With conversations within the Black community turning towards saving, investing, and ultimately creating generational wealth, more families are exploring avenues to make the Black dollar even more powerful than it is today. African Americans currently hold the largest buying power of any ethnic demographic, and when those dollars are placed back into our communities and investment accounts, it means more opportunity to carve out a promising future for ourselves and generations to come.
More frequently, many are turning towards models our white counterparts use to generate income for their offspring. With the rise of gentrification in Richmond, VA and beyond, the Black community becomes more privy to the blueprints whites use to keep family names prosperous. From business ventures to investment opportunities, we see that financial stability is possible, and we even possess the creativity to carve out a lane of our own. And while Black-owned boutiques, coffee shops, and restaurants remain a staple in the Richmond community, one industry in which we’ve yet to leave a footprint—both as consumers and stakeholders—is the craft beer industry.
According to the Brewers Association, the craft beer industry is worth a whopping $23.5 billion. Unfortunately, of that number, the African American community makes up only 3%, and that’s with our ownership and consumer base combined. There’s money to be made in this industry, and though it’s seemingly a “white boys club,” there are a few Black pioneers who have broken into this space and excelled as brewmasters.
One of the more notable pioneers is Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at the Brooklyn Brewery for nearly 23 years. Known as the “Godfather” of good beer, Oliver is world-renowned for both his innovation and impeccable taste in craft beer. For a long while, he was one of the only representations of Black America in the industry, but he’s far from a “token;” he’s a studied expert, and travels internationally to consult and instruct brewers.
Here in Richmond, however, there’s work to be done to introduce the Black community to the booming craft beer industry. The city has rich history of beer making and selling, and as the city continues to evolve, so do the options for lovers of craft beer. But where does our community come in?
Broderick Thomas, Founder of Bruhz & Brewz, an organization that introduces African Americans to the robust craft beer scene, believes that there’s a piece of the billion-dollar pie for Richmond’s Black community. After noticing trends during a night out with a few other Black professionals, Thomas knew he had to start an organization that introduced the high-end experience of craft beer consumption.
“Two or three years ago, some gentlemen and I were out celebrating and ordered shots of Johnny Walker Blue, which sold for $45 a shot,” he recalls. “Immediately after the shot, one friend turned around to the bartender and ordered a $3 beer.”
For Thomas, this was an oxymoron. High-end liquor with cheap beer? For him, it was a no-brainer: if you appreciate quality, it should be reflected in every aspect of life—right down to the beer you drink.
This began his quest to introduce his peers to the beauty of quality craft beer, and to take it a step further, it sparked an interest in learning how he could get in on such a lucrative business. As you can imagine, though, breaking into the industry is no walk in the proverbial park. It requires lots of money, backing, know-how, expertise, attorneys, a brewer—the list goes on. In fact, to open up a brewery, the equipment itself can cost well over $100,000. Knowing this, it’s no surprise that it’s known as a “white boys club”; statistically speaking, our white counterparts are more likely to have the disposable income to invest in such a risky business.
The business is so risky in fact, that even the iconic Garrett Oliver jokes that “a career in beer will make you poor—but happy.” He notes that even today, everyone who gets into craft beer didn’t plan for it, and instead considers it “a story of a diverted life plan.” What comes next is the undying love for the craft, the people, the journey, and the constant quest to brew the perfect unique beer. And ultimately, that quest leads to a booming 23.5 billion-dollar industry with breweries worldwide.
So, how do we get in on it, knowing the expense and the risk?
Thomas believes that there’s power in numbers.
“It’s not a stretch to think that a Black American has $100-200,000 to invest. With Bruhz & Brewz, I’m hoping to develop our monthly meet-ups into investor groups, where we can pool our resources and make something happen. But first, it’s all about interest. That’s why I created this. I’m introducing the craft beer experience to our people so that we can be more than consumers. We’ve got to be in on the business side.”
With the Black community’s creativity and trend-setting abilities, our contribution to the industry would be unparalleled. Knowing this, what would happen when we combine those skills with business acumen?
The answer: We have the potential to become the best of the best.