The Black Cat: Black-owned brewery demands a seat at the bar

Shutianyi Li/Daily Trojan

I don’t drink beer.

Growing up, it was never a drink I saw many other black people around me consume. It was more often associated with the boys in my Southern town who wore camo baseball caps, thick brown boots under jeans and drove pickup trucks. I think back to family reunions; I believe my mom drank beer late at night after I had gone to bed, but the drink was never used for social pleasures — not even while fishing where we would usually break out a cold glass of lemonade or sweet tea. Even back at home, my grandfather has an entire collection of alcohol, untouched, that is still sitting in a fancy glass case. I guess it’s for guests when they come by and visit. It’s filled with various types of fine vodka, tequila in round glass bottles, and wines with names I can’t pronounce. The fridge in the garage has Coke, Sprite and even ginger ales for my nieces when they stop by.

The only drink missing is beer.

I spoke about this with Beny Ashburn and Teo Hunter, otherwise known as “The Dope” & “The Dank,” — two black entrepreneurs currently traveling throughout the U.S. to promote their business Crowns & Hops Brewing Co., which they hope to open in Inglewood sometime next year.

“Storytelling is everything when it comes to creating a brand,” they told me. “We both have backgrounds in marketing and creative production and are dedicated to ensuring that the narrative of black and brown culture is showcased in the craft beer industry.”

Ashburn and Hunter started by selling T-shirts that simply said “#BlackPeopleLoveBeer” and “#BrownPeopleLoveBeer.” The idea was to combat the stereotypes that black and brown people don’t like beer. And by starting out as a lifestyle brand, the duo sought to build a base of minority consumers interested in beer with plans to one day expand into a brewery to add underrepresented black and brown voices into the narrative of craft beer.

“Exposure is everything,” they said.

Eventually, the T-shirts went viral. Black and brown people from all over the country united, creating a movement that requested for the beer avoidance stereotypes against them to end. Now Ashburn and Hunter are actively seeking investors, so they can officially open their brewery Crowns & Hops — “Crowns” as in royalty, a reference to the fact that all people deserve the best quality beer available to them and “Hops” for authenticity, for creating a beer that is unique,  bold and unapologetic.

“Breweries are often reflections of the people that own them,” they told me. “If you have predominantly non-black and non-brown owners in black and brown communities, there’s a pretty good chance that the brewery will not reflect the culture of people of that community. We believe that it’s time for craft beer connoisseurs of color to see more establishments that reflect their culture, background beyond a playlist but in ownership as well.”  

I thought back to my childhood, thinking about the cultural divide which exists in the Deep South and why Southern rappers like the Migos and Kodak Black don’t make songs about sipping on beer the way Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton do. In the same ways country music appears to represent only a specific part of Southern culture, it also seems that beer is not as ingrained into black Southern roots as it is in others.

I feel this is because advertisers do not market beer to black people in the same capacity as they do to white people. In doing this, beer companies alienate an audience of people who would probably drink it more, if our communities and culture had the opportunity to involve ourselves more in conversations regarding the beverage.

This is why Crowns & Hops made inclusion one of its top priorities.

“We believe that people are attracted to things that they see themselves in,” they said. “Big beer companies targeting black and brown communities with only garbage options based on socio-economic factors is and has been a problem as well. Artisanal craft beer should be made available to anyone that has a stove with the hopes that they will one day be interested in brewing themselves versus going to a liquor store.”

The duo knows of about 23 other black-owned breweries in the U.S.

Crowns & Hops would be the 24th and Inglewood’s first.

“We have a special relationship with beer as a means to connect people,” they said. “We love all the variety of beer than be accomplished with four ingredients: grain, water, hops and yeast. Making beer alone is a fantastic lesson in alchemy, and we love to share that story as much as we enjoy sharing a pint.”

The two chose Inglewood because of the cultural significance the city has for black and brown people. And, since they’ve started searching for investors and crowdsourcing, the duo has reached 50 percent of their fundraising goal of $75,000.

“We give people the option to choose the best craft beer we can produce based on a lifestyle and cultural alignment,” they said. “As a brand, we hope to project love, community, family and quality. You can stereotype us with those qualities any day of the week.”

Dominic-Madori Davis is a senior writing about black-owned businesses in Los Angeles. She is also the chief copy editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “The Black Cat,” runs every other Thursday.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of the Crowns and Hops Brewery. The Daily Trojan regrets the error.