In June, in San Antonio, Texas, Weathered Souls Brewing Co. launched Black is Beautiful, a beer collaboration and campaign with a mission to “bridge the gap” and “provide a platform to show that the brewing community is an inclusive place for everyone of any color.” In three months, the initiative has nearly 1,200 participating breweries on board in 50 states and 21 countries. It’s one of the fastest-growing craft beer collaborations to date to raise awareness of the injustices that Black, Indigenous, and people of color face every day.

Participating breweries commit to creating a tasty stout beer, and agree to donate the proceeds from the sale of the beer to organizations that support equity and inclusion and police brutality reform. Unlike collaborations such as Sierra Nevada’s Resilience Butte County Proud IPA, which raised funds for communities impacted by the most destructive wildfire in California history, there’s more to participation than a one-time donation. Breweries must commit to long-term equity work, whether in their local communities or within their own breweries. Or at least, they’re expected to.

While the response to Black is Beautiful has been overwhelmingly positive, it has left some industry members wondering whether this initiative and others like it will help the communities they claim they are supporting.

Black is Beautiful: A Catalyst for Change

In addition to the many participating breweries around the world, the fanfare around Black is Beautiful has inspired support that far surpasses the beer itself. From branded glassware, virtual 5K runs, beer trading groups, and more, the beer collaboration that centers on supporting social justice causes and ending police brutality has been received with much excitement. Marcus Baskerville, co-founder of Weathered Souls Brewing Co., has been blown away by the response. “When I started the idea, I figured that there might have been 100 people in all this. The fact that we actually reached 1,000 is a very humbling experience,” he says.

Some breweries have implemented programs that ensure ongoing support beyond their monetary donations. For Baskerville, there are many paths for long-term support. He says some breweries have started internships, such as Carton Brewing, and DaleView Biscuits & Beer, offering education and experience to BIPOC; and that the Texas Craft Brewers Guild reached out to him about efforts to form a Diversity Committee. “At the end of the day, the beer itself is just a conversation piece, and the important stuff is what happens after,” Baskerville says.

One brewery committing to long-term effort is Second Chance Beer Co. in San Diego, which announced early in the initiative that its Black is Beautiful release would be an annual event. Proceeds from each bottle will go to the local chapter of the ACLU. Virginia Morrison, co-founder of Second Chance Beer Co., says that she’s a firm believer in change coming from within. “Racism is institutional, it’s educational, it’s historical,” she says. “There’s so much, it’s so pervasive. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon. So that’s why this is going to be an annual commitment to us, because this needs to stay top of mind.”

Second Chance has applied to be a member of the ACLU of San Diego to facilitate a longer-term connection. Morrison also says she’s connected with local organizations that help formerly incarcerated individuals find employment, and that Second Chance has started a blind recruitment process in their hiring. “I’m working to make sure that it’s feasible for us to do, and really gets us to the goal of eliminating unconscious bias. Change from within, that’s also us,” Morrison says.

In an email to Black is Beautiful participants, Baskerville recently acknowledged supporters for their accomplishments in only three months of the collaboration, and that there’s much more to come. “We are making HISTORY people, and it’s a very humbling experience to be a part of it,” he wrote. “Every single one of you are making a difference for your communities.”

Problematic participation

While participation in Black is Beautiful is open to everyone, it has also attracted breweries that have track records of not supporting the Black community. The most glaring example is Founders Brewing Co., which was embroiled in a scandal and racial discrimination lawsuit starting in 2018.

Toni Boyce, an engineer, writer, and Certified Cicerone partnered with Fermentum PR on the webinar “Making A Statement” to educate breweries and other businesses in the craft beer industry on crafting authentic messages and how to communicate around sensitive social issues. In the webinar, Boyce raised concerns about problematic participation in social justice movements or working with marginalized communities when there has been a history of harm. (Disclosure: Toni Boyce is also a VinePair contributor.)

Speaking with VinePair, Boyce shared that there should be a more selective process for brewery participation in Black is Beautiful, and that Founders should not have taken up space in the conversation. “They should have sat this one out, in my opinion; they have too much of a longstanding history,” Boyce says. “This would have been a time to reflect, have your reckoning, and do some internal work rather than push yourself in the spotlight.”

Regarding Founders participation, Baskerville spoke directly with representatives of the brewery before their signing on. He took the opportunity to air his grievances about their past behaviors, and sees this participation in Black is Beautiful as a way for Founders to correct that harm, allowing them to participate. Baskerville says that while he knows he needs to keep an eye on breweries such as Founders, the craft beer community needs to make space for organizations to change. “If we get rid of everybody who wants to be an ally, then what are we going to have left? So until they show me differently, we’re gonna appreciate the participation and the help,” he says.

Boyce refers to Founders’ participation as “cognitive dissonance” and adds that just making a beer does not erase consistent harm they have caused. “That’s too much for me to reconcile, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way,” Boyce says. “You have to be willing to address those things, and none of those people have owned up to what they did.” Along with Boyce, many fear there may be issues with breweries following through on donation commitments, recalling that Sierra Nevada had issues receiving proceeds from Resilience Butte County Proud IPA. While the beer had raised millions of dollars, the brewery had not received half of the proceeds from participating breweries six months after the collaboration.

Baskerville recently reached out to participating breweries to remind them of the commitments to the collaboration, and distributed a survey to capture information such as beer release dates and donation amounts. While dollar amounts that breweries donated weren’t tracked initially, and Baskerville at first requested that a portion of proceeds go to fund racial injustice, Weathered Souls has since expanded to asking that 100 percent be donated to these causes. Weathered Souls is donating to the Know Your Rights Camp, and breweries can choose an organization local to them or one that is national.

‘This is not a one-time event.’

Boyce believes that successful brewery participation starts with how a beer collaboration is organized. “You have to set clear parameters and vet the people who are going to participate and be listed on your website as participants,” Boyce says. This creates more accountability, something Boyce believes is especially necessary to the Black is Beautiful mission. “This is not like a fire that just happened, and we need to get these folks back to normal and get them new homes and places to stay, [to] rebuild things and move on,” Boyce says. “This is not a one-time event.”

Black is Beautiful does not have a hard end date. “We know that inequality and racism aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon,” Baskerville says. “So, it’s more of a get it in where you can fit it in. We know people plan their production schedules out months ahead of time. If you can fit it in six months from now, and that’s when you can participate in this initiative, then please do.”

Baskerville knows that combating social justice and police brutality cannot be done in a short time period, and he invites more breweries to join in on the effort. The efforts around the Black is Beautiful collaboration have created a lot of momentum and sparked many conversations around racism, police brutality, and inclusion inside and out of the craft beer industry. Collaborations with a social justice component require conscious participation, with an understanding that the benefit is more than just brewing a beer and selling it.

The work does not end when the check is sent, but when participating communities honor their commitments to long-term equity and inclusion in their breweries, their local communities, and in the broader craft beer industry. Actions speak louder than words, or louder than the beer they produce. Those who don’t embrace the requirements to participate and take a stand as allies show that their efforts are just transactional.