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The healing power of a pint: Love City Brewing’s latest beer turns a son’s grief into hope

Pint of beer surrounded by photos July 18, 2019 Category: FeaturedLongPurpose


Correction: Corrected the spelling of Nick Gaul's name. 7/19/19 at 1:37 p.m.
“He went from being a totally healthy person to a totally unhealthy person very quickly,” said Mike Tramontana, tasting room manager at Love City Brewing, when talking about the impact glioblastoma had on his father, Thomas Tramontana.

Thomas was diagnosed with brain cancer in early 2016 and died before the year was over. Glioblastoma is grade IV of a type of brain tumor called astrocytoma, which impacts the type of glial cells called astrocytes.

On July 12, some three years after his father’s initial diagnosis, Tramontana was there as Love City released Synapse Session IPA, the brewery’s effort to benefit and advance glioblastoma research at Jefferson University Hospital.

A personal cause

Thomas (l) and Mike Tramontana. (Courtesy photo)

Even a couple years after his father’s death, Tramontana recognizes that grief, while painful at times, is also a remembrance.

“We all still grieve, we all still get emotional,” Tramontana said about his family. “I think it’s just something that will always be there, as far as I can tell. I’d actually not want it to go away.”

For Tramontana, Synapse Session IPA has been both a way to give back to the community of medical professionals who helped his family, and a way to remember his father.

For Kevin and Melissa Walter, founders of Love City, it has been an opportunity to support the fight against an aggressive cancer that’s impacted them personally as well — their friend, Kurt Wunder, was recently diagnosed with glioblastoma.

“It’s a nasty, nasty disease,” Tramontana said. “There’s just nothing they can do [currently]. No matter how good they are at the surgery of removing it, they told us that there’s always cells.” Even after radiation, chemotherapy, and an experimental treatment, his father’s health continued to decline.

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While the physical effects of the cancer don’t involve a lot of pain, Tramontana said the personality changes it brings about make things especially difficult. “The man who was my father, who was the rock of our family, always the go-to guy, just wasn’t anymore,” he said. “That’s hard.”

While the symptoms of glioblastoma vary from person to person, anger and a “loss of emotional control” can be among its effects.

Tramontana praised his mother and sister, who took care of his father, and bore the brunt of the personality changes. Even during the darker stretches, however, Tramontana said his father would sometimes snap out of it and return to the man he was before the disease.

The brewery’s charitable focus

Melissa and Kevin Walter, founders of Love City Brewing. (Photo via

When the Walters asked their employees to vote on the summer quarter’s charitable partner Tramontana naturally thought of nominating the neuro oncology unit at Jefferson, where his dad was treated.

“It’s still pretty fresh to me,” Tramontana said . He knew he wanted to do something even though he didn’t feel particularly experienced at fundraising. Luckily, Love City crafted the opportunity and the staff of Love City supported his charitable choice.

That resulted in the recently released Synapse Session IPA, available at Love City Brewing while supplies last. (Some of it will be available for the quarter-end party celebrating the fundraising effort.)

Melissa Walter described the beer as “hopped with chinook and centennials, so it’s got sort of a resiny, citrusy character to it. Nice and light for the summertime.”

Love City ran social media contests to pick the nonprofits that the three previous charity brews benefitted (the first beneficiary was Pathways to Housing PA). This quarter’s intra-employee nomination and voting process is a new approach to the selection process, but not to the commitment that underpins it.

“I worked as a therapist in the city for a while, so I actively, physically, everyday saw the need in this city and how deep it is,” Walter said. “In starting this business, I knew we had to do something to give back on a consistent basis.”

A partnership comes together

Throughout his dad’s diagnosis and treatment, Tramontana remained thankful for the team at Jefferson Hospital. For instance, the doctors and nurses at Jefferson would often let the family know when the elder Tramontana was not in a good mood so they knew to delay their visits.

Beyond shielding the family from his father’s mood shifts, Tramontana said,  the Jefferson team scrambled to do everything to save Thomas Tramontana, including an experimental clinical trial that provided the family with hope. “[They] got us into an antisense program, a trial program through Dr. David Andrews,” Tramontana said.

Funding glioblastoma research such as this clinical trial similar to the one Tramontana’s father took part in, is a way to help decrease the number of families who have to face a reality similar to the one Tramontana faced with his family.

Cara DiGregorio, assistant director of community fundraising at Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health, commented, via email, on the importance of the partnership. “Supporting research such as in the area of glioblastoma is incredibly important to help advance science and, ultimately, to improve lives.”

Plus, the staff at Jefferson actually helped make the beer.

DiGregorio and her colleague, Nick Gaul, came to Love City in June “assist in raking out the spent grain,” Di Gregorio said. “[We] gained a better understanding of how flavor is added to IPAs.”

Ironically, the man whose battle with glioblastoma led to this very partnership would have appreciated the fundraising efforts  — but not the product itself.

“My dad was not a beer drinker,” Tramontana said. “He was a gin man,. He would have liked the gin we carry.”

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