Without exception: Black-owned breweries strive to be on tap in North Carolina and beyond | State and Area News
CHARLOTTE — As the craft beer industry grows in the city, an untapped market is about to emerge.
It’s been three years since Charlotte — a city with more than 30 craft breweries — launched a black-owned brewery. Three Spirits Brewery was Charlotte’s only black-owned brewery. It opened in 2016 but closed three years later without explanation.
But now two black-owned breweries are gearing up to open in the next few months.
Weather Souls Brewing Co., of Texas, will open its second location in October in the South End. Charlotte knows brewery and owner Marcus Baskerville because two years ago he started the Black is Beautiful project to raise awareness of injustice.
“There’s an amazing craft beer scene there,” Baskerville said.
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Following the opening of Weathered Souls, Hippin’ Hops Brewery will open its fourth location in Charlotte. It is Atlanta’s first black-owned brewery with a permanent location, which opened in April 2021.
Owner Clarence Boston has long-standing ties to Charlotte. He opened his first business in Queen City 16 years ago. Since then, he has owned several businesses, including a funeral home and nightclubs.
Hippin’ Hops Brewery will be the largest black-owned brewery in the United States, Boston said.
“Black-owned breweries are such a unique business because they don’t exist,” Boston said.
According to a 2019 survey by the Brewers Association, less than 1% of the approximately 8,500 craft breweries in the United States are black-owned.
Baskerville and Boston plan to change that.
“Real change comes through ownership,” Baskerville said. “We know that when you build a diverse business, you have a better chance of success.”
Boston was recently named treasurer of the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild. He is also the first black member of the Guild’s Board of Directors in its 12-year history.
“I never thought that in a million years I would be sitting in the guild,” Boston said. Boston said people call it “The Black Anheuser-Busch” and its goal is to distribute it in all 50 states.
Her hope is to help the cottage industry gain access to another market.
“There are a lot of black beer drinkers out there, but introducing them to craft beer is only going to help the industry as a whole,” he said.
It can also be difficult to present products to consumers. That’s why Jamel Lynch started Harlem Beer Distributing in Durham four years ago. He met Celeste Beatty, owner of Harlem Brewing Co. in New York and the first black woman to open a brewery in the United States, who explained the challenges of distribution and the cracking of the white male-dominated industry.
Lynch was an engineer for IBM at the time, but wanted to help get Beatty beers to North Carolina. He contacted shops, bars and restaurants, selling 140 cases to show a distributor that Beatty’s beer was worth buying.
But even then, the distributor said no.
“I started to see some of the challenges of small brewers, especially African American brewers, trying to break into a network. It’s not really made of people who look like us,” Lynch said. “I grew up here in the South. I know what it’s like to be shunned and I’ve certainly encountered some of those challenges in this industry.
“You don’t belong in this industry. That’s the vibe I felt when I started talking to some of these white-owned bars and restaurants.”
Lynch decided to start a distribution company to give small breweries exposure to markets they wouldn’t normally have access to.
“I try to break down those barriers,” Lynch said. “It’s not that we want to work only with African Americans. We want to work with people who have a similar approach to doing business, connecting with your community.
“Beer distribution is just a platform to do what I really want to do and that is to inspire and help others.”
For years, Boston wanted a location in Charlotte for its Hippin’ Hops brewery, even incorporating it into North Carolina in 2018.
“I did my best to find a building through several large real estate companies in Charlotte and it was like they didn’t want to rent to African Americans,” Boston said. “That’s a big part of why I left. “It was a different time than it is today.”
Boston and his wife Donnica found a place for the brewery and restaurant less than a week after moving to Atlanta.
But he still wanted to be in Charlotte. Boston said there was no problem finding space for the brewery. In fact, the rental company for the Winnifred Street location is owned by an Atlanta company familiar with Hippin’ Hops.
“But I see things have changed because of COVID,” Boston said. “It’s amazing to see a lot of these different black-owned businesses popping up in Dilworth and places that would typically be rented to African Americans.”
In the black community, Boston said, the biggest challenges to breaking into the craft beer industry are obtaining capital and the fear of investing in yourself. Lynch said a batch of beer can cost $15,000.
Boston was able to invest its own capital in the brewery through the sale of Charlotte’s Funeral Home and interests in other businesses.
Baskerville said that in the 1980s, lack of resources and securing financial funding created a generation gap for minority-owned businesses.
“They would have made me laugh at the bank,” said Baskerville, 37.
It also highlights industry advertising.
“It was never marketed to us like malt liquor and Hennessy,” Baskerville said. “It’s not culturally normal for black people to drink beer.”
Nationally, about half of craft beer consumers are white males, and for a long time that led many minorities to believe the industry had no place for them, according to executive director Lisa Parker. of the NC Craft Brewers Guild. The nonprofit started in 2008 and 72% of North Carolina’s 403 brewing facilities are Guild members.
“However, the face of craft beer is changing,” she said.
The industry multiplies the opportunities that favor the participation of minorities.
The advice for Baskerville is to speak with a local Small Business Administration officer, inquire about grants or other funding available from the city and state, and seek mentorships from someone in the industry. “Ask tons of questions,” he said. “Surround yourself with people who know things to learn.”
Another way to break down barriers is to request the product from retailers, said Lynch, which now distributes six breweries to more than 300 locations in Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina, including Charlotte.
This summer, Parker said North Carolina passed the threshold of 400 brewing facilities in production.
“Charlotte is now the largest craft beer town in our state, with a total of 41 licensed brewing facilities currently in production,” she said. “Our breweries serve as all-inclusive community gathering spaces, and because of this, we play an important role in the economic development and revitalization of our downtowns and neighborhoods.
And Boston said maintaining diversity in any business is important. The Hippin’ Hops staff of approximately 50+ people is diverse. And, he expects the majority of customers to be white.
“We’re not a black-only black-owned brewery,” he said. “We want diversity in our breweries.