Meet Celeste Beatty, the first Black female brewery owner in the US celebrating African heritage with her beers

November 20, 2019 at 12:30 pm | The Black Agenda, Women

Mohammed Awal

Mohammed Awal

November 20, 2019 at 12:30 pm | The Black Agenda, Women

Credit: Gabriella Angotti-Jones for The New York Times

Celeste Beatty founded the Harlem Brewing Company in 2000, making her the first Black female brewery owner in the United States.

The early beers were made with a homebrew kit, Beatty received as a gift that sat in the closet for several weeks.

She and her team kept on brewing it, never giving up on trying to perfect their recipes and today, they create artistic and intuitive beers inspired by the timeless rich history of Harlem and ancient traditions, whether experimenting with new styles and ingredients on their Pico Brew Zymatic or brewing up beers with natural yeasts during Harlem Brewdio sessions. 

Credit: harlembrewing.com

Beatty continues to celebrate this heritage in all of her beers. Each one highlights amazing stories whether their flagship Sugar Hill Golden Ale, Renaissance Wit, and 125 IPA. 

Harlem Brewing has more than 18 years of history and brewing tradition. Harlem born and raised, it’s unique because of its refreshing layers of unusual flavors and more importantly because of its passion for its Harlem heritage and flavorful recipes. 

That resulted in the People’s Champ Award for Best Brews NYC and Best Beer at Beer and Bacon. 

Beatty is doing more than celebrating Harlem and African heritage, her presence in the industry represents a revolution in craft-brewing. Speaking to the Insider, she estimates that African Americans own less than 1% of all US craft breweries.

Credit: harlembrewing.com

Also according to surveys, African Americans made up only 10% of weekly craft-beer drinkers in 2016 – the low numbers are believed to be as a result of the long history of discrimination in the alcohol industry in the US.

Laws were passed across the several Southern States from the late 1700s to the late 1800s that forbade retailers to give, sell, or deliver alcohol to any enslaved or free African Americans and in the 1920s and ’30s, white Southern prohibitionists claimed that: “Liquor gave Negroes the strength to repudiate their inferior status and that it also encouraged them to attack white women. Therefore, it was imperative that it should be denied them” despite Blacks known to be brewers since millennia.

“Even though we brought our traditions from Africa, and we brewed beer for Thomas Jefferson and various people that enslaved us, we were never able to actually open the brewery, we were never able to actually be the entrepreneurs early on. 

“So, there is no tradition of owning breweries, of owning bars, because of that discrimination. And I don’t know if I would say the discrimination continues that blatantly today, but I think the biggest barriers is the lack of capital. We just don’t have it,” Beatty tells Insider earlier this year.

Beatty represents a huge revolution in the industry beyond her blackness and projecting African heritage with every beer flavor profile.

“We’re looking for ways to celebrate the positive developments while acknowledging the dark days,” she says. “There are so many different people coming to these grounds and not just enjoying the beer, but reflecting on that history—and then forging a new history together.”

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