, Wobbly Willie’s Single Sandal Ale.

The name came courtesy of Hill, who said it captures Bowman’s penchant for wearing sandals at all times.

“He wore flip-flop sandals everywhere, all the time,” she said, noting that she put one sandal she found into the casket with him.

“I found the other one later, so when I see him again, I can slap him with it,” she said with a laugh, explaining the ‘single sandal’ moniker, with the ‘wobbly pop’ being more self-evident.

The label on each can reflects many facets of Bowman’s life, from his roots as a horse-and-buggy Mennonite to his son Jesse’s love for drag racing. Words of memoriam scripted by Hill are also included.

“When I think about my Willie, I have a lot of great memories about a lot of things. I wanted to cover that,” she said. “Legends never die, they just get Wobbly.”

The beer itself is a special brew developed by Lichti, who said he wanted something both easy to drink and complex in flavour – he used six different grains, where some beers might be a mix of three or four.

“He was a complex man, but also laid back and easy going,” said Lichti. “I wanted it to be easy-drinking, to reflect a crowd that might not be into craft beer.”

Some 400 cans of the new batch, available as of Wednesday, had already been pre-ordered, leaving some 800 available. Lichti notes there’s already been keen interest.

As well as the beer, there are Wobbly Willie’s Single Sandal Ale t-shirts, made by Elmira’s PK Sportswear, that are also being sold in support of the two charities. Given that the fundraising was earmarked for May, Lichti said the current batch is likely to be the last.

“We wanted this to be a fundraiser for the month of May, which is mental health awareness month, and Parkinson’s month [was in April]. We’re really happy with the response we got for the causes.”

Information can be found online.

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