KC area breweries give an update on their participation with “Black is Beautiful”
In July of 2020, many Kansas City area breweries joined in the Black is Beautiful initiative. Started by Weathered Souls Brewing out of San Antonio, Texas, the initiative is an attempt to bring issues that Black people face to the forefront and to encourage breweries to donate to social justice organizations.
Organizations that join Black is Beautiful are asked to donate 100% of the proceeds from the beer to local organizations that support police reform and legal defenses for those who were wronged by the policing system. Each brewery chooses its own organization to donate proceeds to and uses the same label and recipe for Black is Beautiful that Weathered Souls created. Though the team at Weathered Souls encouraged people to add their own twist to the beer.
As of recent count, 1,221 breweries in all 50 states and 22 countries have joined Black is Beautiful so far. Fourteen breweries in the Kansas City area signed on to Black is Beautiful and pledged to donate to a variety of organizations across the metro. Since then, the breweries have donated thousands of dollars to local organizations that work to end police brutality and bring about equity in the Kansas City area. The Pitch checked in on each brewery that joined Black is Beautiful for an update, and to ensure the money was appropriately donated.
Because of Black is Beautiful, 14 breweries in the Kansas City area donated over $26,000 to 13 organizations centered on racial justice. Some breweries chose not to disclose the amount they donated, meaning the actual total is much higher than depicted.
Windshift Brewing donated its proceeds to Race Project KC, an organization that focuses on teaching high school students about Kansas City’s history of racial segregation and how it impacts people today. The brewery does not share financial information, but Windshift provided a letter of proof of its donation. Lynn and Tony DiPlacito, owners of Windshift, shared why the Black is Beautiful initiative matters to them. For Lynn, her commitment to equity is represented in the story of her customers, who she refers to as Jack and Jill for the article.
“This Saturday we had a couple back in the brewery, they used to come in semi-regularly. They stayed for a few hours, but before they left our brewery, Jill broke down crying and made a point to thank Tony,” DiPlacito says. “Jack and Jill are a mixed-race couple and Jill took the time to tell Tony ‘thank you’ for treating them with basic human decency, kindness, and respect, and indicated that they don’t receive that type of treatment everywhere they go. While relating this incident to me, Tony was visibly angry. He was upset that this wonderful, interesting, funny, and beautiful couple had to drive 45 minutes to be treated with kindness. It is our hope that in some small way, we can make a difference in other people’s lives. Our brewery, and being able to participate in the Black is Beautiful initiative has given us the chance to begin doing that.”
“Following the death of George Floyd in May of 2020, and the nationwide outrage of such blatant and callous police brutality, there was a collective feeling of ‘what do we have to do to stop this?’” Cory Johnston, founder of Fields and Ivy, says. “During that time, beer-centric social media started going crazy about the Black is Beautiful collaborative beer project started by Weathered Souls Brewing in San Antonio. We knew we wanted to distribute our version of Black is Beautiful to reach as big an audience as we could.”
Transport Brewery donated its proceeds from the project to two different organizations. The brewery donated over $2,250 to the Midwest Innocence Project and more than $1150 to the KC Community Bail Fund. In addition to donating to the two organizations, the team at Transport also took the time to educate themselves on how racism is present in the brewing community.
“We’ve been looking at how our unconscious biases might affect our hiring process and how we can adjust to prevent that from happening,” Jason Leib, manager of Transport, says. “We’ve also been sharing the recent book ‘Beer and Racism: How Beer Became White, Why It Matters, and the Movements to Change It’ to recognize where we can make other changes or improvements to be more inclusive internally and externally.”
Leib also discussed how the Black is Beautiful Project and the book made him realize that his assumptions about the makeup of the beer community were wrong.
“It was also clear from my beginning in the local homebrewing community that craft beer was predominantly white. At the time I assumed it was because Johnson County itself is nearly 90% white,” says Leib. “However, the book explains why that doesn’t entirely explain that situation. It was important for me to understand that and be able to look at our industry through a different lens to do as much as we can to address diversity and inclusion issues.”
