'Black Is Beautiful' Beer By Black Brewer Helps Pour Money Into Social Justice Reform

May 31, 2021
Originally published on May 31, 2021 8:37 pm

The turning point for Marcus Baskerville came one morning when he was driving down the highway, and heard on the radio about the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor. Joining a street protest wasn't his style, but what could he, as one of the few Black brewers in America, do to make a statement?

His answer? Create a beer called Black is Beautiful and share the recipe with brewers across the country.

"It's a call to breweries within the United States to participate in a collaborative effort. They would brew a stout, [then] release 100% of those proceeds to local organizations, charities, foundations that support equality, inclusion and social justice reform," he says.

With that high-minded genesis, Baskerville thought it would have limited appeal among his fellow brewers. But at last count, nearly 1,200 breweries in all states are making Black is Beautiful, as well as brewers in 22 different countries, such as Japan, China, Germany, Guatemala and Rwanda.

And Walmart recently announced that it is selling Black is Beautiful beer in 300 stores nationwide.

When Baskerville launched his concept a year ago, he also wondered how it would go over with craft beer drinkers. After all, a recent academic book titled Beer and Racism, states "...craft beer seems fundamentally brewed by, owned by, catered to, distributed by, advertised to, bought by, discussed by, and consumed by white men."

"I mean, you look at my customer base and let's be honest," Baskerville says, "it's mostly middle-aged Caucasian males. So you're starting a platform called Black is Beautiful and it's like, OK, you want to do it within a strategic point to not upset your customer base."

The 36-year-old Californian started brewing at his home in Sacramento. He moved to San Antonio to take a job in fraud prevention at Citibank, but in his spare time Baskerville kept turning grain, hops, malt, yeast, and water into beer. Eventually he got so good at it that he quit the bank and became a full-time brewer. He and another beer lover opened Weathered Souls Brewery in 2016.

When he saw the deaths of Breonna Taylor and then George Floyd, he recalled his own story of police mistreatment.

"I'm somebody who has dealt with a form of police brutality before in my youth," he says. Baskerville tells of being jailed overnight in connection with a stabbing that he had nothing to do with, and of being repeatedly racially profiled when he drove his Ford Mustang through the predominantly white neighborhood where his family lived.

"I think I just reached my boiling point of wanting to actually do something," he says.

As co-owner of Weathered Souls, Baskerville is one of only a handful of Black brewers among nearly 9,000 breweries in the United States.

"Even in the state of Texas with 380-plus breweries, I think there's two Black brewers, I'm the only Black owner," he explains.

Black is Beautiful is a stout: dark and potent, at 10% alcohol content, and intensely flavorful. Every can produced around the world carries the same eye-catching graphics. The recipe calls for chocolate malt, roasted barley, and flaked oats, but Baskerville encourages individual creativity.

In the town of Taylor, northeast of Austin, J.D. Gins at the Texas Beer Company is brewing his own version of Black is Beautiful.

In the town of Taylor, northeast of Austin, J.D. Gins at the Texas Beer Company is brewing his own version of Black is Beautiful.
John Burnett/NPR

"We chose to do a smoke stout," Gins says. "Taylor is a barbecue town and we wanted to make sure that we're showing off what's important to us."

All proceeds go to the Bill Pickett Educational Foundation, a local nonprofit named after the world's most famous Black rodeo cowboy and a Taylor native. Gins estimates he will donate about $5,000 toward causes that help underprivileged kids of color. He was already brewing a Bill Pickett Porter and earmarking the profits for the foundation.

"When Marcus came along with Black is Beautiful," he says, "it was a natural fit for us."

But Gins has another reason to pour a pint of this smoky stout when his customers belly up to the bar.

