AK Babers, Nick Jack and Ken Noble are three friends who enjoy drinking craft beer together, which is a common refrain among Houstonians. But when they started going to the breweries around the city, they noticed they were different than most of their fellow customers as well as the people who poured their pints.
Babers, Jack and Noble are Black. They said craft beer culture in their hometown is predominantly white.
“It was always an uncomfortable feeling that I’m out of place,” Noble said. “That familiar face is what we were looking for, but that was not there. It’s not that they’re against us, but when you walk in there, it doesn’t seem like we were being marketed to.”
Their experience led Babers, Jack and Noble to start a company last year called Hop Topic World, which has a website (hoptopicworld.com) as well as a presence on social media (@hoptopicworld). They organize events at brewpubs and serve as cultural influencers, with the mission of exposing more people of color, along with women, to craft beer and helping the craft beer industry become more diverse and inclusive.
Their cause recently got a colossal catapult from a Black-owned brewpub in San Antonio, where an initiative to promote racial justice and equality quickly spread across the state, the country and even the world. Head brewer and co-founder Marcus Baskerville of Weathered Souls Brewing Co. made an imperial stout called “Black Is Beautiful,” with proceeds from beer sales going to a charity started by activist and former NFL player Colin Kaepernick, and he asked other craft breweries to collaborate by making their own version of the beer and donating their proceeds to similar organizations.
As of Wednesday, 1,001 breweries in all 50 states and 19 different countries had joined the effort, including seven breweries in the area: Astral Brewing, Eureka Heights Brew Co., Great Heights Brewing Company, Holler Brewing Co., Karbach Brewing Co., New Magnolia Brewing Co. and Urban South Brewery HTX.
“I think it’s a very beautiful thing,” Jack said. “It’s been exciting to see it and watch it grow.”
Hop Topic World partnered with Holler Brewing on its Black Is Beautiful beer, which followed the original recipe made public by Weathered Souls and will be released to the public on Saturday at the taproom in Sawyer Yards. John Holler, the owner of the local brewery, said all profits from to-go can sales will be donated to the Greater Houston Black Chamber of Commerce.
All of the participating breweries are using the same name and label for their creations, while adding their logos to the label, and some are putting their own spin on the Black Is Beautiful recipe per Baskerville’s suggestion. Urban South HTX, for example, made a batch with African coffee beans and vanilla beans, while Astral added chocolate to the Black Is Beautiful beer that it plans to sell in 22-ounce bottles within the next two weeks.
Dave Ohmer, the head brewer at Urban South HTX, said it sold all 1,680 cans of the imperial stout within about 24 hours after releasing it on July 9. That raised about $5,000 for Black Lives Matter: Houston, according to Ohmer, who said the brewery is in the process of making another, slightly different batch of Black Is Beautiful.
“I believe in the cause,” he said. “I believe it’s important.”
Eureka Heights co-owner Casey Motes said its Black Is Beautiful beer, which will soon be sold in 32-ounce cans, was made with its in-house English yeast and has a “softer” taste and lower alcohol content (8.5 percent) than the original recipe, which is 10 percent alcohol by volume. Motes said Eureka Heights’ proceeds from the beer will be donated to Restoring Justice, a local nonprofit dedicated to ending mass incarceration by providing legal, social and spiritual services to those accused of crimes.
Astral is donating its proceeds to the NAACP, according to head brewer Alex McDonald, who said he and co-owner Jose Ceja support the cause and the Weathered Souls brewery. McDonald said they are not selling Black Is Beautiful with the intention of attracting new customers, although that could end up being a welcome byproduct of the initiative.
The owners of Hop Topic World said they hope Black Is Beautiful will help local breweries become more inclusive. They also hope it will serve as a gateway to craft beer for people of color.
“I believe that this will introduce people to craft beer that have never had craft beer before,” Jack said. “This is maybe their first time going to any brewery, on the premise of supporting something, and they may find something that they really like.”