While the historically white craft beer industry has made strides in recent years by welcoming women into the ranks of stock owners, beer still has a long way to go in terms of racial diversity. But in Pennsylvania, a hurdle has been overcome because Harris Family Brewery have just successfully raised money for their GoFundMe.
“I have to take medicine to lower my blood pressure,” says Tim White, one of the brewery’s three passionate owners. “It was dry for months. Then this week it took off.
When it opens, Harris Family Brewery will be the first 100% black-owned brewery in Pennsylvania. The second, that of Philadelphia Two local breweries, is not far behind. And Mack Brewing Co., while not technically a licensed brewery, often showcases its products around Philadelphia.
“We have a location,” White says. “Slowly but surely it’s happening.
What is the Harris Family Brewery?
Harris Family Brewery is a planned brewery in Harrisburg, PA founded by Shaun Harris, JT Thomas and Tim White. When it opens, Harris Family Brewery will be Pennsylvania’s first black-owned brewery.
“We’ve been working on the project for four years,” White says. “Honestly, I thought we would be open now. I was going to apply for a license from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) three months ago, but COVID-19 stopped everything. “
Currently, White says Harris Family Brewery is “eight-five percent ready.”
“As soon as the government office reopens, we will apply for the PLCB,” he said.
How did the Harris family brewery get started?
As White recounts, master brewer and owner Shaun Harris started home brewing in 2014, after his wife gave him a home brewing kit for Christmas. Harris’s wife’s cousin, JT Thomas, joined him soon after. Towards the end of 2015 or early 2016, White entered the scene by marrying Harris’ wife’s sister.
“Because I was part of the family, I was invited to the barbecue,” White says. “They had tons of food, but no beer. So I was the MVP because I brought these 30 packs of Budweiser. But then at a barbecue, Shaun took out this brown liquid in a dirty glass and said, “Yo, try that.” I was like, ‘What?’ But I drank it and it wasn’t bad. In fact, it was really close to the good.
When Harris revealed he made beer in his kitchen, White was shocked.
“I had no idea what home brewing was like,” he says. “I didn’t know what craft beer was. But that night we lay awake and drank his entire supply of house beer. “
A born entrepreneur, White suggested the three men turn Harris’ hobby into a business.
“I was like, I’m going to figure this out,” White says. “YouTube, YouTube, YouTube. YouTube has taught us everything.
What types of beer does the Harris Family Brewery make?
While there is an enormous amount of institutional knowledge among white craft brewers, this information does not always reach historically marginalized business owners.
“We learned how to brew on our own,” says White. “On Facebook, we tried to join a craft beer group, but it was one of those racist undercover places. Literally, people were saying, “You’re going to try to make our thing your own. “
Because Shaun Harris and his business partners did not have a traditional business mentor, they formulated their own recipes. So expect ubiquitous stouts, IPAs and lagers, but also products that speak directly to the black experience.
“Overall, the black community drinks alcohol,” White explains. “The cheap stuff, the expensive stuff, whatever you want. So what liquors are blacks drinking at an all time high? Let’s see if we can match that to beer and go from there. Or let’s try the food and wine pairings. What do black people eat that we might associate with?
The result of the Harris family brewery
The beer industry needs more diverse voices and Harris Family Brewers is a step in the right direction. As they establish themselves, they will be able to share their knowledge and experience with other emerging breweries who will bring their own experiences and creativity to the table.
“We’re just the beginning,” White says.