Celeste Beatty is doing more than celebrating Harlem and African heritage. Her presence in the brewing industry represents a revolution in craft-brewing. In the year 2000, Beatty established her brewing company, the Harlem Brewing Company, which made her the first Black female brewery owner in the United States.
In the early days, things were not as smooth as Beatty and her team kept on brewing, never giving up on trying to perfect their recipes with a home brew kit, Celeste Beatty received as a gift. The story is entirely different today as they create artistic and intuitive beers inspired by the timeless rich history of Harlem and ancient traditions, whether experimenting with new styles and ingredients on their Pico Brew Zymatic or brewing up beers with natural yeasts during Harlem Brewdio sessions.
Celeste Beatty celebrates this heritage in all of her beers ranging from flagship Sugar Hill Golden Ale, Renaissance Wit, to 125 IPA. Having carted the People’s Champ Award for Best Brews NYC and Best Beer at Beer and Bacon, Beatty estimates that African-Americans own less than 1% of all US craft breweries, and according to surveys, African Americans made up only 10% of weekly craft-beer drinkers in 2016 – the low numbers are believed to be as a result of the long history of discrimination in the alcohol industry in the US.
Laws were passed across the several Southern States from the late 1700s to the late 1800s that forbade retailers to give, sell, or deliver alcohol to any enslaved or free African Americans and in the 1920s and ’30s, white Southern prohibitionists claimed that: “Liquor gave Negroes the strength to repudiate their inferior status and that it also encouraged them to attack white women. Therefore, it was imperative that it should be denied them” despite Blacks known to be brewers since millennia.
“Even though we brought our traditions from Africa, and we brewed beer for Thomas Jefferson and various people that enslaved us, we were never able to actually open the brewery, we were never able to actually be the entrepreneurs early on. “So, there is no tradition of owning breweries, of owning bars, because of that discrimination. And I do not know if I would say the discrimination continues that blatantly today, but I think the biggest barriers is the lack of capital. We just do not have it,” Beatty averred.
Beatty represents a huge revolution in the industry beyond her blackness and projecting African heritage with every beer flavour profile. “We’re looking for ways to celebrate the positive developments while acknowledging the dark days,” she says. “There are so many different people coming to these grounds and not just enjoying the beer, but reflecting on that history—and then forging a new history together.
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