How Hippin’ Hops Has Changed the Landscape for Black Breweries
Clarence Boston is building an empire in Georgia, and keeping the door open behind him.
The scene at Hippin’ Hops—Georgia’s first Black-owned, brick-and-mortar brewery—looks a lot like a family prepping for a barbecue.
An eclectic mix of ’80s rock, ’90s hip-hop, and classic soul plays over the speakers in East Atlanta Village. Co-owner Clarence Boston is checking on the boil of one his latest brews in the back, general manager Jermaine “Sweets” Abdullah is shucking fresh oysters, head brewer Kevin Blodger is perfecting the carbonation of all the taps, executive chef Derricia Snow is prepping for her famous lobster roll, and a trio of servers are setting up the dining area and beer garden.
This has been the vibe since the brewery first opened in April 2021, drawing in one of the most racially diverse customer bases in Georgia’s capital city. That same crowd also patronizes the second Hippin’ Hops, which opened this past spring in the neighboring town of East Lake. The third and largest location—housing a 15-barrel brewhouse with 30-barrel fermenters—is two months from opening in Stone Mountain, a suburb 30 minutes outside of Atlanta.
With all this development, it’s clear that Boston and his wife and co-founder, Donnica, have proudly taken the reins, trailblazing Black entrepreneurship in Georgia’s brewing scene and setting the tone for the industry nationwide. And it’s only the beginning.
Originally from Reidsville, North Carolina, Boston initially created financial success as a mortician and co-owner of funeral homes. He also opened two restaurants and a cigar bar in the Charlotte area. Although all his businesses were lucrative, there were still more aspirations in other industries that needed to be addressed.
“My grandmother used to make her own wine and that was truly an inspiration,” Boston says. “But I have always been a beer guy, so I decided to dabble in homebrewing back when I was 22. It became a hobby for more than 15 years until I decided to get serious and open my own brewery in Charlotte.”
In 2018, Boston and Donnica incorporated Hippin’ Hops Brewery in the state of North Carolina, but the frustration of finding the perfect location for the concept led to looking elsewhere. They considered one of their favorite cities: Atlanta.
“I always loved the eclectic, bohemian vibe of East Atlanta Village,” Boston says. “And then there it was, our vision for the size and placement of the first Hippin’ Hops was across the street from where I would regularly grab a bite in the neighborhood. It made even more sense when I found out Georgia never had a Black-owned, brick-and-mortar brewery. I was completely shocked. It was truly a sign and I saw the green light.”
Granted, there were other Black brewing companies in town, including Down Home, which has been distributing beer via contract brewing since 2010. More recently, Grammy-nominated rap group Nappy Roots opened the doors of Atlantucky Brewing in February 2022.
“More and more Black brewers have seen what we have done and utilize it as momentum to push forward with establishing their own craft breweries nationwide,” Boston says. “When we got in the game, we seriously thought there were a lot more. That’s not the case and it’s time to change that.”
The numbers from the Brewers Association are still alarming, reporting that Black-owned breweries only account for under one percent of all craft breweries throughout the U.S. In addition to lack of exposure, product placement, and previous work experience provided to Black communities, Boston simply states, “it’s basically the lack of funding and resources.”
Luckily for the Bostons, their success in the funeral business—plus owning two real estate acquisition companies and three restaurants in Charlotte—helped propel them over these major obstacles and realize their goals of ownership in the brewing world.
Currently, the brewery’s Baby Mama Drama tropical IPA, I Got The Keys key lime pale ale, and So Peachy peach cobbler sour successfully lead the beer portfolio. The company has also been strategic—releasing two hard seltzers, getting into the distilling game, and spearheading beer collaborations with other Black breweries and burgeoning lifestyle brand Draught Season.
Plus, they decided that food would not take a background role, with Snow serving as executive chef at all three locations. The East Village spot features New Orleans-themed seafood including fresh oysters, po’boys and gator bites. The second in East Lake offers elevated pub grub like cheesesteaks, fried fish, and gouda mac and cheese. The third and largest location based in Stone Mountain, which ironically is a former funeral home, is slated to open its doors to an 11,000-square-foot property this August and feature a menu of soul food.
“There are a lot of minority businesses opening soon virtually on the same street as our third Hippin’ Hops,” Boston says. “We want to be a major part of that movement and resurgence.”
And if establishing three locations within two years accompanied by the numerous other business ventures wasn’t enough, Boston gave the strong impression that he’s just getting started. The spirits industry needs more representation from people who look like him, so that’s next on his agenda in a major way.
“My plan for the future is to become a national Black beer and spirits brand sold in all 50 states with a lot of recognition for my efforts coming along with the journey,” he says. “That way, my people see it can be done.”
Staying true to his word, Boston flew to France and Mexico to land deals with a cognac and tequila distillery, respectively, which included import permits to legalize sales of what he produces overseas in the U.S. The results from his excursions boast a quintet of Hip Hop Distillery bottled spirits he is currently selling in North Carolina. With so much immediate success in his home state, the next phase will be selling his spirits in Georgia and beyond.
But for now, Boston has to open his brewery in East Atlanta Village for the day. As soon as the neon “open” sign flickers on, he pulls the tap handle of this newest creation in a pint glass, the Space Program IPA, crowned with a perfect head. He takes a sip and gives a thumbs up, just as Mike Potter—owner of the Black Brew Culture lifestyle brand and Proximity Brewing—walks in. The two of them chat about plans for the global beer festival Blacktoberfest, which will take place at the Stone Mountain location this October.
“This will be the first Black beer festival in the history of the city,” Boston proclaims. “But, of course, everyone is welcome.”