Baskerville’s Black is Beautiful Resonates ‘Round the World
by Erin Fiorini
“Brazil is a country based on slavery,” says Bruno Mesquita, co-founder of Mito Brewery in Rio de Janeiro.
He adds easily that participating in Black is Beautiful “just made sense.”
Marcus Baskerville began the Black is Beautiful (BIB) beer initiative in response to the murder of George Floyd by white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin back in May. Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, killing Floyd who was Black.
Baskerville, head brewer and co-founder of Weathered Souls Brewery, wrote in June as he released the project that he began BIB “to bring awareness to the injustices that many People of Color face daily.”
He published an imperial stout recipe online, then invited craft breweries to produce their own rendition and donate its profits to a local organization fighting racial injustice.
“Our mission is to… provide a platform to show that the brewing community is an inclusive place for everyone of any color,” Baskerville wrote on his BIB website.
He expected some 200 or so North American breweries to join him.
Yet, Black is Beautiful—straightforward, transparent, necessary—resonated with craft communities around the world.
Over 1,190 brewers (and counting) from 22 countries are rallying around Black is Beautiful as a vehicle to fight racism and inequity in their respective regions, creating imbibes that uniquely reflect their place in the craft beer world.
While a lot has been written about the stateside breweries taking part in BIB, Beer is for Everyone gives a glimpse of who’s participating from the Americas and Europe, to Asia and Africa. We ask why they are taking part, and find out about the ripple effects of BIB at the international level.
Bruno Mesquita and four friends founded Mito [mEE too] Brewery last year, which he enthusiastically describes as a “social brewery, producing beer based on current politics”.
The 29-year-old tells me that he and his team are “proud to join the BIB craft beer movement.”
To them, participating “made sense” because all their beers are themed around “racism, inequality, homophobia.”
Brazil’s slavery system lasted from 1500 until the national ban in 1888. During that time nearly five million Black Africans were hauled over, sold and traded in the country.
Black and minority peoples in Brazil still suffer systemic inequality and oppression, notable by the existence of favelas—those majority poor, majority Black neighborhoods located along the peripheries of the nation’s sprawling cities.
To combat this inequity, Mito is donating its BIB stout proceeds to an organization that pays for the costly and mandatory high school exit exams of graduates living in Rio favelas.
Mesquita hopes this will give some students greater access to higher education that he, a son of a doctor, says he was “privileged” to have.
In addition, Mito is joining other São Paulo breweries to teach beer production, pairing, and tasting to women and Black people who are highly underrepresented in the country’s craft scene. The brewer says, “It might not be a full Cicerone course but will teach people how to produce, serve, and talk about beer.”
It’s projects like these that potentially elevate Blacks to positions of influence that Baskerville says are the main goal of his initiative. “I’d like to see more Black people and People of Color in production [and] in ownership,” Marcus states during our conversation. “Otherwise,” he emphasizes, “the craft brew industry isn’t going to change.”
“When Black people are in positions to make decisions—that’s where real change lies,” Marcus says.
This isn’t Mito’s first foray into beer and politics. The brewery always presents its brews in humorously punchy label art. One of its most popular Pilsners is ‘Golden Shower’; it’s label character bears a strong resemblance to the outgoing U.S. president bathing in a barrack.
‘Daddy’s Ambassador,’ an American wheat (5.1% ABV), is a fun poke at Brazilian right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro’s attempt to appoint his son ambassador to the United States, one of several political moves that earned Bolsonaro the nickname, ‘Trump of the Tropics’.
Mito’s BIB stout (12% ABV) is infused with a Brazil-produced milk chocolate called ‘Baton’ and set for release in December.
Dutra Brewery, in São Paulo, is producing its BIB beer with “burnt coconut and cocoa nibs” accents. The brewery’s owner and founder, Andres Dutra, tells me the recipe “became extremely complex, tasty, and strong.”
Andre’s understanding of social injustice is equally complex and strong. “In Brazil, specifically, Black men and women suffer too much from police oppression and structural racism,” he says.
A striking example of this racism and its direct connection to the country’s brewing industry was revealed in August when about 200 members of the Brazilian Association of Craft Beer, comprising mainly white men, were sending disturbingly anti-Black messages amongst each other in a Whatsapp group.
They were questioning why the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture’s (MAP) was giving support to Black-owned breweries.
One text asked in Portuguese, “Does MAP authorize Black breweries? Doesn’t it have to be white?”
Dutra says this incident is still being discussed in the media and demonstrates that Brazilian brewing is still dominated by discriminatory “straight, white, rich men.”
Label art at Dutra, like at Mito’s, is political. However, Dutra’s reads more like a who’s who of historical social activists. The Black Panthers and Malcolm X grace a bottle, as do Carolina de Jesus, and Berta Caceres.
