How Inglewood-Based Crowns & Hops is Blazing a Trail for BIPOC in Craft Beer

Everyone deserves a seat at this table.

Photo courtesy of Jason Flynn
Photo courtesy of Jason Flynn

The idea that eventually bloomed into Crowns & Hops Brewing Co was first planted more than six years ago, when co-founder Teo Hunter attended a major craft beer festival in Santa Barbara, California, and found himself the only Black attendee out of thousands and thousands of visitors. 

After calling co-founder Beny Ashburn to relay his experience, the two devised a plan: Teo would shoot content that would give viewers an unadulterated glimpse into the world of craft beer, one that, at that time, was woefully devoid of BIPOC representation.

According to Beny, “By the time we looked at the footage, it was clear that not only was Teo a natural because of how much he loved craft beer, but we were also encouraged by how receptive people were to hearing him say, “I am a Black person in craft beer.” We immediately decided that we had something here and it quickly became our mission to create a brand that showcases POC in the craft beer space.”

From there, the duo started their lifestyle brand Dope & Dank, with a focus on building community and creating safe spaces for BIPOC in craft beer. 

“We always knew we wanted to create our own products and open an eventual brick and mortar, but we wanted to start by building community first. Otherwise, we’d be no different than the other big brands using diverse audiences to push products,” Beny clarified.

The pair flew to Scotland to meet with BrewDog, a multinational brewery chain that’s disrupted the UK’s beer industry in a similar fashion—even temporarily holding the title of “World’s Strongest Beer” with their limited-release blond Belgian ale, The End of History, which clocked a staggering 55% ABV. Recognizing kindred spirits in Beny and Teo, BrewDog’s only question was “How can we help?” As a result, Beny and Teo became recipients of BrewDog’s development fund, which enabled them to launch Crowns & Hops Brewing Co.

Crowns & Hops

And the name Crowns & Hops is more than a catchy phrase that looks good on a t-shirt (although it certainly doesn’t hurt): it’s a reflection of the brand’s overarching ethos. As Teo said, “We wanted to remind people that they are royalty and deserving of the absolute best, which is why we have an “s” at the end of Crowns, because the crown is meant for everybody.”

The tagline “Own your crown” is meant to empower in a similar way. As Beny reflected, “We’re often put in situations where we’re the only ones, you know? And in the craft beer industry in particular, you find that to be the case. So walking into a brewery with your “Black people love beer” or “Brown people love beer” t-shirt, is one way to take stake in the industry and feel comfortable sitting at the bar, asking questions, and being that expert in something that you love.”

As Beny is quick to point out, the lack of inclusion in today’s craft beer industry is in direct contradiction with the history of the beverage. Egyptian hieroglyphics dating back more than 5,000 years record early experiments with fermentation, and during the United States’ era of enslavement, enslaved Africans were responsible for brewing the beer.

That’s why every Crowns & Hops release is intentionally crafted to showcase Black history and culture, from the flavors to the can art to each beer’s name. In honor of Black History Month, the two released a four-can series: HBCU Hazy IPA, Urban Queen Imperial Stout, Miles to Italy Italian Pilsner, and Royal Verses West Coast IPA. 

Talia Hunter
Photo courtesy of Talia Hunter

The HBCU Hazy IPA—now almost sold out— was especially personal for Beny and Teo, who both attended historically Black universities (Spelman for Beny and Howard for Teo) and credit their experiences there for priming them to navigate the craft beer industry.

“When you think about the audacity of being the only one in something, that’s something that HBCUs armor you for. They armor you for that moment that’s too tough, but you keep tenacity, grace, and show gratitude—all these things that we realized were so vital to us and in an industry that has the ability to include a concept, messaging, and philosophy as part of a phenomenal beverage, we felt compelled to do something that honored our background as HBCU alumni,” Teo said. 

The result is a fully-bodied, double dry-hopped “crushable juice bomb” with medium bitterness and aromas of stone fruit and mild pine that comes in at 7% ABV. Created in partnership with local Watts-based artist, Upendo, the can art is a vibrant ode to Black excellence and all of the leaders that HBCUs have contributed to our society, like newly elected Vice President Kamala Harris. They even released an HBCU IPA Spotify playlist in collaboration with DJ Trauma to enjoy long after you’ve finished their brews. 

Photo courtesy of Talia Hunter

For the last of their Black History Month releases, Crowns & Hops paid homage to legendary hip hop wordsmiths with their Royal Verses West Coast Double IPA. Brewed with Mosaic, Citra, and Strata hops, with floral aromas and notes of tropical fruit, Royal Verses is a mouth-tingling, hop-forward creation that clocks in at 8.7% ABV—just enough to take the edge off before you step to the mic. 

And through initiatives like 8 Trill Pils, the duo continues moving towards their encompassing goal of achieving racial equity and inclusion within the craft beer space. The initiative is not only a real-time case study that intends to provide actionable steps for creating opportunities for BIPOC-owned craft beer brands, but is walking the talk by investing capital and resources in such businesses. Through a $100,000 fund created in partnership with BrewDog, 8 Trill Pils was able to provide grants ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 to five Black-owned craft beer businesses in 2020.

After more than six years of building their brand, it seems that the world is beginning to take notice of what Beny and Teo have been brewing. Crowns & Hops was recently nominated in USA Today’s 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards for 2021 in the brand-new category of Best New Brewery. Though plans to open their Inglewood brewery—which will make its mark as the first Black-owned brewery in the neighborhood—were delayed due to the pandemic, this recent nomination is a testament to Beny and Teo’s growing influence in the craft beer industry. Voting ends on March 16, and winners will be announced on 10Best on Friday, March 26. (Pro-tip: You can vote once a day through the end of the contest.) Regardless of the outcome, we don’t doubt that Beny and Teo will continue proudly sporting their crowns either way.

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Danielle Dorsey is the Los Angeles Editor at Thrillist.