When George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer in May of 2020, a shockwave reverberated around the world. Marcus Baskerville, head brewer and founder of Weathered Souls Brewing Co., felt its effects all the way down in San Antonio, Texas, and felt called to action as a Black business owner.
Inspired in part by the success that Brooklyn’s Other Half Brewing had found with their All Together IPA COVID-relief collaboration beer, Baskerville laid the groundwork for a new mass-collaboration beer that would celebrate Blackness and raise funds for local foundations that support police brutality reform and legal defenses for those who have been wronged. He developed an imperial stout recipe, a label design, and a pricing partnership with a label creator for the project he called “Black is Beautiful.”
The initiative became a runaway success. Baskerville says that the website he set up to keep tabs on participants hasn’t been updated in months. And yet, 1,207 breweries across 50 states and 22 countries have brewed a beer for the initiative, and while the All Together IPA seems like a distant memory, Black is Beautiful releases are still happening. Businesses are still joining in on the initiative, with many resting the stout in barrels for upcoming releases.
After all, there is still so much more work to do to combat racial injustice and police brutality against people of color.
We spoke with Baskerville about how the Black is Beautiful initiative has gone these past nine months and how the initiative has had positive (and surprising) impacts on Baskerville and his brewery.
Louis Livingston-Garcia: I interviewed you back when the Black is Beautiful initiative began and now it’s nine months later. I was wondering what your thoughts are on the success or the reach of the initiative.
Marcus Baskerville: We definitely never anticipated the amount of support that was shown. I mean, you look at the amount of support and assistance still behind this, like the recent retail thing with Walmart [Weathered Souls’ Black is Beautiful stout will be in nearly 300 Walmart stores nationwide through this month and will be in available in Texas Walmart stores year-round]. We’ve had other retail places like Trader Joe’s and Target reach out to us about the product. So, to be able to see it still be able to maintain a max level of people who are supporting it, it’s definitely amazing.
In addition to those big stores reaching out, what have been some other surprises?
Do you know how many breweries ultimately signed up for the initiative and how much money they’ve raised?
MB: I don’t know the last time [the website] has been updated. I know we’re a little bit over the 1,200 mark at this point. But I would have to actually go through and try to calculate.
We have tried to reach out to everybody that is involved; we sent out a survey and we’ve had about, I want to say a little over 300 responses to the survey. And even then, it was the over, I think $1.7 million total. I haven’t been able to get a grand total because everybody has not responded.
What do you think of that number?
MB: I mean, just to be able to see that amount of money involved with that small of an amount [of participants]. I mean, once we get 1,200 responses, the actual amount that has been given is going to reach the millions. And to see that come from the brewing industry in support of social justice reform, I mean, I can’t help but be completely humbled and amazed by that. We look at the different things that the brewing industry has done, and we can’t say that there’s been any other service industry that has put this much type of effort into social justice reform.
How has the initiative affected the brewery? I’m guessing a lot more people know of the brewery now, and I’m sure it’s opened up other opportunities.
MB: It definitely has increased the notoriety of the brewery. At this point, we’re almost world-renowned in the sense that people know who we are [Editor’s Note: Acquaintances in the New Zealand beer industry that our writer met during a recent trip the country had heard of the initiative almost immediately]. I got the invitation to join the Brewers Association board of directors recently. The Texas Craft Brewers Guild, I’m a board member on there as well. I just got done helping and assisting them with creating a diversity committee within their actual board of directors, so that was interesting. I think based on what Black is Beautiful has done, it’s definitely brought [in] people who never knew about us. Even locally.
I found that I had relatives in the same city as me, that I never even knew I had, and it ended up being one of my dad’s first cousins. Yeah, I mean, it’s crazy that some of the things Black is Beautiful has done, where somebody has seen a newscast all the way in Virginia about it, and they said, ‘Hey did you know that there’s a Baskerville in San Antonio?’ And they were like, ‘No,’ and so they ended up reaching out. And I have this book that is based on our family history and they were in the book. Being able to see things like that, just be able to have new family based off of it.
To do a 180, have there been things you’ve been kind of disappointed in with the initiative?
MB: No. I could never have expected the initiative to get as far. So there definitely hasn’t been anything as far as disappointment. I think now, looking a year back, there are a couple of different things that I would have done to try to push these initiatives more. But definitely not anything that I have been disappointed in, as far as what has happened with the actual initiative itself.
I know plenty of breweries have their Black is Beautiful stout resting in barrels and plan on future releases and I’m sure you probably have done that too. Aside from more beer, more spirits, and other things coming out, what are the future plans for the initiative?
MB: The goal for the initiative right now is definitely to continue pushing the message, and then trying to create partnerships with other entities outside of beer. So, trying to work with other partners involved in the service industries. Because you look at it, and you know, as far as Black is Beautiful goes, yes, obviously, the statement there but it doesn’t have to stop at beer. Just continue to push along that message and hopefully try to partner with some more service industries that will try pushing the actual involvement within their own community as well.
You’ve had a busy year.
MB: Since the initiative started, the work hasn’t stopped. We’re still doing interviews; I was just on the cover of San Antonio Magazine. We’re just continuing to push the message and hopefully continue to see it grow over the course of time.
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