Tell us about yourself.
CHRIS: I am Chris Harris. I am the owner and head brewer at Black Frog Brewery in Holland, Ohio. I was born and raised in Toledo, Ohio. I spent ten years in the United States Army. When I got out and moved back to Toledo, I worked for the government in the Social Security Administration, and I began looking for a hobby. I picked up a ‘Mr. Beer Kit’ and started home brewing. It grew from a hobby into a passion to where I am right now with the brewery. I opened the Black Frog taproom in September of 2016, and I like brewing various American styles of beer.
MIKE: My name is Mike Potter. I am the founder and EIC of Black Brew Culture Magazine, and I love craft beer. I started Black Brew Culture to get more visibility in the African-American sector of the craft beer industry. I first got into craft beer with home brewing in 2014, and with my marketing and branding professional background, I decided to start a magazine and lifestyle brand in 2015. As I started to reach out and develop the brand and concept, people were very receptive. I offered my assistance in anyway I could in the early days and would travel to breweries to help with canning or bottling. I was always glad to get involved because I had faith in what the owners where doing, and knew my assistance would in some way help them get their name on the map.
DAY: I’m Day Bracey. I drink, and I talk shit. I’m a comedian and half of the Drinking Partners podcast with myself and Ed Bailey (2X winners of The City Paper’s Best of Burgh). I produce, I podcast, and a large part of what I do is I drink craft beer while I talk shit. My goal in life is to be paid as much as I possibly can for being myself.
If you were a beer, what type would you be?
CHRIS: That’s easy. I love Dragon’s Milk from New Holland Brewery…any variety of Dragon’s Milk would be me.
MIKE: If I were a beer, I’d be a Double IPA because I am complex, strong, flavorful, and aromatic. And hoppy AF. At first I thought a barrel-aged Imperial Stout. Boozy, seventeen percent, but nah, Double IPA describes me better.
DAY: Wow… I would probably be a chili beer. A chocolate chili beer. I’m dark, taste good, best in doses, and a little spicy. I am one and done.
What was the last beer you had (outside of your comfort zone) that you really enjoyed?
CHRIS: That’s a really hard question, I am not a really big fan of Belgian beer and don’t tend to gravitate toward them, but I did have a Belgian Golden Strong from Granite City in Maumee, Ohio. I like cleaner beers with less yeast flavor, but it was fantastic.
MIKE: Island to Island – Island Squared and Harlem Brewery – Renaissance Wit. Those are two styles I’m not real big on. I am not a Saison/sour guy and I get mild reactions to wheat beers occasionally. But those two are really good and I drink them whenever they’re in season.
DAY: Actually, the Hofbräu I’m drinking right now. I haven’t had a lot of imports. This is bready, it’s malty, it’s light so you can have a few of them. I stick away from lighter beers, and its every thing I don’t really fuck with. It reminds me of what they are doing at Helicon with German lagers and taking it back down to lower ABV, more sessionable beers, heavy on the flavor.
Who / What can you attribute your love of craft beer to?
CHRIS: Nobody but myself. There wasn’t a particular brewery or person that brought me in. It was all self discovery.
MIKE: I am a creative and explorative type of person so I started to experiment with craft beer in 2003 or so. Also, I’m a self-proclaimed amateur cook, and flavor profiles really intrigue me. But if I had to pin it to one person that really pushed me into the industry that would be Scott Smith at East End Brewing. I had a house in Point Breeze and stumbled upon his brewery when it was on Susquehanna Street. He taught me a lot about how beers are made and different beer styles. He took time out to help me learn what craft beer was about.
DAY: I can attribute my love of beer to my taste buds and alcoholism. I enjoy drinking. I also love food, and I’ve always had a fondness for cooking. I enjoy flavor, and when I was introduced to beer that had flavor, it was a perfect marriage. I even wanted to be chef back in high school. I was going to have a comedy cooking show. None of that ever happened, but Drinking Partners is as close as I’ll have. It’s a comedy craft beer show.
Why do you think African Americans are such a small percentage of the craft beer scene both consumers and on the production side?
