These Black-Owned Breweries Are Making Themselves and Their Communities Seen and Heard Through Hops
With its rich history and variation of styles and flavors, you're bound to find a beer to pair with any dish or occasion. But that diversity isn't reflected in the beer industry. While there are over 8,000 breweries in the United States, there is little representation of people of color. Black leads account for just one percent of brewery ownership, according to Bart Watson, chief economist of the Brewers Association. Of this one percent, we're highlighting three breweries creating flavorful beers and blueprints for the future of craft beer and reminding us that beer is for everyone.
Rhythm Brewing Co. in New Haven, Connecticut
Known as "Lady Lager," Alisa Bowens-Mercado, seen above, says her love of beer began with her grandmothers. Seeing that women drank and enjoyed beer informed her understanding of what beer should taste like. "I knew what lagers tasted like and decided 'that's beer'," she says. But when she spent time at beer festivals in Cape Cod, she couldn't find anything that tasted like a beer she could identify with. "Everything was too hoppy or there were too many stouts and IPAs," she laughs. "On my way home I said, 'I'm going to make my own beer.'" It wasn't just that none of the beers pleased her palate, but also that she was one of the few people of color attending the festival. Bowens-Mercado is also a salsa dancer and owns a dance studio and she would "find her rhythm," after doing thorough research she on the beer industry, which is valued at $116 billion in the U.S. market. That lead her to open Rhythm Brewing Co. in March 2018, the first African-American-owned and woman-owned brewery in Connecticut's history.
The New England beer scene is very IPA-heavy and with her different approach, Bowens-Mercado knew immediately that she—with the help of her mother, known as "Mama Rhythm," and her husband—were on to something. The brewery's portfolio is currently kept simple; the flagship Rhythm Red lager and the follow-up, Rhythm Blue light lager. The use of South African hops ties them back to Black heritage. "We have a taste that people are digging right now." says Bowens-Mercado.
Like many Black-owned businesses, the brewery has received unprecedented attention recently. Bowens-Mercado hopes to see action follow the conversations within communities and to larger industry companies. "I feel it in my heart of hearts that people are going to actually now do the right thing and see Black businesses and see Black lives for what we truly are. We are some resilient people and we run companies just like everyone else. We just need these opportunities and these conversations to propel us into different areas of our lives and for the good and whole of everyone in the country. "
Crowns & Hops, Inglewood, California
The personal relationship between Beny Ashburn and Teo Hunter, the duo behind Crowns & Hops, may have fizzled but the two are very much still together in their mission for representation in the craft beer industry. Hunter's interest in craft beer began in the late 2000s while Ashburn's passion developed later after witnessing how families came together at breweries over beer, food, and games and how a love of beer sparked conversations with complete strangers. The duo started an Instagram handle called "Black People Love Beer" to build synergy and connect with other Black people who enjoy craft beer; after discovering the alignment that the Latino community had with the Black community, they extended their handle to "Brown People Love Beer."
With their brewery about a year out from opening, Ashburn and Hunter are currently contract brewing their flagship BPLB, a hazy IPA created as an ode to "a community as audacious as us," Hunter says. They plan to add a West Coast IPA, stout, and pilsner to their starting lineup. "We don't want to underexpose our community to all of the amazing flavor profiles and processes that are in craft beer." To that end they are also collaborating with other brewers in the U.S. and abroad to facilitate conversations and explore the connections entwined in culture, diversity, inclusion, and a love of beer. Ashburn and Hunter also extend their collaborations to the ecosystem of breweries, restaurants, and craft beer bars like the local Xelas and Bierwax on the east coast.
"For a long time, people muddled advocating for diversity and inclusion as a political thing versus being a community thing. One thing we've noticed is the craft beer community truly has each other's backs as it relates to circulating information and giving each other the advantage needed to really accomplish success," Hunter explains.
Métier Brewing Co., Woodinville, Washington
"My love for beer is both in the flavor of beer and in the experience of enjoying beer with friends and the connections that happen," Rodney Hines of Métier Brewing Co. explains. After studying abroad in London during college and seeing a Chekov play in a pub, he gathered how pubs, much like cafés, could be a community space where the arts, culture, and conversation occur. Further inspired by the taprooms of a young Samuel Adams Brewery, Hines began home brewing about 30 years ago.
Two years ago he and business partner, Todd Herriott, created Métier Brewing Co., a brewery that seeks "to brew damn good beer and to build stronger communities to inspire bigger dreams for all." This mission is truly the heart and soul of the brewery. You'll see it in their work with the Major Taylor Project, a non-profit that empowers under-served youth through cycling, in the artwork on their beer cans and bottles, website, and on the walls of the brewery, all created by local artists of color.
The ability to give back and bring the community in is driven by their award-winning beers, such as Coconut Porter, Belgian Golden, and American Wheat. Hines is working to create a fellowship program for people of color and women that will "gear the industry towards representing more of what America looks like and seeing more leaders that reflect that look." He visions proceeds from their Black Stripe Beer, a partnership with Jerk Shack, a popular Black-owned restaurant in Seattle, going towards that initiative.
There's a brilliance and beauty comes out of breweries through dialogue and partnerships and as Hines says, now is the time to begin truly talking and working towards diversity. "Every year in the same way around Black History Month we get 28 or 29 days where there's a lot of attention on us and once March 1 hits, it's over," he says. "I'm hoping that in this moment of crisis, where there's a generation that is pushing aggressively for change, that we feel this change within this industry and that we own that change collectively."