Peace, love, beer. This is the message Hackensack Brewing Company wanted to share with their community. With a taproom decked out in string lights and local music memorabilia as well as offering several unique craft beer flavors, the intention was to simply bring people together and have a good time.
There are over 100 craft beer breweries in New Jersey and Hackensack Brewing Company sits as just one of three Black-owned breweries in the state. This alarming disparity in brewery ownership also translates across the country. According to a survey done by the Brewers Association, 88% of brewery owners in the U.S. are white while just 1% are Black.
Herbert Barr and Mike Jones are the two main operators of the brewery. As a person of color, Barr never really considered his decision to open Hackensack Brewing Company a groundbreaking feat, but he does remember the day he got the keys to the building.
“It’s definitely a fear of being first,” Barr said. “I’m sure the first guy that walked on the moon didn’t think he could do it until he put his foot down on the moon. That was a feeling I had the day the four of us sat down and signed the paperwork.”
Minority groups often have trouble getting approved for loans to start their own businesses compared to white entrepreneurs. There are several reasons for this and the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic seemed to only add salt to the wound.
In 2018, only 31% of Black-owned businesses received all of the funding they applied for according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Manveer Mann, a business professor at Montclair State University, explained how a low credit score or poor education could contribute to this growing problem.
“If you’re an entrepreneur, one of the main things you need is access to capital,” Mann said. “They might not have a credit score, or they might have a lower credit score than their white counterparts.”
Besides low finances, marketing has also discouraged many people of color from entering the craft beer industry. In the late 1960s, many large beer companies began advertising to young white males while malt liquor targeted African American customers.
With advertisers’ heavy emphasis on malt liquor, their higher alcohol content and cheaper prices, many people of color became attracted to popular brands like Colt 45, Country Club and Champale. Malt liquor companies even recruited celebrities like The Commodores and Snoop Dogg to sell their product.
“It was this aggressive marketing tactic that was done towards them and ignored all the offensive stereotyping they were doing,” Mann said.
As a longtime resident of Hackensack, Barr wanted Hackensack Brewing Company to become integrated with the community. Barr sometimes recalls a tense shift in the atmosphere when walking into other breweries and remembers an uncomfortable feeling. One of his goals was to make sure that everyone that walked through his front doors felt welcomed, no matter their race, background or sexual orientation.
“It’s a melting pot of everybody right now and I think when you look around our taproom, it represents the neighborhood,” Barr said.
Barr and Jones’ friendship started while living in the same apartment building. Jones is head brewer and has been experimenting with beer flavors for over 10 years, which left Barr as the honorary taste tester. Hackensack Brewing Company prides itself in its wide range of beer styles like saisons, IPAs, fruity beers, beers with milk sugars and more.
One famous beer called “Parking Lot Pilz” is a light and clean, easy-drinking beer with the perfect amount of foam and also my personal favorite.
“The name is kind of a reference and ode to the tailgating culture we grew up with in this area,” Jones said. “We wanted to make a beer that you could crush in a parking lot before a game or a concert.”
Even in the most unsuspecting places like a craft beer taproom, underlying tones of racial discrimination are being revealed. But places like Bronx Brewery, which is a prominent voice known for its focus on diversity and equity in the industry, are starting to offer internships and apprenticeships to young people looking to get involved.
“We want to be role models for anybody out there that wants to start a brewery and anybody who thinks that I can’t do this,” Barr said. “All of this starts with just being out with your family and your friends and enjoying a beer.”
A hopeful road lies ahead and in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Fresh Fest Beer Fest is an annual beer festival geared towards increasing diversity in the industry. Hackensack Brewing Company is proof that anything can be accomplished with a lifelong friendship, a dream and a passion for beer.