Within the past several years, the craft beer industry has flourished. It’s produced a plethora of styles and has become a lot more accessible in bars, restaurants, and even airlines. But when it comes to the people who actually own the breweries, who produce the plethora of sours, pilsners, IPAs, stouts and other varietals, we’re not seeing the same amount of diversity. African Americans own roughly one percent of the independent breweries throughout the US.
But there is progress. Every year, more Black brewers enter the market. So I reached out to a few Black brewery owners who are working on founding their own sites, to hear how they went from homebrewing to actually selling their beer. I asked them to share their future plans, and give us their thoughts on the industry as a whole. I also talked with burgeoning Black beer festival Fresh Fest co-founder Mike Potter, whose mission is to showcase the ales and lagers brewed by Black breweries for thousands to experience.
Hibiscus and contract brewing: Sankofa
Let’s start with Sankofa, located in our nation’s capital. Founders Kofi Meroe and Amado Carksy—childhood friends who were raised a good part of their lives in Nigeria, Ghana, and Benin collectively, before settling in Washington DC—became enthralled with ales and lagers during what they termed the “craft beer renaissance of the mid 2000's.” From there, they began homebrewing in a small, one-bedroom apartment in Northwest DC, infusing their creations with ingredients from West Africa. Eventually, the duo realized they were on to something. Collaborating with a nanobrewery to produce their first beer, contract brewing—where a brewery with a higher capacity produces and packages another brewing company’s product—became their way into the business.
“Our Hibiscus Pale Ale recipe caught the attention of a brewery in DC [Public Option] who allowed us to brew it on their system,” Meroe says. “We celebrated the occasion with a launch party and that was pretty much the start of Sankofa. We felt not only did we have good recipes, but we were bringing a diverse perspective on craft beer culture that we found resonates with a lot of people from all backgrounds.”
From there, Sankofa used contract brewing and crowdfunding to make their beer company official, but not without much contemplation.
“We settled on a contract brewing model to further explore the potential success of the Sankofa Beer brand,” Meroe says. “Funding was also a big part of our decision, but we were able to run a successful Kickstarter campaign that really set the foundation for everything we've done over the last year and a half.” Meroe and Carsky are leaning towards opening a taproom and future collaborations to further develop the Sankofa brand.