“I realized that the best way to bring more Black people into beer was to brew a beer that Black people would identify with—something that would resonate with them.”
April Dove is Charleston’s first Black brewer. A graduate of the American Brewer’s Guild and certified homebrewer, she has taken her passion professional through her work as the Traveling Hoptista— a one-woman beer education initiative, and by creating Tha CommUNITY, a local multi-brew nonprofit.
Dove is determined to share her love of beer and brewing by diversifying South Carolina’s beer community one brew at a time and has already released two successful Tha CommUNITY collaborations, with two forthcoming, successfully corralling local breweries to reach out to communities of color proactively.
Unexpected Beer Lover
This is the tip of the iceberg. Dove is singlehandedly making a significant impact on the Charleston beer-drinking demographic. From organizing a series of drop-in tasting events at breweries to bring more people of color into the Charleston beer scene to becoming a spokesperson for diversity in beer in the state on local and national platforms and even having October 1 recognized as Tha CommUNITY Brew Day by the mayor of North Charleston.
Over the last eight months, Dove has barely paused to breathe since launching Tha CommUNITY, which won her a prestigious grant from Women of the Bevolution. She also has to fit her growing number of beer projects and commitments around her job as an ER nurse. “It’s quite difficult because I’m always working,” she says, “But I find a way—I don’t have a lot of hours in the day but make it work, and whenever I’m not nursing, I’m brewing,” she says.
Dove’s journey into beer began in 2012 when fresh out of college; she visited a friend living in Stuttgart, Germany. “It was my first time trying European beer, and we went to so many great breweries,” she says, “I loved the beers and the beer gardens, although I didn’t know then that this would be my life.”
The moment that changed was in 2018 when Dove took a three-day 13-brewery trip to Portland, Maine. “Portland has a brewery on every corner, and going to brewery after brewery and trying a plethora of beers, I knew that was the life I wanted to be immersed in,” she says.
After that came the hard work. Dove enrolled in Eugenia Brown’s Beer Chick LLC Road to 100 program, an initiative to improve access to beer education for women, and was mentored by advanced cicerone, BJCP Judge and homebrewer and educator Jen Blair, who encouraged Dove to begin home brewing. She fell in love immediately.
From January to June 2021, Dove studied with the American Brewer’s Guild and is now a graduate. “I wanted to know more about brewing, but I needed a program to fit my lifestyle that I could do while still nursing,” she says. The online course fit the bill perfectly and gave Dove practical knowledge of the brewing process as well as a deeper understanding of the importance of beer education—something that is now one of her primary objectives.
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The combination of beer education and appreciation was the driving force behind the concept of the Traveling Hoptista. When Dove returned to South Carolina from Boston, she immediately noticed the lack of diversity in her local taprooms. She had brought 48 cases of beer with her, which she decided to break into and curate 4-packs for friends as a way to get them engaged with craft beer by appealing to their existing taste preferences in the safe spaces of their homes.
This inspired her to officially launch the Traveling Hoptista to offer curated flight tasting experiences. “The goal is to have six and eight people per tasting, talk to them in advance and find out about their beer education and knowledge,” she explains. “I will then go to three local breweries and pick up two beers and talk them through the tasting experience.”
Making the Connection
As Dove launched her Traveling Hoptista brand, she was approached by Chris Brown, head brewer at North Charleston’s Holy City Brewing. Although the taproom is located in a historically Black neighborhood, Brown wanted to know why so few people of color patronized the brewery and what he could do to change that.
“At first I didn’t know,” says Dove. After further consideration, she realized that the best way to make craft beer and breweries relevant to local Black communities was to build a connection between the beer and the tastes, flavors and experiences that are commonplace and meaningful within the Black community.
“I want the beers to remind them of something they have done in their life with friends and family,” she explains. Dove sees Tha CommUNITY as a gateway into craft beer for people who might be put off by unfamiliar language and flavor profiles, a way to broaden access and increase appreciation of something she loves.
For inspiration, Dove draws on her own experiences as a Black woman from South Carolina to create recipes that will resonate within the Black community, appeal to a broader audience and help integrate South Carolina’s Black heritage with craft beer taproom culture.
She devises her recipes with her homebrew kit, and they are scaled up by the brewing team at each collaborating brewery. Dove has taken a direct approach to getting local breweries on board. “I go to a brewery and tell them they don’t have enough Black people and people of color,” she says. “But if they will brew my beer, they will bring more in.” And it is working.
Joey Siconolfi at Charleston’s Frothy Beard Brewing was keen to get involved. “I feel Tha CommUNITY project is important as brewery taprooms aren’t very diverse,” he shares. “I do feel April is making a difference here in Charleston just from her first two beers released.”
Tha CommUNITY Collaborations
Tha CommUNITY’s first collaboration beer, an American Lager brewed with Holy City, was launched on October 1, 2021. The launch attracted over 150 people and all 40 cases sold out within two months. The beer was so successful that they brewed a second batch that was released this past January.
Dove based the recipe on Heineken, one of the best-known lager brands in the Black community. “I knew brewing to [Black people’s] palates would be key. A lot of people think all craft beer is hoppy and bitter, but there is so much more to it,” she says. Dove followed this up with her Frothy Beard collab, a fruited Berliner Weiss. She describes the flavor profile “as if Tahitian Treat soda and Minute Maid fruit punch had a baby” and again accompanied the release with an all-day block party-style event at the brewery.
“I love our release parties for Tha CommUNITY because it brings so many people together,” she says. “It’s exactly the excitement and vibe I want the beer to give to those that drink it.”
Siconolfi is very positive about working with Dove and Tha CommUNITY’s launch at Frothy Beard. “The release party was a success and brought a lot of new folks to the taproom. We really love collaborating with other creative people and April is no exception. It was a delight to build the recipe with her, brew it and do fruit sampling to find just the right amount to add to the beer.”
Bigger Than Brewing Beer
Dove’s work has attracted so much attention that she’s now a part of several major drinks events, including Charleston Beer Week, Beers With(Out) Beards and Charleston Food and Wine Festival, where she took part in their Crafted For Culture panel with Jaamal Lemon, Brandon Montgomery and JT Sullmack, and their Hip Hop Day Party showcasing Tha CommUNITY Lager.
Dove’s work has recently been recognized by Women of the Beervolution, who awarded her one of their highly sort-after BIOPIC Creator Grants. The grant will support Tha CommUNITY’s events, enabling Dove to work towards her goal of using Tha CommUNITY to fund scholarships and educational training for people of color who want to enter the beer industry. Having registered Tha CommUNITY as a nonprofit, Dove is making significant strides in achieving her ambition of improving beer outreach and education among people of color in South Carolina.
The nurse and entrepreneur is becoming increasingly high-profile, having been featured in the South Carolina Post and Courier and the American Homebrewer’s Association member newsletter, where she shared her first Tha CommUNITY recipe. With three more Tha CommUNITY collaborations coming out this year, including a watermelon wheat beer for Juneteenth with Commonhouse Aleworks and a cornbread cream ale with Two Blokes Brewing in July, the future is brimming with opportunity for Dove and Tha Community.
With so many successes under her belt already, what is Dove most proud of to date? “Coming out with the beers and having people drink them,” she quickly responds. “When people post pictures drinking my beers and saying they enjoy them it feels really good.”
While collaboration brewing is Dove’s immediate focus, she would eventually like to have her own mobile beer truck. “Then I can bring Tha CommUNITY to the community!” At the speed at which she is currently working, it may not be long before this becomes a reality.