And Andres’ initiatives aren’t merely rhetorical. The brewery is a collective where employees are paid above average wages, work 36 hours per week, and are given transportation vouchers.
The team actively collaborates with several other progressive breweries and organizations around the city. “Any project that supports a social cause can count on our collaboration. The Black is Beautiful project was no different, especially after the George Floyd case,” says the brewer.
This might even inspire Baskerville who says he appreciates it when breweries participate in BIB “at a personal level, for the right reasons, not just to run the hype train.”
March of the Black Women of São Paulo, a collective of Black men and women who fight for a more equal society in São Paulo will receive Dutra’s BIB profits. Unfortunately, anti-racism organizations like this remain necessary in Brazil.
Last July, the country witnessed a case similarly barbaric to Floyd’s when a viral video showed a São Paulo police officer stepping on the neck of a 51-year-old Black woman as she lay in the street, handcuffed and on her stomach. This helped trigger Black Lives Matter protests across the country.
It has only worsened since the anti-immigration Brexit vote in February 2016. Since then, reports of racial discrimination throughout the country have risen by 13%.
“As a brewery called Unity, it’s part of our identity… to promote inclusion, equality, and togetherness,” Jimmy tells me. For him, picking up the BIB banner was a “no brainer.”
Earnings from Unity’s stout, infused with coffee and blueberry, will go to three different anti-discriminatory organizations in England. Among them, Stop Watch, which “promotes… accountable and fair policing” throughout the UK.
“Feedback on the beer has been excellent,” says Hatherley. His BIB has earned a 4.07 on Untapped, and Jimmy adds that customer reactions to the initiative are “super positive.”
“I’m really glad we did it,” he adds.
Importantly, Jimmy says he and his team promise to change their hiring practices by “reaching outside the craft beer bubble, giving a much higher chance of roles being open to other communities.”
Excitingly, just as Mondo Brewing was signing up for BIB, it and nearly 30 other UK breweries also decided to form Work in Progress (WIP).
Inspired and motivated by Floyd’s murder and Black Lives Matter protests worldwide, Work in Progress is “an open, decentralized group of breweries that aspire to a more inclusive and representative beer industry.”
The group, formed in July, is dedicated “to increase opportunities and promote collaboration between brewers and under-represented groups in our society.” Each brewery can decide what this looks like, but transparency and accountability are key to the WIP process.
For Mondo, it means creating a Progress Fund that will help finance Black, Asian, minority ethnic, LGBT+, women, and disabled persons involved in the brewing industry. Moreover, the brewery will guarantee interviews for job applicants from these communities in order “to address unconscious bias, widen opportunity, and learn.”
Tom Harrison of Mondo states, “We wanted to be held accountable for changes in our industry.”
Though not taking part in BIB, Brewgooder in Edinburgh is an integral part of WIP. For that equity initiative, the brewery is starting a four-year partial scholarship for Black and minority students to study brewing and distilling at Heriot Watt University.
Baskerville points to projects like this and the Michael James Jackson Foundation for Brewing & Distilling Scholarship as the “long term work” fundamental to shifting racial hegemony within craft brewing.
“There’s less than one percent ownership and not a lot of People of Color in production [in the U.S.]. … Putting Black people in positions to make decisions, where they can make their own recipes, whatever it may be, that’s where real change lies” for the craft community, Baskerville tells me.
Brewgooder founder, Alan Mahon, will also spend 100 hours mentoring Black and minority “entrepreneurs who are running purpose-driven companies, organizations, campaigns and/or social enterprises,” among other projects to diversify his company.
Marcus says he hopes “the internships, mentorships that are happening now will lead to a renaissance of more Black ownership in the breweries” (emphasis added).
Kweza Craft Brewery is making its Black is Beautiful stout even before this brew pub—Rwanda’s first ever—has opened its doors for business.
Kweza brewed its BIB on November 3rd, 2020, on a historic U.S. election day.
Not only is the stout one of Kweza’s first beers, but when it officially opens in Kigali next year, it will make history as the country’s first craft brewery. Moreover, it’s women-owned and -run.
Josephine Uwase, co-brewer at Kweza, says she’s “excited” to participate in BIB because, she says, she understands the U.S. history of slavery, yet this initiative is a way “to make a beer that shows support for equality between Black and white people, [and] people who are not happy with the U.S. system.”
Jessi Flynn—Uwase’s co-brewer who is from the U.S.—recounts that as she watched events around the George Floyd murder unfold through the media she “felt very distant” to what was taking place back home.
She wanted “to find a way to support from Rwanda.”
“The craft beer scene globally is very white (and male) dominated, so we thought that participating in Black is Beautiful would hopefully provide a financial support to [a local] organizations, but also reinforce from the beginning of our brewery’s creation that beer should be inclusive from the supply and production side to the ownership and management side,” states Jessi from Kigali.
