Beer Festival to Open Craft Brewing Doors for People of Color

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When it comes to beer, Jamal Robinson said New England Brewing Company’s Sea Hag is a longtime favorite.

“Really classic, awesome balanced IPA,” Robinson said.  

The sales director for New England Brewing Company is passionate about beer and diversifying the industry. So last year during the social justice movement sweeping the country, they came up with “Change in the Air,” a hazy IPA collaboration with Dockside Brewery and Karim Kallon from Best Friend Lunch Brewery. It was released on Juneteenth.

“We were trying to find something that felt symbolic, that was direct but also in a beer way, it was something that connected all of the vibes,” Robinson said. “It was kind of like, imagine Juneteenth, finding out you’re free for the first time and taking that first breath of fresh air. And it was like this cool way to symbolize that while being in a beer at the same time.”

Kallon came up with the name and the idea stuck. On Saturday, the Change in the Air Festival will open the doors of craft beer to diversify who’s picking up a pint.

“To try and diversify the beer industry as a whole but also diversify who’s drinking beer, right?” Robinson said. “And to do that, it means we could throw a festival. And if throwing a festival means making something that feels more inclusive to people of color, it needs to be designed intentionally for that.”

Alisa Mercado is the founder and owner of Rhythm Brewing Company and is on the festival planning committee.

“It’s going to be a day of just food, music, culture, art all coming together,” Mercado said.

She’s the first Black brewery owner in the state and she doesn’t want to be the last. She said the beer industry makes $114 billion a year. Black owners and women only earn one half of one percent.

“There’s a need for more diversity and interaction in the tap rooms, sales, marketing, ownership,” Mercado said. “There’s a lot of room for more people of color here and that’s why it’s important we highlight and continue the conversation.”

The Change in the Air Festival will feature 22 local breweries serving tastes of their creations, introducing craft beers and industry opportunities to people of color.

The event is a fundraiser for the African American Brewers Scholarship at Sacred Heart University. The program and the scholarship were created by the Connecticut Brewers Guild.

“Someone who’s leaving high school and looking at the trades in manufacturing, or brewing, or tap room management, or entrepreneurship that’s involved through craft beer, that’s available. And we want that to be available for anyone and everyone,” said Phil Pappas, the executive director of the Connecticut Brewers Guild.

He said the change in the air they want to achieve is extremely needed right now, pointing out the “industry has been dominated by white men. It’s a space that’s all about creation, it’s all about collaboration, it’s all about working together,” Pappas said.

There were only 11 breweries in the state before 2012, now there are 123 with at least eight more on the way. Kallon and his Best Friend Lunch is working toward growth. He’s the first recipient of the African American Brewers Scholarship.  

“We want individuals to have a full ride when they get into the brewing scholarship,” Mercado said.

On Saturday, New England Brewing Company will release their Black is Beautiful stout.

“We last year brewed that beer, put it Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels and maple barrels for a year, and then we finished it on vanilla and cocoa,” said Robinson.

It was a national recipe released for breweries across the country last year during the social justice movement. Now that it’s ready, all proceeds from Black is Beautiful will also go toward the African American Brewers Scholarship.

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