How the Black Is Beautiful Initiative Is Fermenting Social Change Through Beer - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

How the Black Is Beautiful Initiative Is Fermenting Social Change Through Beer

Story: Joshua M. Bernstein

Marcus Baskerville couldn’t sleep in San Antonio. His mind weighed heavy and restless with the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality, against the longstanding injustices levied on Black, indigenous, and people of color. Instead of tossing and turning into the morning of June 1, Baskerville rose at around 3 a.m. and drove to Weathered Souls, the Texas brewery he cofounded, eager to implement a plan.

In his office, the head brewer started typing up the collaborative Black Is Beautiful initiative, his brewery’s effort to inspire social change. The call to action was concise: Weathered Souls would ask fellow breweries to brew variations on its imperial stout, then donate 100 percent of sales proceeds to organizations supporting police reform and legal defenses, while also donating to local organizations that support equality and inclusion, and committing to long-term work on equality.

Early that afternoon, Baskerville announced the project via a Facebook video and post. “As someone who has personally dealt with abuse of power by the police, this recent turmoil the country is facing has hit home for me,” Baskerville wrote in the announcement, adding that the collaboration is about “understanding, inclusion, and supporting people of color.”

These are days of great upheaval, as broken systems split free from frayed seams. Cold beer remains a comfort, a great facilitator of conversation—sometimes before you even crack open a can. Built on an ethos of community support and increasingly progressive thinking, the modern craft brewing industry is a “great platform for this initiative,” says Basil Lee, a founder of Queens-based Finback Brewery, which is participating in the project. “The beer is the backdrop for the activism.”

Baskerville hoped his endeavor might attract 150 to 200 breweries, the shared label design amplifying the message to beer drinkers across America. To date, nearly 450 breweries have signed on, including international breweries from Rwanda, Brazil, the Netherlands, and Germany. “It’s been absolutely humbling,” Baskerville says. “The craft beer community has been amazing in its response.”

“This initiative has really raised up what everyone has been talking about for the past year or so,” says Alisa Bowens-Mercado, owner of Rhythm Brewing in New Haven, Connecticut. “We’re collectively getting together, and there’s an awareness in the country that wasn’t here before. The initiative has brought a ton of us together across demographics and gender. Hopefully this is going to be the start of a conversation that will change the diversity and inclusion that we want in such a big industry.”

The guidelines for participation are simple, yet potentially transformative. Participating breweries make a strong, dark stout, using Baskerville’s recipe as a launch pad to “highlight the different hues and shades of black.” All approaches are fair game, be it adding coffee, fruits, or any left-field ingredient. “I’m excited to see a lot of variations and creativity that these breweries come up with,” Baskerville says, noting that some of the country’s most cultish producers of imperial stouts are participating, including J. Wakefield, Horus Aged Ales, and Great Notion.

The Black Is Beautiful label was designed by Kevin Dyer of KD Designs.

“The Black Is Beautiful initiative is a great way to bring our industry together in support of Black, indigenous, and people of color,” says James Dugan, a cofounder and brewer at Great Notion in Portland, Oregon. “We have a long road ahead of us, but efforts like this are an important reminder that each of us has the ability to create change.”

That ethos is built into the initiative’s other requirements. Breweries should fully donate the beer’s proceeds to a charity of their choosing (Weathered Souls selected Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp), in addition to committing to the long-term work of fighting racism. “As a white business owner in a predominately white industry, I’ve grappled with the question of how we can play a role in bringing to light the structural inequities and injustices built into the fabric of our community for people of color,” says Jacob Landry, the founder of Urban South Brewery in New Orleans. (Urban South’s New Orleans location will support the local Youth Empowerment Project, while the Houston location will donate to the local Black Lives Matter chapter.) “We fully recognize that this is a small step.”

The brewing industry at large is also supporting the initiative. BSG CraftBrewing is providing participating breweries with free Cascade hops—the recipe’s required variety—save for shipping costs. Also, branding and design studio Stout Collective gave the Black Is Beautiful website a sleek update.

With surging interest in the Black Is Beautiful initiative, Baskerville is now dedicating most of his time to the cause. “My assistant brewer basically got a promotion this week,” he says, laughing.

As June moves into July, expect to see many of the project’s imperial stouts roll out. Summer might seem like an unexpected time to release a hefty stout, but this moment and movement are primed for inspiring new ways of thinking. “This initiative is for a cause that physically affects people every day,” Baskerville says.

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