Liquid Protest

Can you fight systemic racism with beer? These five Ontario craft breweries are doing just that.

Tara Rafiq photo illustration

Black Lives Matter.

Those are the three words that have been at the top of our minds since that day on May 25th of this year when George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Or on April 6th when D’Andre Campbell was tasered and shot dead by police in his Brampton home after he had called them for help. Or on August 9, 2014 when Michael Brown was shot dead by police in Ferguson, Missouri. The sad truth is that while the Black Lives Matter movement has only been around since the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer in 2013, the idea surrounding those words— which is simply that Black lives matter—has been advanced by Black people in our systemically racist society for much longer. What makes this year different is that more people and institutions, from universities to craft breweries, are finally listening.

While the protests went on all over the world many Ontario breweries took to social media, speaking out publicly against systemic racism, or joining in on the Black is Beautiful collaboration project started by Texas brewery, Weathered Souls. The project asks breweries to make an imperial stout and donate all of the proceeds to a local
organization that supports police reform, or equality and inclusion.

While these actions are noble, is simply saying “We’re with you,” enough?

To quote the late great Malcolm X on allyship, “By visibly hovering near us, they are ‘proving’ that they are ‘with us.’ But the hard truth is this isn’t helping to solve America’s racist problem. Where the really sincere white people have got to do their ‘proving’ of themselves is not among the Black victims, but out on the battle lines of where America’s racism really is—and that’s in their home communities.”

The message couldn’t be clearer. for Canadians as well. For progress to be made, breweries can’t just post a black square—they’ve got to take long-term, unprompted action in their own communities.

Here are five Ontario craft breweries that are supporting the movement for change in their own backyards:

Some craft brewers are working with Black and Indigenous chefs and artists on beers, artwork and more, like this beer from Counterpoint and Chef Teneile Warren. Supplied photo

Counterpoint Brewing, Kitchener

Supporting the BIPOC community means lifting up and celebrating its members and that’s what Counterpoint Brewing is doing with the recent launch of its Diversity and Inclusion series of beers. The series, which features beers created by local BIPOC culinary experts and artists, will highlight how diversity improves our communities.

The first beer in the series was One Drop, a saison brewed with tamarind, ginger and clove. It was created with Chef Teneile Warren, owner of Nyam Revival Kitchen and Aaron Francis, founder and curator of Vintage Black Canada, a project chronicling the history of the African Diaspora in Canada. The Diversity and Inclusion series is still in its infancy, but Counterpoint already has plans to do more than just highlight community members. The possibility of forming or contributing to a scholarship fund are currently being discussed.

Dominion City Brewing, Ottawa

Since opening in 2014, the folks over at Dominion City have always spoken their minds. They’re known as much for their fierce loyalty to local businesses and outspoken political views as they are for their incredible beer. So, when it came to putting their money where their mouth was, they took action, setting up the Dominion City Beer.Diversity.Scholarship in April 2019. Founded in partnership with Niagara College and Ren Navarro, founder of Beer.Diversity, the scholarship is an annual bursary and paid internship for brewing students from the Niagara College Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management Program who are presently underrepresented in Ontario’s craft beer industry.

In June 2020, the brewery teamed up with Navarro to provide seed funding to establish the Canadian Brewery Inclusion Toolkit. It will be a resource of licensed materials and training, created by Beer.Diversity, to empower breweries with the tools to institutionalize and cultivate stronger, more diverse and inclusive businesses.

Grain & Grit Beer, Hamilton

When the pandemic hit, Grain & Grit switched up its popular brewery trivia night to an online version. Held every Thursday, it’s hugely popular among locals. Once a month the brewery initiates a donate-what-you-can entry fee for the trivia night to raise money and awareness a local charity that supports BIPOC communities. Charities so far have included the Garden Project, the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre, and the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion.

MERIT Brewing, Hamilton

Right from the start MERIT Brewing’s owners Tej Sandhu and Aaron Spinney vowed to make their community stronger. From their ongoing commitment to preparing meals for the women in the YWCA Hamilton shelter, to their unabashed support of LGBTQ+ causes, they’re raising the bar for breweries all over the province.

Earlier this year, MERIT set the benchmark even higher by teaming up with Ren Navarro on More Than, a collaboration beer that benefited the Hamilton Centre For Civic Inclusion’s Black Youth Mentorship Program. The goal of the program is to provide black youth in high school with group sessions and mentorships to help them develop leadership and life skills. Topics included in the program are social justice, community mobilization tactics, communication strategies, political involvement, entrepreneurship, and Black identity and history. MERIT has also sponsored a talk by Ren Navarro for program participants.

Wellington’s Nothing Civil IPA can features a poem about Black Resistance by Truth Is… Supplied photo

Wellington Brewery, Guelph

Wellington has done a significant amount of work amplifying Black voices and fostering diversity in craft beer. Their latest efforts with Nothing Civil IPA, for example, have managed to both express anger at systemic racism and support the people devoted to dismantling it.

Nothing Civil IPA is a “liquid protest” brewed in collaboration with The Lacuna Collective made up of Poet and Wellington employee Truth Is…, Certified Beer Sommelier Lexi Pham, and Beer.Diversity founder Ren Navarro. The can art displays difficult imagery of guns held by white hands, symbols of an abusive and corrupt justice system, and Black hands breaking free from white chains. At the center of it all is a moving poem of Black resistance by Truth Is…

The initial batch of Nothing Civil sold out quickly but a much larger batch was recently brewed and will be available this November, with 100 per cent of the profits going towards Black Lives Matter Canada.

This story originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2020 issue of The Growler, out now! You can find Ontario’s favourite craft beer and cider guide at your local brewery, select retail stores, and by subscription here.

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