Once a month, Marie-Claire Archbold of Fishtown meets up with a small group of women to brew beer. But since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, they haven’t met as regularly.
Last week, when she saw a Facebook post in the Philadelphia Homebrew Club advertising the Black is Beautiful project, a nationwide brewing movement that raises funds for social justice causes, she tagged her brewing friends immediately.
“This could be our next beer,” she wrote in a comment under the post. She said she loved the idea of “brewing with a cause.”
On another Facebook post, she learned that a handful of local brewers would be making the Black is Beautiful beer at Callowhill’s Love City Brewing and that the proceeds from its sales would be donated to Black Lives Matter Philly.
The Black is Beautiful project was started by Weathered Souls Brewing Co., a Black-owned brewery in San Antonio, Texas, with the intention of bringing more awareness to the ills of police brutality and social injustice. Weathered Souls encourages other brewers and beer enthusiasts to create their own riff of the stout-based recipe and to use the labels they provided. They also ask brewers to donate 100% of the beer’s proceeds to local foundations that support police reform.
The Black and Beautiful project was “on my radar,” Archbold said. “I knew I wanted to get some and share it with my friends and know that we’ve contributed to fund-raising efforts.”
For a sweeter, nutty flavor, the Love City producers added toasted coconut to their recipe. It was priced at $15 per four-pack and $85 for a case — and sold out in less than a week.
“The brewing industry has a history of doing things like this when something big happens,” said Melissa Walter, cofounder of Love City Brewing. “People come together and brew a beer and donate some of the proceeds to an organization.”
As soon as Walter and her husband, Kevin, heard about the movement, they reached out to the Harris Family Brewery based in Harrisburg, and the Philly-based Two Locals Brewing Co., both Black-owned. The Walters have known the founders of both brewing companies for more than a year and had been discussing ways they could collaborate. The Black Is Beautiful initiative created that opportunity.
“As a business, something that we’ve built into our model is always giving back to the community in which we live,” Walter said. Love City Brewing donated its space and equipment for the production of the Black is Beautiful Beer, and maltster Scott Broussard, co-owner of Double Eagle Malt, donated 1,600 pounds of malt, a key ingredient.
In June, after seeing as many as 100 men armed with baseball bats and hammers roam Fishtown, saying they were protecting police and local businesses from protesters, Broussard felt compelled to take action in a way that made sense to him.
“I was trying to figure out how I wanted to participate in affecting change, personally and professionally,” Broussard said. When he found out about Philly’s Black is Beautiful initiative, “I had the malt and needed partners for everything else, and they had everything else, but not the malt. It really came together perfectly.”
Several members of the Harris Family Brewery traveled to Philly twice to help produce the beer — once in June for the brew day and again on Wednesday for the canning.
The local team canned 160 cases of 16-ounce four-packs on Wednesday morning. The beer was released at noon and “by about 3:30, the batch was about halfway gone,” said Shaun Harris, co-founder of Harris Family Brewery. “It was roughly an 18-barrel batch, which should’ve lasted us more than two or three days, but it’s a really good beer.”
Brothers Richard and Mengistu Koilor, the founders of Two Locals Brewing Co., agreed with Harris about the flavor. Mengistu added that the beer “is a testament to Philly’s dedication to social justice for Black people.” And Richard said, as Black brewers, “this beer exemplifies everything that we want to stand for as a brewery and business to help uplift the Black community.”
On the day of the beer’s release, Archbold was in the Callowhill area running an errand. When she realized she was only a half-mile away from Love City Brewing, she stopped by to purchase a case of the beer she was excited for. She ended up being the beer’s first customer.
While Love City’s version of the Black is Beautiful beer is officially sold out, its future is still being planned by its makers, and proceeds are still being totaled.
“It’s just a one-time deal for now,” said Walter. “But it may come back in the future, and we’ll post on social media if it ever does.”