by Kevin M. Smith
It’s hard to put into context the social upheaval that we see around the world today. Maybe less so for those old enough to remember the race riots of the 60’s in Detroit, and the way the country exploded into protest and riot in the wake of the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King. Like then, riding a wave of frustration and anger over the death of a black man, exasperated and compounded by issues related to quarantine, the United States, and eventually the world, started to protest systemic racism.
While hundreds of thousands have taken the streets around the world, not everybody could join those in the streets, so some found other ways to make their voices heard.
For Marcus Baskerville, the brewer and co-founder of Weathered Souls Brewing Company in San Antonio, TX, he chose to use his business. As a black business owner, and brewer, and family man, Baskerville didn’t participate in any of the protests, but wanted to show his support of the movement. Baskerville knew that Weathered Souls was a tool that he could use to demonstrate that support. That is where Black is Beautiful was born.
In a statement, Baskerville wrote, “With the current tensions that are rising we thought that it was of grave importance to start the Black Is Beautiful initiative. We took a stout recipe and decided to call on our peers in the brewing industry to collaborate in unison for equality and inclusion amongst people of color. All proceeds from the purchase of these releases will be donated to local funds that support police brutality reform and legal defenses.”
Baskerville additionally outlined his own experiences with social injustice. “As someone who has personally dealt with the abuse of power by the police, this recent turmoil the country is facing has hit home for me. As I write this, I contemplate how the country can move forward, how we as the people, can create change, and what it will take for everyone to move forward with a common respect for one another. For us, we feel that this is our contribution to a step.”
As of press time, over 600 craft beverage producers had signed onto the collaboration, representing all 50 states, and more than a dozen countries. In Maryland, close to a dozen producers have signed onto the collaboration.
Here, in Frederick County, three breweries and a distillery have gotten behind Baskerville’s initiative: Idiom Brewing Company, McClintock Distilling, The Milkhouse Brewery at Stillpoint Farm, and the two Smoketown facilities.
While Weathered Souls has provided their stout recipe, they have encouraged breweries to provide their own spin on the brew, so even though all the participating breweries are working from the same base recipe, each beer should have its own unique spin.
According to Michael Clements, founder and brewer at Idiom Brewing Company on Carroll Creek, Idiom was made aware of the project when Melissa Carr was tagged by a friend of hers in Texas in a post about the Weathered Souls project. Carr of Crafted Crane Design does the majority of the label artwork for Clements.
“We immediately reached out to Weathered Souls,” said Clements. That was on June 3. At the time, “We were already exploring ways to show our support for the Black Lives Matter movement. This just fit in well with our intent,” explained Clements.
Since then, Idiom has entered into an affiliated collaboration with McClintock Distillery. “We brewed the beer with the intent of selling it in our taproom, but then we were approached by McClintock to brew a batch for them,” said Clements. “Once McClintock approached us we offered to use the beer we already brewed, sending it to them to be distilled as a collaboration effort in support of the project.”
At McClintock Distilling, distiller and co-Founder Braeden Bumpers confirmed that they were aware of the Weathered Souls project before he approached Clements. “We had been talking to [Weathered Souls] about what we wanted to do for a little while and took a bit longer to get involved,” he said. “They have the recipe online and it is really easy for breweries to get on-boarded, but because we are not only changing the nature of the product but adding additional ingredients it was a little more complicated for us. To our knowledge we are the first distillery to sign on to the initiative so we wanted to make sure we had the full support of Weathered Souls to do this. We were thrilled to find out that Marcus was a fan of whiskies and loved the idea.”
Social media was the impetus for Milkhouse to join the collaboration, as well, said Sarah Healey, the general manager at the brewery, and the current president of the Brewers Association of Maryland. “We follow several breweries from around the country on our social media accounts and started to see this amazing collaboration popping up,” she explained. “After doing some research, the project seemed like a wonderful way for us to use our voice to help.”
As Bumpers noted, the project calls for a stout, which isn’t exactly McClintock’s wheelhouse. “The plan,” he said, “is that Mike will be making the Black is Beautiful Imperial Stout to the specs of the national recipe. Once it is done fermenting, we are going to take the beer he makes and distill it into a spirit that will then be infused with cacao nibs and then blended and bottled. The final spirit is a Distilled Specialty Product that has delicious stout flavors from the beer that is enriched by the cacao.”
As Clements works with Bumpers towards their unique spin on the Black is Beautiful project, Healey said that Milkhouse is staying true to its roots, focusing on showcasing local ingredients. “The recipe encourages modifications based on brew system, water etc,” she said. “Our brewer Harry is using primarily Maryland grown and malted grain from Dark Cloud Malthouse and Chesapeake Malting with supplemental specialty malts from the Delmarva region. He will also be using 100 percent Maryland grown hops. We are excited to take the recipe and add a Maryland twist. Harry is…very excited to do something a little different for us as we usually brew our Coppermine Creek Dry Stout and Red Eye Porter. It’s been a few years since we’ve done a bigger Stout and we can’t wait to share it with everyone! We are releasing August 1st or maybe a little earlier.”
One of the requirements that Baskerville put forth was that proceeds from it go to support civil rights organizations. For Idiom, said Clements, those monies will go to benefit the local chapter of the ACLU. Bumpers explained that they had the same thoughts at McClintock. “We knew we had a great partnership [with Idiom] because the charity we wanted to benefit was the same – the ACLU of Maryland. 100% of the proceeds of this spirit will be donated so we are hoping to raise $5 thousand to $6 thousand with this product and split the cost of materials with Mike.”
Milkhouse, meanwhile, will be donating their proceeds to the Maryland chapter of the NAACP.
Any fight for social change can be controversial, and can often result in businesses approaching support from a place of caution, if the business approaches it at all. “We have a really great customer base and so far we have seen great support for this initiative,” said Bumpers. “There is always that concern of backlash, but we started this company with a triple bottom line mission and feel that this is the right thing to do for our community.
“We want everyone to see that what we are working on is a part of something much bigger. We are encouraging everyone to see the Black is Beautiful movement across the United States and commend the folks at Weathered Souls for starting this for the brewing industry. It is a great awareness campaign and will be raising a lot of money for grassroots and local organizations around the country.”
Healey added that Milkhouse has generally seen support for their choice. “We have received tons of support from our customers and followers…we are very thankful for our incredible community and their continued support.”
Healey also noted that the support from the brewing community has been impressive, saying, “It has been so amazing to see breweries across the state and the country jumping at the opportunity to participate in such a meaningful collaboration. We are proud to be a part of this industry and we truly believe that together, we are better.”