David Mann of East Forty Brewing said that the single brew culminated in a large donation. East Forty sold out of the brew and donated $1450 to Campaign Zero, an organization working to end police violence in the U.S.
Bri Burrows, owner and head brewer at The Big Rip Beer Company, said that the project initiated a conversation in her brewery about inclusivity for the business and consumers.
“Whether the discussion is about racism in the beer industry itself, in the entire country, or about police brutality, these are important conversations to have,” says Burrows. “It is very important to me personally as well to know where a business and its owners stand on issues of inequality.”
Big Rip raised $2500 for the ACLU of Missouri. Beyond the donation, Burrows said the project made her more dedicated to and aware of issues of racial inequality than she was before.
“We have always tried to be as inclusive and welcoming as possible here at The Big Rip, but I think this has helped open the eyes of other employees and customers here. We try to make it a point to be outspoken, whether it’s on our social media posts or through taproom visuals, about inclusivity,” Burrows said. “It’s important to actively let all folx know that they are welcome here, and that hatred will not be tolerated. This has definitely encouraged us to check our privilege and do what we can to be a better example of a small business.”
KC Bier Co., the largest area brewery to participate in the project, raised nearly $7,800 from their Black is Beautiful Brew. The company split the donation between Kansas City G.I.F.T and The Hope Center.
Steve Holle, owner of KC Bier Co., says he’s witnessed both latent and blatant racism first-hand when working in commercial real estate finance and development in his first career. He notes how much structural racism in Kansas City influences current land use, tax, and political policies that favor the suburbs and disadvantage minorities in urban areas.
“For too long Kansas City has suffered under misguided policies that have created isolated, disadvantaged, and decaying neighborhoods,” Holle says. “For Kansas City to fulfill its full potential, all of its citizens need a chance to succeed. KC Bier Co. is proud to support these two wonderful local organizations to spark change in our local community.”
Double Shift Brewing raised $2,500 for The Urban League of Kansas City. Jon Conway of Double Shift said the brewery’s participation with Black is Beautiful was an important step in improving the diversity of craft brewing.
“Working in an industry that’s dominated by men and shows a lack of racial diversity, it’s important for everyone in and out of the industry to be aware of this fact and ask themselves how they can work to be more inclusive,” Conway says. “The brewing industry has been getting a lot of much-needed attention to these disparities and initiatives like Black is Beautiful are allowing people to speak up about inequality in the industry.”
Conway also said that their collaboration with the Urban League for the initiative helped the brewery form a relationship that will last longer than Black is Beautiful.
“Our goal was to form a long-lasting relationship outside of the Black is Beautiful initiative,” says Conway. “A major reason we chose to support the Urban League is their focus on education—specifically to help bridge the digital divide. This donor initiative has become our largest contribution to date. Primary funds helped fund access to iPads and computers. These items have been increasingly more important for in and out-of-class learning for families/individuals who don’t have access to them. This collaboration has allowed us to set the stage for a future opportunity to work together in the fall.”
Crane Brewing Co. donated $500 each to Kansas City G.I.F.T and KC Art the Block. Chris Myers, owner of Crane, said one of the best parts of the initiative was how accessible Windshift made it. That meant that any brewery could easily get involved.
“I think breweries can be reminded that we are community hubs and have always been crucial to shaping the environment around us. We have the ability to make positive impacts even more than some other small businesses,” Myers says. “This initiative specifically allows our industry to reflect on systemic discrimination in the world around us, but also how we are practicing principles of DEI in our business.”
Due to COVID-19, Crane lost some staff and their business had to grow back. However, Myers says Crane remains committed to furthering diversity in the workplace.
“We, unfortunately, have a smaller team than we did a year ago, but we have made a commitment to further grow our diversity as we rebuild,” says Myers. “We are proud of our standing of being a welcoming place for all. We believe everyone should be treated with dignity, respect, and caring.