The Kweza team, which also includes head chef Debby Leatt from Zimbabwe and Monica Keza from Rwanda who’s head of operations, also chose to take part in BIB in order to connect with breweries from around the globe.
Josephine’s story as a brewer, though, began at a very local level.
She started homebrewing and selling beer in July 1994, just after the Rwandan genocide. She was pregnant and living in her community east of Kigali, but wanted to move to the capital to give birth in a hospital with potable water.
To pay for this, she and her mother grew and brewed sorghum, a grain native to sub-Saharan Africa, at their rural home. They sold the highly popular beer, saving all the profits. Four months later, Josephine was able to move to Kigali where she gave birth to her son.
It seems appropriate that Kweza, which means “harvest” in Kinyarwanda, was chosen as the brewery’s name.
Small breweries now abound in South Africa and are emerging in Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda. However, to start a craft house in Rwanda is no small feat for any gender.
Rwanda’s brewing industry is dominated by two major companies, each only producing a lager.
Yet, it’s the lack of local brewing resources that make it difficult for anyone to start a small beer business; even the oatmeal for its BIB brew was imported.
This scenario makes for creative homebrewing in Rwanda, a fermentation tradition that reaches back to ancient Egyptian times across the African continent. Since then, women, who are traditionally the brew masters, have crafted “sorghum and banana beer for home consumption” Jessi says, and served it in clay pots.
Cassava root is also often used in Rwandan beers, which Kweza plans to “source through women’s agricultural cooperatives,” well-organized throughout the country.
The women see Black is Beautiful as an extension of how they want to run their own business.
“We can use business with social and economic goals. In our case to help women build generational equity and to provide opportunity for women to get into the industry and entrepreneurship surrounded by other supportive people, all while making a great experience and great product for customers,” says the team.
Deb adds that she is, “behind—all the way—anything that encourages and shines a light on BLM [Black Lives Matter]. And you’re creating this beer—awesome!”
Kweza already has a waiting list of customers who are ready to try the BIB brew, which is set to roll out next month. “People like stouts,” says Jessi.
“Canned Guinness is popular here, so a fresh stout?! People are excited,” she adds enthusiastically.
Next year, when their restaurant officially opens, customers can try Deb’s chili chocolate truffle designed to pair with the stout.
The story of why Kalasag Brewery is brewing a Black is Beautiful stout is very personal. Founder and head brewer, K.B., says he and his brew partner, C.J., are taking part because K.B. was a “victim of racism” while living in Singapore.
“We believe in equality. Everybody has their right to live life, express their heart. We are only one race!” says K.B. who asked that he and his business partner be identified by fictitious initials for fear of general retaliation.
K.B. lived in Singapore in 2010, joining some 167,000 or so other Filipinos who moved there during the previous decade.
He says that “Filipinos are stereotyped to be the lowest social class because most Filipinos are domestic helpers and maids,” professions that are dismissed worldwide.
“Even if you have a degree, or experience you always go to the bottom of the list when it comes to jobs [under] the Chinese, Malaysian, and Singaporeans,” states K.B., adding that it’s the same when trying to bid for a job promotion. “Filipinos have the last pick.”
When he tried to raise the issue at work, the Filipinno was told that he should “just suck it up.”
At one point, K.B. wasn’t allowed to ride the same bus as the locals, or company transportation with his Singaporean colleagues.
Xenophobia in Singapore against Filipinos has been widely reported.
It even rose to a boil in 2014 when a widely-read blogger called “Blood Stained Singapore” wrote an entry titled, Filipino Infestation in Singapore. It outlined several ways that Singaporans should mistreat and “accidentally” hurt Filipinos in public. The site was later removed from the Internet.
K.B learned to brew in Singapore and began to produce more when he returned to the Philippines. Kalasag is creating a Black is Beautiful stout that is infused with smoked oak, he writes by email.
The Kalasag business owners wanted to take part in BIB, “to be heard, [to be given] a chance to express ourselves in a movement that we can share something that we are good at, [and] to raise awareness.”
He adds that the process of signing up was very easy and transparent, making it easy for small brewers around the world to partake. “Even in a so-called 3rd World country, … as a Filipino, we can contribute the same great brew for this movement [sic].”
Doing something different, Kalasag will donate its BIB profits to local clinics in Davao that are providing “free medical services during the pandemic, as the number of covid raising in this area and the frontlines are struggling [sic].” *
Black is Beautiful has gone far and wide. Marcus’s initiative has given way to worldwide momentum of people talking and taking major, concrete action against racism and exclusion in the craft community and in general. The movement has even influenced sister distilling industries to create their own mead and whiskey BIB recipes.
Yet, as you’re sipping your Beautiful stout, from wherever in the world, remember, the work isn’t over.
*Beer is for Everyone initially used the Kalasag brewers’ real names in the text not knowing they wanted to remain anonymous. We apologize to Kalasag and made the changes they requested.