CHRIS: As far as consumers, I don’t think that craft breweries are targeting the African American community. If I was to go into an urban neighborhood where I live at, there no craft beer on sale there. I mean you have to go somewhere else to get craft beer. Next there’s price point. In the inner city, the income usually isn’t very high so the price of the craft beer is usually over $5 and there’s not much of a value in that because they can get a cheap beer for a dollar. We do get some African Americans in our taproom just not a lot. As far as the production side, I don’t think the job opportunities that are out there are interesting to them (African Americans). In the Toledo area, I am the only African American brewer that includes brewery assistants. I would love to see more African Americans in craft beer, especially on the product side. The more different kinds of people you have in the craft beer industry, the more perspectives you can tap into and palates that you can reach.
MIKE: So from the consumer standpoint, black people tend to stick to certain brands and a certain styles. Sometimes not dictated by us. Once we find a comfort level, we don’t venture off from that very easily. That has posed problems in other areas economically outside of craft beer but that is a different topic for another day. Also, from a consumer standpoint it has much to do with what may or may not be accessible to a targeted demographic. Marketing and branding has been targeted a certain way toward African-Americans for years. In the early days, if it wasn’t the Budweisers, the Miller’s or the cheap malt liquors, we would jokingly deem it as “white people beer.” From a production standpoint, it takes money, know-how, training and business knowledge to get into production and ownership and those things were not as common in our culture. But that is now changing, in a major way.
DAY: I think there’s a lot of factors. First and foremost I think craft beer is a middle class luxury. People with disposable income can try new things. They are able to travel to various breweries and cities to try different craft beers. With the black culture being the poorest section of America, they are going to be last to come on to something that isn’t from their culture and also has price tag on it and risk involved. There is risk when you go out and you have twenty bucks to spend, are you going spend five bucks on a beer that I might not like or am I going to go with the classics.
Do African Americans have a lack of access and exposure to craft beer and does that lead to/create the lack of diversity in the craft beer industry?
CHRIS: I wish there was a fix to get more African Americans in the craft beer industry as consumers, but I am really surprised that the bigger craft breweries haven’t made an attempt to reach out to minority drinkers and give them access to craft beer in their neighborhoods. This market, which is a large portion of the American population, remains relatively untapped and underexposed to craft beer.
MIKE: Traditionally, African Americans haven’t seen craft beer where they reside. So there was very little access to it; therefore, virtually no way to experience how craft beer differs from big beer or malt liquor. Many “role models” and symbols of the black community (e.g. rappers, athletes and actors) create material (art) that targets poorer people (regardless of race) and glamorize unhealthy and poor quality products. This has very little to do with race but has everything to do with money. That is pretty much the case with all of the socioeconomic and demographic problems in American society. By limiting resources and exposure to a particular group, the effect is the group choosing whatever items are marketed to them and most accessible. So that is one of the major goals of our magazine and brand and other organizations like The Drinking Partners, Dope and Dank and BACB. With positive exposure and more representation you’ll start to see more black people finding their way to craft beer.
DAY: Most craft breweries are in white neighborhoods, so these breweries are not in your hometown. You have to leave your comfort zone to even go to one, and you go to one you are the only there that looks like you when you get in. And nobody likes to be the only one in the room that looks like them. It’s human nature. You tend to be comfortable around people that look like you. A mixed atmosphere is one thing, but a homogenous one is different. ‘Why am paying all this money and doing all this extra to get into this environment that I am not comfortable?’
What are the hurdles to overcome to get a larger portion of the black community involved in the craft beer industry/scene?
CHRIS: We would need to get some form of craft beer into the urban communities first of all. There’s good craft beer at a good price point. You can probably buy a Sierra Nevada Pale or a Fat Tire for the same price as a Heineken for instance. So why aren’t these craft beers being sold in the urban communities? I don’t think there’s a push from a distribution standpoint to get these craft beers into different hands. We need to change our selling culture first and foremost. Also African American don’t see people like them in craft beer. Once African Americans see more minority faces in the craft beer scene, it will push more minorities into the craft beer scene.
