Jersey Brewers Band Together for “Black is Beautiful” Beer Collaboration

With nearly 900 participating breweries, the collaborative effort aims to raise awareness for the injustices people of color face daily. Denise Ford-Sawadogo of Montclair Brewery explains the beer's importance.

As of this morning, 883 breweries in 50 states and 15 countries are participating in the Black is Beautiful beer collaboration started by Marcus J. Baskerville of Weathered Souls Brewing Co. in San Antonio. As with similar efforts—All Together (for Covid-19 relief), Women’s Brew Day—Black is Beautiful is a beer-brewing effort intended to draw attention to a specific issue, with breweries using the same recipe.

Baskerville began “Black is Beautiful” in the wake of the May 25 killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests that ensued. Baskerville wanted to use his own skill set and the resources of the brewing community to address “the injustices people of color face daily.” Beers brewed with the Black is Beautiful recipe are intended to “raise funds for police brutality reform and legal defenses for those who have been wronged.”

The Black is Beautiful beer style is especially meaningful: the recipe is an imperial stout developed, according to Weathered Souls, “to highlight the different hues and shades of black,” with roasted barley, chocolate rye malt, dark chocolate malt, and caramel malts and flaked oats (among other ingredients). Breweries, of course, are encouraged to put “their own twist” on the recipe. They’re also asked to donate proceeds from the sale of the beer to the relevant charity of their choice.

Among New Jersey’s current 23 participating breweries is Montclair Brewery, Montclair’s first microbrewery, and one of the state’s few black-owned breweries. We spoke to owner Denise Ford-Sawadogo—who owns the brewer with her husband, head brewer Leo Sawadogo—last February when they put out their Black History Month beer series. Below, we asked about what kind of spin they’re putting on their Black is Beautiful stout.

Montclair Brewery’s Denise Ford-Sawadogo and Leo Sawadogo enjoying a socially distant beer. Photo courtesy of Montclair Brewery

Table Hopping: You started brewing Black is Beautiful on Friday, June 19?
Denise Ford-Sawadogo: My husband is brewing it right now! Brewing is an all-day process. He starts in the morning. Maybe 9am and he’s finished maybe 5 or 5:30pm.

TH: When can we expect it to see it at the brewery or on retail shelves?
DFS: I would say maybe the first week in July, potentially? It may have to sit for two to three weeks.

TH: The recipe encourages breweries to put their own spin on the beer. Are you?
DFS: We are tweaking the recipe, we’re putting our little unique twist on it—we’re putting some Baobab fruit in it.

TH: You had a “Baobomb Sour” when we last spoke. How do you use Baobob in a stout?
DFS: [Leo] is experimenting. It’s a dry fruit. It’s actually one of the only fruits that can grow dry, powdery. Back in the parts of Africa where it’s grown, they use it to make a lot of drinks. Sometimes they even take the inside of the fruit and compact it and make it into what we would call, like, fruit sticks.

TH: How would you describe the flavor?
DFS: It’s tart and sweet…It’s hard to compare it to anything else. We thought about some other things, but we do a lot of stouts already. We’ve got an Alpine Chocolate Raspberry Stout, we’ve had a Peanut Butter Stout. We have our Coconut Stout. So there’s a lot of things we’ve already done! It’ll put a nice different, lighter twist to a traditionally dark, heavy beer.

TH: Part of the initiative is donating proceeds to a relevant charity. Have you guys settled on where you’ll donate proceeds?
DFS: We’re leaning toward donating to Black Livers Matter. We haven’t fully decided yet, but most likely that would be the one we donate to. We’re actually thinking we’ll do it a little differently than other beer collaborations. We just finished up the All Together collaboration, we did the women’s collaboration. We’re actually planning on having this all year round. When it’s year-round, we’ll be able to give a portion to charity all year. This is more than a one-time thing. When this batch is done, we’re going to brew another batch. Some issues were like, a point in time, but this issue is important. This needs continual help. So we’ll brew it until we no longer need it!

TH: Speaking of “until we no longer need it,” in a broad sense, what does more inclusiveness look like for you in the brewing world? Are there ways beyond this beer collaboration to encourage it?
DFS: We’re members of the National Brewer’s Association, and there are initiatives to increase diversity within the craft beer world. So whatever we can do to help with that, we’re there. I know there are a lot of other things that got cancelled because of the coronavirus. There’s Fresh Fest (see below), the black beer festival that would’ve happened [in person] in August, that highlights black breweries, other breweries that have done collaborations with black breweries.

TH: Once the beer is ready, where can folks expect to find it?
DFS: We always said we didn’t want to go more than a 30-minute drive, but we broke that! We have it in Asbury Park, at Watermark. We’re mostly in North Jersey: Fairchilds in Roseland, Amanti Vino in Montclair and Morristown, Townhouse Wine and Spirits in Montclair, at ShopRite Beer and Liquor in Wellington.

TH: And you said you’ll keep it year-round, so Leo will be making more? Does he ever take a vacation?
DFS: He’s there seven days a week. Two weeks ago, I think he took off one day, one week, and one day the other week to go fishing. I didn’t say anything. He deserves it—go ahead!

A full, continually updated list of New Jersey breweries participating in Black is Beautiful can be found here. You can check back in with Montclair Brewery via their social media or phone to see when the beer is available for curbside pick-up or some actual outdoor sipping!

Fresh Fest 2020 isn’t cancelled but has gone digital—with online events on August 8 and tickets available online.

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