Black-owned breweries collaborate in six-week residency
Six Black-owned beer entities are working alongside each other for six weeks through a residency program at Haymarket Brewery & Pub, 737 W. Randolph St.
When Jamhal Johnson started Moor’s Brewing last year, he joined a very small club — less than 1% of breweries are Black-owned, according to a 2020 study by the Brewers Association.
“It’s very hard, right? When you don’t see anyone that looks like you ... I think you kind of get discouraged,” said Johnson, co-owner of Moor’s Brewing.
“We’re looking to be more diverse and bring more people into the space and grow the space, not just here in Chicago, but nationwide.”
Johnson launched his brewery on June 19, 2021 — Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.
The brand has already seen a good amount of success: It is available in 130 retail locations, including Jewel Osco, and is sold in Wintrust Arena.
Johnson’s was among six Black-owned beer entities in a six-week residency program that started Tuesday at Haymarket Brewery & Pub, 737 W. Randolph St. in the West Loop.
Johnson calls the residency “revolutionary.”
Besides Moor’s, there are three other Black-owned breweries — Funkytown Brewery, Black Horizon Brewing and Turner Haus Brewery — and two other Black-owned beer brands — Black Beer Baron, by brewer Jay Westbrook, and The Brother at the Bar, by Sam Ross.
Most don’t have their own locations yet — Turner Haus Brewery shares space inside a coffee shop; Funkytown rents space in a brewing incubator with other beer makers; Moor’s does contract brewing out of a brewery in Indiana. Only Black Horizon has a physical location in Chicago. Two launched less than a year ago: Moor’s in June and Funkytown in October.
Jay Westbrook came up with the idea for the residency, according to Mike Gemma, Haymarket’s director of operations.
“I found that the easiest way to get someone to listen to you is to put a proper beverage in their hand,” Westbrook said.
“This came out of my goal of shining a light on the lack of diversity and inclusion, not only Chicago’s craft beer scene, but the craft beer community as a whole,” he added. “We had this glorious idea to come together and give all of these Black brewers in Chicago a platform to tell their own story.”
The six brewers collaborated on a new beer that’s being tapped Feb. 13 — Super Bowl Sunday.
That beer, Chicago Uncommon, pays homage to the Chicago common brick, used to reconstruct a stronger, more durable city after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
“We’re using the Chicago Uncommon to rebuild the narrative of what people think craft beer looks like,” said Westbrook.
Turner Haus uses its beer to tell stories, too, naming them after Turner family matriarchs or, occasionally, historical figures, such as “Gazelle Hazy IPA,” which honors Olympic champion sprinter Wilma Rudolph, whose nickname was “the Black Gazelle.”
“We try to make beer more than just the drink that you drink … we try to bring more meaning to it,” said Steve Turner, co-founder of Turner Haus.
Turner said he’s looking forward to working with like-minded brewers.
“It’s very exciting to be in this kind of Renaissance phase of microbreweries in the city of Chicago and just in general. I think it is something that’s really starting to catch fire,” Turner said.
“The craft beer industry and microbreweries have not necessarily been a space that African Americans have had a presence in,” Turner said. “So I’m really excited about being able to present to our community at large something that will resonate with African Americans, in terms of where they spend their dollars.”