Black-owned Turner Haus Brewery aims to set up shop in Bronzeville
After rave reviews from family members, brewery co-founder Steven Turner decided to make his beer dreams a reality.
Co-founders Steven Turner, Blair Turner-Aikens and Nathaniel Aikens aim to make their Turner Haus Brewery Chicago’s first Black-owned brewery since Vice District Brewery shut down in 2019.
Now that Turner Haus is beginning to make a name for itself via beer tasting events, the trio aim to correct a systemic issue within the craft beer industry: the lack of diversity.
“If you’re like me and you love good craft beer, and you start noticing every time you go to a taproom, you’re the only Black face in the room, and it’s like: ‘Well, that’s kind of weird,’ ” said Turner. “It takes a level of experience and expertise, study and mentorship that you would need to get and gain from folks that have been involved in the industry over an extended period of time, but not only that, it also takes capital.”
That style of placemaking has led Turner Haus to collaborate with Tennessee Brew Works to launch “Gazelle Hazy IPA,” in honor of Olympic track and field champion and Tennessee native Wilma Rudolph’s nickname, “The Black Gazelle.”
“We had a beautiful release date for it and practically sold out of all of our four-packs that we allocated for the tap room,” said Turner. ”We also wanted to make sure the beer kept in line with our brand in terms of honoring African American women that were influential to society — and so because they’re in Tennessee.”
Turner Haus aims to put down roots in the same Chicago neighborhood as many Black folks have done over the decades: Bronzeville.
Currently, one of their beers, “Priscilla Hunter,” is available on tap at Pilsen’s Alulu Brewery and Pub.
The beer is named after Aikens’ grandmother (Priscilla) and the daughter (Hunter) of Alulu head brewer Jason James, a Turner Haus consultant.
“In the interim, obviously a lot has happened and COVID [-19 pandemic] came in and slowed everything down quite a bit,” said Turner, who plans to open the brewery in 2022 at the latest. “It’s been an interesting last year or so from going from full steam ahead with moving forward with our development projects.”
Turner, a Tennessee native, says his impetus for brewing beer came from a home brewery kit he received as a 2012 Christmas gift.
And the day he brewed his first batch, he learned his grandmother, Gary, Indiana, educator Helen Turner, the family matriarch, passed away.
“I named the beer,Helen. It was a grapefruit lager, and I packed the beer up and I headed up here to Chicago to attend the funeral,” said Turner. “After the funeral, as we do in our community, we gather at somebody’s house [repass] and we happen to gather at Blair and Blair’s parents’ house to fellowship with each other. As a family, we were sitting around the table, and having discussions and everybody was drinking my beer that I brought. Nobody could believe that I brewed that beer myself.”
After his grandmother’s repass — and the impromptu reviews from family members — Turner decided to make his beer dreams a reality.
“Two weeks later, I get a phone call from Blair, who had taken very detailed notes that I was not aware of,” says Turner. “She calls me up and says: ‘Hey, when are we getting started with this brewery? I think we should do this.’ I was completely shocked, But in this case, she was very serious and got me to be very serious about it and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Turner began to make beer, and named each brand (six currently that are only available at tasting events) after family matriarchs, with the tagline: “They poured into us, now we pour pints of them.”
He calls his ancestors his “Spiritual Board of Directors.”
“As far as personality-wise, she was a very straightforward, classy lady who could be very stern, but all at the same time, extremely loving and caring,” said Turner of his late grandmother. “... We try and create recipes that speak to who they were, and with her and the grapefruit lager, it just made sense because grapefruits — red grapefruits — are one of those fruits where it strikes you at first, but has a very sweet, beautiful finish to them when you eat them; It was a perfect fit for who she is.”
And do beer connoisseurs agree?
Turner says the feedback implies success.
“It’s a heartwarming, gratifying experience to have people become familiar with our family members and who they are and what they meant to us and now know them by name,” said Turner. “It’s beautiful to have them come back and say: ‘I want a ‘Helen,’ or I want to try a ‘Marlene,’ or I want a ‘Lola.’ ”