MB // In 2013, I had the pleasure of listening to Annie Johnson’s podcast on the Brewing Network when she won 2013 Homebrewer of the Year. That was a big deal for me because we’re from Sacramento, and this is a Black woman. Now I have somebody that looks like me, and from the same area as me, [who] just reached the pinnacle of homebrewing. That really motivated me, even to the point to where I implemented some of the brewing philosophies that she talked about. And then I actually made my first good beer—a robust porter that’s now … one of our core beers.
I started [taking] beers to different places, and a local brewery let me have a tap takeover. All of those beers ended up tapping out that night, and they ended up offering me an assistant brewer job. I still worked full time as a fraud manager for Citibank, working about 50 to 60 hours a week, but then I took on a “part-time” job at another 36 to 38 hours a week. I worked there for a year, and I couldn’t take it anymore. Upon quitting, Mike, my current business partner—he [had] actually invested in the brewery that I was previously working for—we were out having a drink. And I looked at him and said, “When are we gonna open a brewery?” He looked at me in the eyes and said, “I’ve been waiting for you to ask me that.” We started working on the business plan literally two or three days later.
Here we are four years later, with the brewery. It’s crazy that I can [tell] that story because a lot of individuals don’t get into the beer scene that easily or get the opportunity to open a brewery.
CBB // But it’s not that easy. It sounds easy. But putting yourself in a position where you make the connections and you work for next to nothing for a year or more after having put in the work—it’s not nothing.
MB // I like putting it like that.
CBB // You put yourself in the right situation, knowing that you have a different long-term goal. And you ended up getting there because you made an incidental connection that turned out to be a more important connection for you. That’s a common business result. It’s not accidental. It’s a result of some intention, even if it’s not expressed that kind of way.
MB // Yeah.
CBB // Talk to me about Black Is Beautiful now, seven months in.
MB // People always ask, “Oh, do you think people did it for the right reasons?” Now, I’m sure, out of 1,200 breweries, there might have been a stray brewery that, for whatever reason, they decided to brew it. But I want to believe that everybody participated within this initiative for the right reasons and the right causes.
CBB// And even if they didn’t, the core fundamental of it is that they donate the proceeds to a cause for racial justice, so the money that’s being made is directly going to charities that are doing important work on the ground in local communities.
MB // Exactly.
CBB // The real fundamental goal is not just making a political statement; it is also raising funds and building donations for groups that are actually and actively lobbying for change.
MB // Black Is Beautiful isn’t really a political statement, either. It’s more of a humanity thing. We’re in 2021, right? I shouldn’t have to come up with an initiative called Black Is Beautiful at this point. But the beer was the initial message, and one of the goals was getting these breweries involved with their local communities. There’s always been the whole premise that beer isn’t marketed to Black individuals or other minorities or people of color. So, this is a way for you to get into your community. This is a way for you to give back. This is a way for you to communicate with those individuals [with whom] you normally wouldn’t communicate. And maybe you might even learn something.
CBB // Now, there’s got to be a downside for it, in addition to the upside.
MB // It’s been way more positivity than negativity. You’re always going to have those negative aspects of people [who] want to hate on what they don’t understand. “Keep my politics out of beer.” Well, this isn’t a political issue. Black people having rights, Black people having a say, Black people wanting to be equal within the community—I don’t think that has anything to do with politics whatsoever. I mean, that’s just basic human rights of wanting to be equal to your peers.
CBB // It’s taken a huge amount of your mental and time capacity over the past seven months. If you had the choice, would you do it again?
MB // Yes, I think I would. But with more help.