The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa brewery uses beer sales to fund eye disease treatment at the UI Institute for Vision Research

Rob Hage, a former patient, started the brewery to raise money for future patients’ treatment at the UI’s eye research clinic.
Beer+taps+are+seen+at+the+Backpocket+Brewing+taproom+in+Coralville+on+Wednesday%2C+Oct.+11%2C+2023.+
Shuntaro Kawasaki
Beer taps are seen at the Backpocket Brewing taproom in Coralville on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023.

Rob Hage was a patient at the University of Iowa Institute for Vision Research and is now using his brewery Blind Butcher Brewery in Iowa and nonprofit BREWS for BLiNDNESS to raise money for future patients’ treatment.

Hage was diagnosed in 2009 with a hereditary eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa. All of the proceeds for BREWS for BLiNDNESS go to the UI Institute for Vision Research to help treat the disease.

He said he went to the Institute for Vision Research annually to check on his condition and renew his driver’s license. In 2017, Hage went to renew his driver’s license, but was told he was legally blind and couldn’t drive anymore.

Hage did some online coursework starting in 2017 until 2020 when his son started out hobby brewing in his kitchen as a college student. He learned from his son and then decided to get a little bit more serious about it on his farm.

For a while, it was still a hobby brewing but at a much higher level. They traded in their plastic buckets in the kitchen for real stainless-steel equipment, and from there the idea of a brewery grew.

However, after having the idea, Hage and his family decided to not pursue starting a brewery after realizing how much paperwork was involved with applications, insurance, and licensing.

Discovering a cure

That all changed a month later in December, when Hage went in for a routine eye exam. His optometrist in Sioux Falls told him that his lenses hadn’t changed at all in two years and his disease was actually growing in on his vision.

Because of this news, Hage reached out to the UI to ask about any potential updates in the research on retinitis pigmentosa.

His nurse at the hospital said he had called at the perfect time, and his doctor Edwin Stone, a professor in ophthalmology and visual sciences and director of the Institute for Vision Research, was doing a seminar in just a few days.

On Dec. 16, 2020, Hage watched Stone explain how over the past few years, the institute health care experts started to treat and reverse the damage from retinitis pigmentosa.

Raising money for treatment

Hage wanted to raise money to treat the disease because of its high costs and he saw the detrimental effects it can have on one’s life. After losing his vision and driver’s license, he wanted to find a way to prevent others from going through the same struggles, Hage said.

When thinking about ways to raise money, Hage thought back to the idea of a brewery.

Something that stuck with him was hearing about a brewing company in California called Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. The company did a beer fundraiser for the California wildfires, and they raised around $8 million in a short period of time.

“That was what enticed us,” Hage said. “What couldn’t be possible if enough people joined in on this effort to eradicate this disease?”

BREWS for BLiNDNESS also collaborates with Backpocket Brewery in Coralville, who helped BREWS for BLiNDNESS can its pilot beer, Sight for the Blind, in May. The beer is a hazy IPA.

“I have learned that diseases like this affect a lot of people, and nobody talks about it,” Owner Aaron Vargas said. “For the University of Iowa to have found this amazing technology to help cure it is a huge deal and is something that should be communicated nationwide.”

The institute now operates mostly from donations from people and companies like Brews for Blindness. They have raised almost $90,000 and they are just starting to reach out to all of the Iowa breweries.

More to Discover
About the Contributors
Julia Rhodes, Reporter
she/her/hers
Julia Rhodes is a first year student at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communications and minoring in Dance. She loves writing as well as presenting that work on screen and is hoping to be equally a Daily Iowan reporter as well as a DITV reporter. She enjoys writing about all topics from crime and politics to arts and public health.
Shuntaro Kawasaki, Photojournalist
(he/him/his)
Shuntaro Kawasaki is a fourth-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in Neuroscience with a minor in Chemistry and Cinema. Outside of The Daily Iowan, Shuntaro has interned at the Carver College of Medicine, writing a research paper.