Ottawa County

Black is Beautiful collaborative takes hold at Lakeshore breweries

Patrons of Lakeshore breweries are quaffing specially made beers that are part of an international collaboration intended to help stem the tide of racial injustice and support police reform.

The Black is Beautiful Initiative is the brainchild of Founder/Head Brewer Marcus Baskerville of Weathered Souls Brewing Co. in San Antonio. Baskerville launched the brewers’ alliance following the recent protests and civil unrest that have crisscrossed the nation.

“As someone who has personally dealt with the abuse of power by the police, this recent turmoil the country is facing has hit home for me,” Baskerville writes on Weathered Souls’ website. “For us, we feel that this is our contribution to a step.”

Donating proceeds

Breweries in Ottawa, Allegan, and Muskegon counties soon got on board while doing what they do best: making great beer and donating 100% of the proceeds to organizations that raise awareness of the injustices people of color face daily and fostering the long-term work of equality and inclusion. A complete list of participating Michigan breweries can be found at blackisbeautiful.beer.

Several suppliers joined Saugatuck-based Guardian Brewing Company’s fight against racism by contributing to its creation of a beer they’ve dubbed Blueberry Milk Stout. Weathered Souls’ Baskerville posted online a base Black is Beautiful stout recipe, but Kim Collins, Guardian’s Founder, Owner, and Head Brewer, decided to tweak it. She overhauled it, actually. Think coca and a certain berry.

“There are lots of different ways that beer can be made,” Collins says. “I took a look at the recipe and thought it could be made dark and roasty with dark chocolate and coffee. Then I thought, well, that’s a little bit high on the coffee and dark chocolate. I thought a nice balance to it might be fresh-brewed blueberries.

“It’s a perfect time for them. So I thought the beer recipe for us, and the way I make beer, needed a little bit more sweetness and brightness to balance out that chocolate, so it’s kind of like a dark chocolate-covered blueberry.”

Community effort

Proceeds from the Milk Stout benefit Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance in Holland.

“(LEDA) is focused on education and creating safe spaces, which is what Guardian is all about, and eliminating racism across our industry and across our town,” Collins says. “A lot of our staff is from across town in Saugatuck and, really, it’s about building relationships. What they stand for is what we stand for. It was like being shown a mirror. It was so easy to choose.” 

Collins says she is pleased others in the community got behind the making of Guardian’s Blueberry Milk Stout.

Blue Star Farms in Fennville donated 210 pounds of blueberries; Murphy & Rude Malting Co. in Charlottesville, Virginia, owned by Hope College alum Jeffrey Bloem, gave dark malt and barley; and Crosby Hops of Woodburn, Oregon, donated all the hops needed for Guardian’s six-barrel recipe.

“I think the brewing industry has seen some good things, despite COVID,” Collins says. “This collaboration came out of it.”

Conversations key

Chris Crothers, Brewer and Co-founder of Hopland Brewstillery and Tulip City Brewstillery, both in Holland, believes conversations over a “slightly modified” Black is Beautiful brew will conjure positive change.

Holding the signs (l to r) are Ryan Johnson, Hopland Head Brewer/Owner; Melissa Andaya, Manager; Chris Crothers, Tulip City Head Brewer/Owner and Rick Moralez, Owner/Managing Member.

“The money we raise probably won’t be the thing that makes a difference,” Crothers says. “Where we believe we can make a difference will be the conversations that it strikes up. Our community still needs to have those discussions, and I know that this beer gave me a starting point with a lot of customers, and even some family and friends. Helping our community become more self-aware by having a conversation over a pint, that’s where we think we can make the most difference.”

Crothers’ Black is Beautiful beer benefits the Montgomery, Alabama-based nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative, founded in 1989 by Bryan Stevenson, a public interest lawyer and bestselling author of “Just Mercy.” EJI provides legal representation to people who have been illegally convicted, unfairly sentenced or abused in state jails and prisons.

Oktober Design in Grand Rapids donated the beer cans, the labels were printed and donated by Schreur Printing & Mailing in Zeeland, and Emergent Malt in Zeeland Township donated the grains, making it possible for Tulip City Brewstillery and Hopland Brewstillery to afford to donate all of the proceeds.

“It is still not an easy thing, given how the industry is right now, but we believe that it is worth every penny,” Crothers says. “We wanted to pick an organization that is actively working to fix discrimination that is inherent in the system. Equal Justice Initiative fights systemic racism at its core. That resonated with us.” 

Listens to customers

New Holland Brewing Company Brand Manager Adam Dickerson says the brewery got on board the Black is Beautiful collaboration because it considers itself a company that listens to its customers.

It’s for that reason it will release for sale its Black is Beautiful brew sometime in October and support The Diatribe, a nonprofit performing arts community for youth based in Grand Rapids. New Holland’s brewpubs are located in Holland and Grand Rapids, and a tasting room is in Saugatuck.

“We try to be empathetic, to listen to all members of our community,” Dickerson says. “There’s a segment of our community where people feel their voices are not being heard. We don’t want to steer that conversation, but we want people to know we’re here and we are listening, and we’re willing to help in ways that we as a brewery can help.

“If we can bring people together to share a conversation over a beer, we feel very privileged to have an opportunity to do that.”
 
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