Change is Brewing Collective

Last summer found me savouring a brew at The Hatfield House in Tusket. Unlike the many who’ve met my queries about race relations in Nova Scotia with shame or silence, a staffer at the posh restaurant spoke openly about the former residence of Abigail Price.

“Records show that she was a Black woman who built the house in 1793,” the white staffer told me. “Beyond that, no one seems to know much about her. But we think it’s important to share the part of her story that has been uncovered thus far.”

The Hatfield House

Indeed, The Hatfield House website notes that Price — a widowed Black woman — had sold the entirety of her Yarmouth County property by 1816 and then seemingly vanished without a trace.

I reflected on the lost (and likely inauspicious) saga of Abigail Price at the recent launch of Blackberry Freedom, a new beer from the Good Robot brewery in North End Halifax. Produced by The Change is Brewing Collective, the refreshing pale ale stands as the first, in the nation, to have been crafted by a group of queer and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) workers in the food, beverage, and hospitality industries.

“COVID, the killing of George Floyd, and the global Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality inspired me to examine my profession,” said Giovanni (Gio) Johnson, a microbiologist and lead brewer at Good Robot. “As one of the few Black brewers in Canada, I think it’s time to change the white male-dominated image of craft brewing. The industry needs more minority owners, journalists, beer judges, suppliers, everything.”

To that end, Johnson formed, in the aftermath of Floyd’s heinous murder, a collective with local friends and colleagues to brew Blackberry Freedom. The name references an affirming adage in Black culture that counters the negative connotations of darkness: “The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.” In addition to blackberry, the brew is infused with subtle grape notes.

“It’s fantastic,” raved a guest at the limited attendance release (due to COVID restrictions). Half of Blackberry Freedom sales are designated for programs that support youth such as the YMCA on Gottingen Street and the Blxck House, a community centre in North Preston. Proceeds will also help to fund a Brewing 101 workshop for minorities (age 19+) that Johnson plans to conduct later this summer.

Shoreline Malting will provide free malt for the tutorial. “There’s a lot going on with Black Lives Matter and we wanted to do something tangible to make craft brewing more inclusive,” said John Webster, brewing relations manager for the Prince Edward Island company. “Malt is probably the most expensive ingredient in beer, so we’re happy to support Gio’s workshop and hope that other businesses also contribute.”

In addition to his job at Good Robot, Johnson, working with Damian McCartney and O’Neil Miller, co-founded The Limestone Group, an organization that produces events inspired by the music, customs, and cuisine of their native Bahamas. The enterprising young men happily joined The Change is Brewing Collective. “We got tired of knocking on the doors of craft brewers and not being welcomed,” said McCartney who is also a licensed realtor. “So we decided to make our own door.”

“It’s important to promote not just ‘tolerance’ in the Halifax food and beverage industry but true acceptance,” added Miller, a server at the Marriott Harbourstone Bar and Grill.

A Mi’kmaq ceramic artist from the Millbrook First Nation and alumna of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD), Jayme-Lynn Gloade said that her involvement with the Collective has tempered the racism she’s suffered in service jobs. “I’ve worked at some dreadful places,” said Gloade, who is also a staffer at Good Robot. “Change is Brewing gives people of colour a sense of unity and a space to heal and grow together.”

“It’s true that Good Robot is owned by three white guys,” she continued. “But whenever they mess up, they educate themselves and do better. They hired minorities long before all the ‘woke reckoning’ that’s happening now.”

About the NSCAD Board of Governors’ recent removal of Aoife MacNamara, Gloade praised the institution’s former president: “She was respected for her commitment to social justice. Clearly, the Board saw her as a threat to the status quo. They’ve done incalculable damage to the school.”

Interestingly, NSCAD just posted a job listing for a Director, Opportunity and Belonging that was widely circulated to BIPOC networks. “The position will be responsible for leading the development, implementation and oversight of the university’s strategies for engagement and partnership specifically with our Mi’kmaq, Indigenous and African Nova Scotian communities.”

Makes one wonder what part of white supremacy the Board doesn’t understand.

Inclusion has always been the cornerstone of Good Robot, said Joshua Counsil, a co-owner of the brewery that opened in 2015, boasts a nearly 14% non-white staff, and, arguably, the most diverse clientele in the province. “We prioritize the often underserved and non-normative demographics of craft beer,” he explained. “Queer people, Black people, women.”

“Young, urban white dudes like me will always go to craft breweries,” Counsil continued. “What we really sell at Good Robot is camaraderie. We bring people together who feel alienated from craft beer and invite them in.”

LaMeia Reddick

LaMeia Reddick is a well-known community activist and lifelong resident of North Preston who joined the Good Robot team about a year ago. “My family is fairly conservative and didn’t drink much, if any, alcohol,” said Reddick, also a member of The Change is Brewing Collective. “I became super interested in craft beer because I didn’t see myself reflected in a dynamic industry. I wanted to refine my skills and the success of Blackberry Freedom proves that people of colour can transform the food and beverage business. Our eyes, talent, and brilliance are essential in today’s world.”

As it happens, craft beer has also led to a surprising revelation about Reddick’s ancestry. “I discovered that my grandmother once worked at a brewery in Toronto,” she said, with a laugh. “Until I started at Good Robot, no one had ever mentioned it. So, I’m proud to continue the tradition.”

The Change is Brewing Collective also includes Shekara Grant, Nathan Fels, and Amber Zaza (who designed the Blackberry Freedom label that features raised fists). “Conversations and reflection with the Collective helped to turn all the grief, pain, and anger we were feeling about racism into power and resilience,” said Zaza who is Black, queer, and a staffer at Good Robot.  “All of our work is about reclaiming space for the BIPOC community.”

With bars and restaurants throughout Nova Scotia now clamouring for the landmark release, I hope to lift a glass in memory of Abigail Price when I next visit The Hatfield House.

The author of Alice Walker: A Life, Evelyn C. White is a freelance writer in Halifax.

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Evelyn C. White is a journalist and author whose books include Chain, Chain, Change: For Black Women in Abusive Relationships (Seal Press, 1985,) The Black Women’s Health Book: Speaking for Ourselves...

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