Crane brewed its Black is Beautiful brew in partnership with Kemet Coleman, a local brewer and musician. In addition to the brewing, Coleman and Myers partnered their Black is Beautiful contribution with the release of Coleman’s EP by the same name. Proceeds from Coleman’s EP and Crane’s brew went towards Kansas City G.I.F.T. Four songs, as well as their instrumental versions, are on the “Black is Beautiful” album, which is still available on Coleman’s website.
“‘Black is Beautiful is kind of the first step in addressing some of the conversations around racial injustice, and diversity, belonging, all that type of stuff,” Coleman said to KCUR.
BKS Artisan Ales donated their profits from the brew to the ACLU of Missouri and did not reveal how much they donated. Mary Rooney, co-owner of BKS, says that the Black is Beautiful initiative showed her how much of an impact a small brewery can have.
“This initiative reaches a broader audience in a different way. Just through our version of the Black is Beautiful beer, we were able to reach over 500 customers that purchased beer from us that weekend, plus those that saw the details on social media,” says Rooney. “When you look at all the breweries that participated, this effort had a huge impact on increasing awareness and raising funds. We are a very small operation, but we hope our contribution to the initiative helped bring increased awareness to our community and our customers.”
“Part of what we love about craft beer is its ability to unite,” Householder says. “We just need to make sure we are being all-inclusive. It’s projects like this that assist with that goal. Mostly, Black is Beautiful was a conduit for us as a staff to have fully open conversations about these and other issues. Our staff has become much more comfortable talking about any issues and have become closer as a group.”
Red Crow Brewing Company, located in Olathe, donated just over $759 to Race Project KC. Established and coordinated by the Johnson County Library, the Race Project KC focuses on the role of racism in the U.S. and Kansas City through an annual immersive social justice initiative.
Strange Days Brewing Co. donated its profits—nearly $1300—to the Urban League of Kansas City. The Urban League works through many different initiatives to further the economic self-reliance and civil rights of Black and disadvantaged people in Kansas City.
“Even in the brewing industry of Kansas City, it’s very big for us to get involved within our local community. It’s a very big driving initiative,” says Chris Beier, co-owner of Strange Days. “With everything that was going on last year, I think it was a no brainer for everybody that participated to be able to help out and build awareness and also to be able to help donate money”
Sandhills Brewing donated to Black is Beautiful from both their Hutchinson and Mission breweries. They then ran a second batch from their Mission brewery. At last count, Sandhills donated over $4,200 to Hutch in Harmony, KC Community Bail Fund, and Kansas City G.I.F.T.
“[Brewing] is such a community-centered industry,” Emily Hink, taproom manager and marketing coordinator for Sandhills, says. “Anytime that we can then turn around and continue to help our communities and kind of like ripple that out is always going to be a really good thing.”
Servaes Brewing Co. donated $800 from its original brew to the ACLU of Kansas. Like Sandhills, Servaes Brewing Company is running a second batch of their Black is Beautiful beer. Servaes’ Juneteenth Black is Beautiful release features a barrel-aged version of the original imperial sweet stout brewed for the initiative. The barrel-aged stout is also used as the beer base a coffee blend made in partnership with Black Drip Coffee. The new Black is Beautiful beer is on tap and in mixed 4-packs. Profits from the new Juneteenth brew will be donated to Race Project KC.
“From a brewery standpoint, I feel that this cause is specifically important because of the fact that the majority of breweries are owned and operated by white men,” Courtney Servaes, owner and brewer at Servaes, says. “To see so many brewery owners, who are mostly white men, acknowledge that there is a systematic problem with discrimination and violence against Black people is great amazing to see. I hope that their advocacy for the cause does not end with this beer.”
The outpouring of dedication to Black is Beautiful marks a large-scale effort to support the Black community through public declaration and local donations. That support will ideally translate to support for Vine Street Brewing—Kansas City’s first Black-owned brewery—started by Coleman.
The brewery is the brainchild of Coleman, who collaborated with Crane on its Eyes on the Street brew in addition to Black is Beautiful. Coleman is joined by Woodie Bonds and Elliot Ivory in the brewery’s operations. Vine Street Brewing will be located in 18th & Vine and is set to open in early 2022.