MIKE: It’s not an issue of a lack of inclusion and diversity in the craft beer scene. It’s more an issue within our community. Certain cultures are adamant about defining who they are as a culture through economic empowerment, and they’re not concerned with wanting to be accepted. If they offer a product that is specific to their culture, and you don’t like it, they are not going to change it to meet your tastes. If you don’t like it go elsewhere. As a consumer, they’re expecting you to be there for the experience and nothing more. I do think it would help to have more brown faces involved in the operations of these craft breweries, but only if cultural diversity is a part of their core values. It does bother me when a company exists and they have zero people of color in it. But, it bothers me even more when so many of our people are ok with that and go out of their way to support them. I don’t care what brand it is, if they are not positively impacting our community or respecting our dollar then we don’t need to support their brand as loyally as we sometimes do. Regardless of your race or background, if a brewery doesn’t want your support, send us an email or visit our site. We have a huge list of one’s that do.
DAY: The biggest hurdle is education. A lot of people don’t know you can do this yourself, and that getting involved in craft beer is as easy as buying a beer kit and making it at home. You can learn the basics, and its very satisfying. The second is the stigma of what craft beer is. Craft beer is not just hoppy, it’s not one dimensional at all and there are beers there that fit your palate. The third is economics. We need to build the community up to where they afford to buy craft beer and even start their own craft breweries. Additionally, a lack of people that look like them (African Americans) making craft beer. Representation matters. When I see people that look like me doing something I at least know that I am capable of doing that. As a comedian, that’s how I started producing shows because the people around me were producing. It means a lot to see somebody that you can relate to accomplish something. It gives you hope and inspires you. ‘If they can do that, I can do that.’
What is “The Fresh Festival” and what do you hope it will accomplish? Is your hope that as the craft beer scene diversifies, it will eliminate the need for events like this?
MIKE: Our goal with Fresh Festival is to get more exposure to black brewers and brewery owners on a national level and to have a dope ass time with our friends in the community as a whole. Black, white…whatever. It just happens that we are black men and we know other black creatives. When the industry gets more diverse and the exposure and distribution starts to balance out more, Fresh Fest will still be here trying to raise the bar. The Fresh Festival is on Saturday, August 11th at Threadbare Cider and Meadery in Spring Garden.
DAY: The Fresh Festival is the first black beer festival in Pittsburgh. We want to introduce black people that are in the craft beer scene to the local beer scene. We want to bring black brewers from around the country, and we also want to bring local brewers into the fest. The purpose is to acclimate the black community with craft beer in the hopes that the black community will have a stake in the profit that is craft beer. A lot of money is spent on alcohol and most of it does not stay in our community. As the scene diversifies The Fresh Festival will be similar to the St Patrick’s Day parade, the Bloomfield Italian festival, Oktoberfest, they are all celebrations of culture. Right now there’s a need for it so we can bring our culture in so we can get a bigger piece. Eventually it will become a celebration of our contributions to the craft beer scene.
How can the readers connect with you?
CHRIS: You can connect with us on blackfrogbrewery.com or you can follow us on FaceBook and Instagram: @BlackFrogBrewery and Twitter: @BlackFrogBrewer. You can visit our brew pub on Thursday & Friday from 4:30pm-10pm and Saturday from 3pm-10pm.
MIKE: We are at blackbrewculture.com and the online magazine will be launching in late February. We are on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook: @blackbrewculture. You can find information about the Fresh Festival on ours and the Drinking Partner’s social media networks this week!
DAY: You can find me @daybracey everywhere (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc)…total brand continuity. You can find The Drinking Partners at EpicastNetwork.com/PartnerPod. You can also find podcast on: iTunes, Stitcher, and GooglePlay under Drinker Partners. You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: @PartnersPod.
Tom Marshall is in the persuasion business. He is Sales & Marketing Manager for Full Pint Brewing Company, the President of Pittsburgh Libations week, and a bowling enthusiast.