DC’s black-owned breweries take center stage at new festival
So, yes, there will be unlimited installments from six black-owned breweries and a range of food trucks, but leave the lederhosen t-shirts at home: Megafest has a range of partying DJs you might find in the coolest clubs in town. , including Mathias and Bri Mafia. And the ubiquitous giant Jenga or cornhole? Probably not. “It’s really more of a dance party, in my mind,” Johnson says. “I mean, if you’re sitting around playing games, that’s cool. But we want you to feel the vibes.
DJ Bri Mafia is more than just a record spinner
Let’s go back. The reason for the celebration is Soul Mega’s third anniversary. Despite being unveiled less than a year before the pandemic, Soul Mega beers, led by the crisp, orange Worldwide American Pale Ale, have gained a foothold in the DC market. The Worldwide flagship is on the menu at neighborhood beer and shot bars as well as restaurants with Michelin nods, and 16-ounce cans are sold at stores as disparate as Trader Joe’s and Craft Beer Cellar. .
But when planning their birthday bash, the Soul Mega founders chose not to hog the spotlight and invited other black-owned brewers to join them in the fun: two more from DC, plus three from Maryland. “Although we’re celebrating our third anniversary, we want to make sure we put everyone in too,” Johnson says. “And so what we’re trying to do is level the playing field and give everyone an equal opportunity to shine their mark.”
Soul Mega is the middle child of DC’s three black-owned beer brands: younger than Sankofa, which debuted in 2017 and went into production the following year, and older than Urban Garden Brewing. , DC’s first black woman-owned brand, which released its first canned beer in 2021. None of these companies own a brewery; Soul Mega beers are brewed under contract in Calvert, Upper Marlboro; The Sankofa come from Black Flag, Colombia; and Urban Garden’s flagship product, Chamolite, was made in DC Brau, although founder Eamoni Tate-Collier also brewed with Right Proper and City-State.
Of the Maryland breweries appearing at Megafest, only Patuxent Brewing has its own facility, located in Waldorf. The Montgomery County Black Viking and the Baltimore Joyhound are both produced at Oliver Brewing in Baltimore.
Not having physical space can be a problem for beer brands trying to publicize their latest offerings. Craft beer nerds and casual beer drinkers alike have come to see brewery taprooms as another form of bar, with pinball machines, live music and special events encouraging them to hang out and sample beers. . When a new IPA or limited edition sour drops, all the brewery has to do is encourage people to visit for a taste. Without a built-in outlet, contract brewers have to be more creative. For Soul Mega, that has meant exposure through events like the Trill Grill Fest, headlined by Rick Ross at Gateway DC in Congress Heights in 2019, or the Black Beer Garden at the annual Black Greek Fest. “It’s part of our model to make sure we do experiential marketing and give people a sense of our brand outside of just seeing it on the label,” Johnson says. “Our business model is multi-tiered. We see ourselves as a lifestyle brand as well as a producer and distributor of craft beer.
Others take different approaches. “We have a small but passionate clientele,” says Kofi Meroe, co-founder of Sankofa. Sankofa therefore likes to organize happy hours and pop-up events in bars that already offer its beers. An event at the Metrobar, for example, featured DJs playing Afrobeats and West African cuisine from the food truck Petit Afrik – a perfect match for Sankofa, reflecting its origin story: the founders met then they were primary school students in Nigeria, and their beers embrace the flavors of African ingredients such as hibiscus and cocoa. They have also appeared at events at the National Museum of African Art. But Meroe doesn’t just think local: Sankofa has collaborated with some of the biggest names in craft brewing, including Allagash and Brooklyn, and he’s a fixture at festivals like Barrel and Flow, which have brought together black-owned breweries in Pittsburgh. earlier this month, and Blacktoberfest, which returns to the Atlanta area in October.
