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'Black Is Beautiful' Beer By Black Brewer Helps Pour Money Into Social Justice Reform

Marcus Baskerville, second from the right, at <a href="">Black Brew Culture</a>'s Fresh Fest, August 11, 2019.
Weathered Souls Brewing
Marcus Baskerville, second from the right, at Black Brew Culture's Fresh Fest, August 11, 2019.

The turning point for Marcus Baskerville came one morning when he was driving down the highway, and heard on the radio about the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor. Joining a street protest wasn't his style, but what could he, as one of the few Black brewers in America, do to make a statement?

His answer? Create a beer called Black is Beautiful and share the recipe with brewers across the country.

"It's a call to breweries within the United States to participate in a collaborative effort. They would brew a stout, [then] release 100% of those proceeds to local organizations, charities, foundations that support equality, inclusion and social justice reform," he says.

With that high-minded genesis, Baskerville thought it would have limited appeal among his fellow brewers. But at last count, nearly 1,200 breweries in all states are making Black is Beautiful, as well as brewers in 22 different countries, such as Japan, China, Germany, Guatemala and Rwanda.

And Walmart recently announced that it is selling Black is Beautiful beer in 300 stores nationwide.

When Baskerville launched his concept a year ago, he also wondered how it would go over with craft beer drinkers. After all, a recent academic book titled Beer and Racism, states "...craft beer seems fundamentally brewed by, owned by, catered to, distributed by, advertised to, bought by, discussed by, and consumed by white men."

"I mean, you look at my customer base and let's be honest," Baskerville says, "it's mostly middle-aged Caucasian males. So you're starting a platform called Black is Beautiful and it's like, OK, you want to do it within a strategic point to not upset your customer base."

The 36-year-old Californian started brewing at his home in Sacramento. He moved to San Antonio to take a job in fraud prevention at Citibank, but in his spare time Baskerville kept turning grain, hops, malt, yeast, and water into beer. Eventually he got so good at it that he quit the bank and became a full-time brewer. He and another beer lover opened Weathered Souls Brewery in 2016.

When he saw the deaths of Breonna Taylor and then George Floyd, he recalled his own story of police mistreatment.

"I'm somebody who has dealt with a form of police brutality before in my youth," he says. Baskerville tells of being jailed overnight in connection with a stabbing that he had nothing to do with, and of being repeatedly racially profiled when he drove his Ford Mustang through the predominantly white neighborhood where his family lived.

"I think I just reached my boiling point of wanting to actually do something," he says.

As co-owner of Weathered Souls, Baskerville is one of only a handful of Black brewers among nearly 9,000 breweries in the United States.

"Even in the state of Texas with 380-plus breweries, I think there's two Black brewers, I'm the only Black owner," he explains.

Black is Beautiful is a stout: dark and potent, at 10% alcohol content, and intensely flavorful. Every can produced around the world carries the same eye-catching graphics. The recipe calls for chocolate malt, roasted barley, and flaked oats, but Baskerville encourages individual creativity.

In the town of Taylor, northeast of Austin, J.D. Gins at the Texas Beer Company is brewing his own version of Black is Beautiful.

In the town of Taylor, northeast of Austin, J.D. Gins at the <a href="">Texas Beer Company</a> is brewing his own version of Black is Beautiful.
/ John Burnett/NPR
John Burnett/NPR
In the town of Taylor, northeast of Austin, J.D. Gins at the Texas Beer Company is brewing his own version of Black is Beautiful.

"We chose to do a smoke stout," Gins says. "Taylor is a barbecue town and we wanted to make sure that we're showing off what's important to us."

All proceeds go to the Bill Pickett Educational Foundation, a local nonprofit named after the world's most famous Black rodeo cowboy and a Taylor native. Gins estimates he will donate about $5,000 toward causes that help underprivileged kids of color. He was already brewing a Bill Pickett Porter and earmarking the profits for the foundation.

"When Marcus came along with Black is Beautiful," he says, "it was a natural fit for us."

But Gins has another reason to pour a pint of this smoky stout when his customers belly up to the bar.

"Bringing up this conversation is sometimes extremely difficult especially for white business owners, for white people and white privilege," he says. "If you have the opportunity to discuss it over a beer, it's not combative and it shines a light on something that people should be talking about."

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As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.