Food & Drink

How 2020 Became the Year of Black Is Beautiful

“Never in my life did I think I would get into social activism.”

Marcus Baskerville
Photo courtesy of Marcus Baskerville
After experimenting with home brewing, Marcus Baskerville started his own brewery, Weathered Souls, in San Antonio, Texas in 2016. Though the brewery had seen a lot of success and was poised for a great year ahead, Baskerville had no idea what 2020 had in store for him. As the creator of Black is Beautiful—an international campaign that tasked craft breweries with making a stout with a common label whose total proceeds benefit Black organizations—he shares the story of how it all began. As told to Jess Mayhugh.

2020 was going to be a really exciting year. San Antonio was going to host the Craft Beer Conference, which was going to be huge. Weathered Souls was supposed to host a lot more events and a few different beer releases that had locals here pretty excited. When COVID hit, it shut everything down. We had to close the taproom, and then we were able to open temporarily. Now we’re open at 50 percent.

Never in my life did I think I would get into social activism. I listened to Breona Taylor’s mom talk about how she found out her daughter was murdered, and that conversation hit me especially hard. I have two young daughters. I started listening to a lot of the conversations in protests in Dallas Fort Worth, Houston, and Austin. I was disappointed with myself for not participating in the protests, but with COVID times, I didn’t want to go out in a large group. I was taking it really seriously. My family has been quarantining and we’re taking multiple tests.

Over that weekend, I was thinking about some ways I could give back, given the platform that I have. Originally I was going to release a standalone beer and donate money, but I started having conversations with Jeffrey Stuffings of Jester King Brewery in Dripping Springs. We were talking about Trump and race relations and I sent him a mockup of the first Black is Beautiful label. He was the one that first said, ‘You know, you should turn this into a collaboration.’ I really took that conversation to heart and started to formulate a mission statement to create this beer release and sent it off to a couple other Black people in the industry. I basically couldn’t sleep that night. I got up at 3 am and went to the brewery and wrote out the entire initiative front to back. I had my first meeting at 11 am and was in contact with KD Designs that afternoon. I told him I wanted to highlight the different hues of black and how they connect—linking the puzzle pieces together to show the one image.

Basically, the ask is that breweries produce a stout, use the same label, and can get creative as they want with the recipe. From there, donating 100 percent of proceeds have to go to organizations that promote equality. The other big requirement is long-term goals. You look at some of these things and people just do it for clout and fanfare, and you don’t want the efforts to be lost. What long-term goals are you making to support inclusion? Some breweries have created internships for people of color. For Weathered Souls alone, we’ve donated close to $60,000 to 100 Black Men of San Antonio, other breweries have donated $40,000. It’s all adding up. I told my staff originally that my goal was to get 200 breweries to partner with us. We got 300 the first day. From there, I adjusted my goal to around 700. Once we hit that, I was done setting goals. Now we are almost close to 1,200 breweries in 22 countries and they’re starting to get other industries involved: liquor, coffee, wine, hopefully these numbers will continue. I’ve only tried about 30 of them, but actually pretty excited I got to sample that many.

One of the breweries said the reason he participated was because he’s a Jewish guy, has mainly white friends, and really hadn’t had many conversations about race. As he researched more about the Black is Beautiful project, he said he realized these are discussions he should have been having a long time ago. He now understands the things we’ve gone through and wants to make a difference in his community. I get letters from individuals like that all the time.

Racial inequality isn’t going anywhere any time soon. This can go beyond beer, just the overall message started in craft beer but it doesn’t have to end there. We’re about to start a partnership with Wal-Mart with Black is Beautiful to go coast-to-coast. There’s a commercial coming out, a TV show we’re going to be on. I have become a mentor to young kids. I was in a very similar program as a youth. Especially with my two young daughters, we look at how important these times are with police brutality and such a critical election year. They'll look back and ask, ‘What was daddy doing at this time? My dad was out here making a difference.’

Baskerville recommends these beers from around the country:

Black is Beautiful by Pontoon Brewing
Sandy Springs, Georgia
They recently won a Gold in the U.S. Open for their rendition. It has a good body with nice roasted character and hints of chocolate.

Black is Beautiful: Gold Edition by The Answer Brewpub
Richmond, Virginia
The Answer was so creative. They used Rwandan coffee from a local, Black-owned company and blended it with vanilla beans, cacao nibs, gold flakes, and glitter. 

Black is Beautiful by Claimstake Brewing
Rancho Cordova, California
This one is near and dear to my heart. They did a mega-collaboration with multiple breweries in the Sacramento region and featured my pops on the can.

Black is Beautiful by Weathered Souls Brewing
San Antonio, Texas
We chose the stylistic approach of a stout because it can vary from a milk chocolate brown to abysmal black and that aligns with different hues of people of color.

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Jess Mayhugh is a Cities Editor for Thrillist, who loves the Black is Beautiful version done by Jailbreak Brewing—a Russian imperial stout with flavors of chocolate, dark raisin, and bitter coffee—which benefits Black Lives Matter DC and Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle in Baltimore.