Urban Garden’s Chamolite, a refreshing lager with hints of honey and chamomile, made its debut at Black Beer Garden, an open-air pop-up in Shaw during DC Beer Week 2021, and Tate-Collier says that these kinds of events, whether it’s a happy hour at Serenata or a matchmaking event with the traveling pop-up Bite Club, are essential. “Festivals and events allow black-owned breweries to be showcased to a wider audience and allow consumers to experience the brand first-hand,” she says. “I’ve been to events where a lot of people are surprised to see black brewers and owners, and sometimes even more baffled to see black women behind a brand.”
This kind of interaction is key to Megafest, says Johnson of Soul Mega. “I think it will be a good opportunity for consumers to connect with the people who actually create the brands. They can ask all the questions they want, if they don’t know our brand. The Black Brew Movement, which organizes tastings and events to introduce craft beer to various audiences, is also going to have a table at the festival, “and they’ll have some interactive stuff, so people are educated about craft beer in general” says Johnson. Saturday is also a time to sip beers that aren’t in the convenience stores: Urban Garden’s AllHomage, a pale ale produced in collaboration with local clothing brand Eat, sold more early this summer, but “we saved some AllHomage beer just for Megafest,” says Tate-Collier.
Brandon Miller, the festival’s co-producer with Usual Suspectz, met Johnson a few years ago, and they bonded over their shared experiences — both are from Chicago, both Howard alums — as well as a love of beer. . They had started planning a festival before the pandemic hit, “focused on dark beers and dark brews,” but everything was pushed back. However, when a friend recommended they check out Walter Reed’s Lawn, things started to fall into place. “Significance is the ability for people to experience cultural events in contexts they wouldn’t normally interact with,” Johnson says. Whether it’s beer or music, “it’s important to bring that to people, because often people don’t go for that if they don’t know about it.”
People might not know about all the brews pouring out this weekend, or the DJs, or the food trucks. But the opportunity to experience something new is right in front of them.
Saturday 1-6 p.m. The Parks at Walter Reed, 1010 Butternut St. NW. theparksdc.com. $50.
Where to find these beers in town
This weekend puts DC’s dark beer producers front and center, but there are other chances to find their drinks in town. Although each producer offers a “beer locator” guide on their website, here are some highlights. Craft beer cellar on H Street NE sells cans of Sankofa, Soul Mega and Urban Garden, as well as Maryland’s Black Viking and Joyhound, both of which will be at the festival on Saturday. If you want to try them at a bar, Edgewood’s Metrobarwhich has hosted happy hours for Urban Garden and Sankofa, usually has all three DC producers available in cans. 1921the beer garden behind the historic Heurich House, also frequently stocks these brews, as well as Black Viking, and Serenatathe market bar at La Cosecha, makes a point of offering black-owned breweries.
Sankofa usually sells its beers in cans in bars, but it can also sometimes be found on tap. The most likely location is the Midlands Beer Garden in the park view. “Midlands was our very first account,” says co-founder Kofi Meroe. “Midlands is like family to us, and Midlands gets most of our casks.” The others are from Shaw FOUND OBJECTwhich, according to Meroe, is “one of my favorite craft beer destinations in the city”, and free state, Lost and Found’s sister bar in Penn Quarter, which focuses on Mid-Atlantic drinks. The Hypebiscus blond beer is now on the shelves. Cocoa Coast, a chocolate milk stout, could return this fall.
Soul Mega beers are widely available. Rhythm & Beauty black beer was on sale at the passenger at Shaw last week, and co-founder Elliott Johnson said the rich caramel- and coffee-flavored beer will return to cans “probably within the next six weeks or so.” Favorite places to drink around the world include Sandlot Southeast, near the national park; Lydia on H; and the Mount Vernon Triangle Chinese sea bass. It can also be found in several Trader Joe locations.
Urban Garden has “a few new beers in the works,” says founder Eamoni Tate-Collier. On the occasion of the brand’s first anniversary, she worked with City-State Brewery to brew a saison of sorrel called Solar Return, which will be released at the Edgewood Brewery on September 23. She adds, “I’m also working on releasing an IPA this fall.” In the meantime, try Chamolite while listening to a band at Union Market’s songbyrd or check Addis Paris Cafean Ethiopian and French restaurant in Mount Pleasant.