10 years ago, when you look in the craft beer marketplace, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a brand that is black-owned. Today, more black-owned breweries are beginning to stake their claim in the marketplace with an annual festival called Fresh Fest, bringing them all together for a day of celebration and tasting. One brewery that is, in my opinion, a pioneer paving the way for others being both a black and woman-owned business is Harlem Brewing founded by Celeste Beatty.
“The hobby became the passion, that became the business with a lot of people saying, ‘Take it further, take it further,’” says Beatty, who started the company in 2000. A home brewing kit from a friend in the late 1990s would be the only seed planted that would eventually grow into the idea of brewing beer professionally and owning her own craft beer company.
Born in North Carolina, Beatty came from a family that was passionate about farm-to-table cuisine and traditional family gatherings, especially around the holidays. Her move to New York as an adult followed years of visiting family and taking in the sights and sounds of Harlem. Before getting into the industry, she worked with a shelter that helped men coming out of incarceration. The shelter ran a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream shop where Beatty worked with the men to help them gain hands-on job skills as they transitioned back into society. Her community work remains a focal point to this day for the company as it supports a variety of charitable causes. She calls it, “brewing it forward.”
Brewing is Like Cooking that Perfect Pot of Soup
Creating winning recipes for beer lovers wasn’t hard for Beatty, a Shaw University alum, to do after a few practice runs. She draws a strong comparison to how she watched her mother and grandmother prepare the perfect pot of soup that always included their signature spices. She now channels them and their techniques as she crafts small batches that turn into her signature Sugar Hill Golden Ale (an American blonde ale), Harlem Renaissance Wit (witbier) and Sugar Hill Strawberry Hard Cider. All can be found at restaurants and bars around the world.
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The master gardener grows her own hops, barley and herbs used in her beer recipes and is passionate about sharing the rich history between Africa, Blacks and brewing; a history that is essentially not told. “Africa has a rich and interesting culture around how beer evolved in the United States and around the world,” she says. “It’s exciting to see we do actually have a very rich brewing history in Africa and America.” Throughout the year, you can find Beatty sharing this history and showing others how to make their own beer, one way she says can help introduce more Blacks to the industry. Her vision to one day have her own brick and mortar location where she can offer classes regularly, brewing it forward once again for the next generation of brewers to follow.