"Bringing up this conversation is sometimes extremely difficult especially for white business owners, for white people and white privilege," he says. "If you have the opportunity to discuss it over a beer, it's not combative and it shines a light on something that people should be talking about."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

As America has confronted its record on race over the past year, a lot of us have asked, what can we do? Well, some in the craft beer business have been asking the same question. A Black-owned Texas brewery has created a not-for-profit beer called Black is Beautiful that has grabbed the attention of the entire industry, an industry dominated by white creators and consumers. NPR's John Burnett reports.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: The turning point for Marcus Baskerville came one morning when he was driving down the highway and heard on the radio about the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor. Joining a street protest wasn't his style. What could he do, as one of the few Black brewers in America, to make a statement? His answer - create a beer called Black is Beautiful and share the recipe with brewers across the country.

MARCUS BASKERVILLE: So what Black is Beautiful is is a call to breweries within the United States to participate in a collaborative effort. They would brew a stout. Upon brewing a stout, they would release 100% of those proceeds to local organizations, charities, foundations that support equality, inclusion and social justice reform.

BURNETT: With that high-minded genesis, Baskerville thought it would have limited appeal among his fellow brewers. At last count, nearly 1,200 breweries in all 50 states are making Black is Beautiful. That includes brewers in 22 different countries such as Japan, China, Germany, Guatemala and Rwanda. When Baskerville launched his concept a year ago, he also wondered how it would go over with craft beer drinkers. After all, a recent academic book titled "Beer And Racism" states, craft beer seems fundamentally brewed by, owned by, catered to, distributed by, advertised to, bought by, discussed by and consumed by white men.

BASKERVILLE: I mean, you look at my customer base, and, I mean, let's be honest. It's mostly middle-aged Caucasian male. So you're starting a platform called Black is Beautiful, and it's like, OK, you want to do it within a strategic point to not upset any of your customer base.

BURNETT: Marcus Baskerville is a 36-year-old Californian who started brewing at his home in Sacramento. He moved to San Antonio to take a job in fraud prevention at Citibank. But in his spare time, he kept turning grain, hops, malt, yeast and water into beer. Eventually, he got so good at it that he quit the bank and became a full-time brewer. When he saw the deaths of Breonna Taylor and then George Floyd, he recalled his own story of police mistreatment.

BASKERVILLE: I'm somebody who has dealt with a form of police brutality before in my youth. I mean, at a certain point, individuals are going to say enough is enough.

BURNETT: Today, he's co-owner of Weathered Souls Brewery. He's one of only a handful of Black brewers among nearly 9,000 breweries in the United States.

BASKERVILLE: Even in the state of Texas, there's 380-plus breweries in Texas, and I think there's two Black brewers. I'm the only Black owner.

BURNETT: We're on the brew floor. Baskerville clambers up the stairs to a stainless steel fermentation tank that gurgles with the murky liquid that will become a Mexican-style lager.

BASKERVILLE: I added some hops to the boil and set the timer for the next set.

BURNETT: Black is Beautiful is a stout, dark and potent at 10% alcohol and intensely flavorful. Every can produced around the world carries the same eye-catching graphics. The recipe calls for chocolate malt, roasted barley and flaked oats, but he encourages individual creativity. In the town of Taylor northeast of Austin, J.D. Gins at the Texas Beer Company is brewing his own version of Black is Beautiful.

J D GINS: We chose to do a smoke stout. Taylor is a barbecue town, and we wanted to make sure that we show off a little bit about what's important to us and our culture around here.

BURNETT: All proceeds go to the Bill Pickett Educational Foundation, a local nonprofit named after the world's most famous Black rodeo cowboy and the Taylor native. But Gins has another reason to pour a pint of this smoky stout when his customers belly up to the bar.

GINS: Bringing up this conversation is sometimes extremely difficult, especially for white business owners, for white people and white privilege. If you have the opportunity to discuss that over a beer, it's not combative, and it shines a light on something that people should be talking about. So that's why we participated.

BURNETT: Walmart recently announced that it is selling Black is Beautiful beer in 300 stores nationwide - the original recipe produced by Weathered Souls Brewery in San Antonio.

John Burnett, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF HAZEY EYES' "UNTITLED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.