CHARLOTTE — Black-owned breweries are rare and minority-owned distilleries are even harder to come by.
Charlotte native Clarence Boston said an Uptown Charlotte spot on East Brooklyn Village Avenue was the perfect location to bring his Atlanta-based Hippin Hops Brewery to the Queen City.
Boston told Channel 9′s Madison Carter the entire industry is struggling.
“What I have noticed has been very hard in the craft beer market,” he said. “Not just for Blacks. Also, a lot of white breweries are closing.”
Margie Lehrman, CEO of the American Craft Spirits Association, said the number of distillers that are from an underrepresented community does not represent consumers who enjoy the craft spirits.
Lehrman also works with the ACSA’s STEPUP Foundation.
“What the STEPUP program does is it takes those who are interested and actually apply and achieve the status of an intern through nine months-plus of distillation, from the beginning operations and how you make spirits to the front of the house, the back of the house financing, compliance issues,” she said. “And it is a fully funded program, meaning that we provide both a living stipend as well as the travel, transportation costs. So really, what we’re looking for is someone who is passionate about the industry, who wants to learn, and we take them through every element of craft distilling so they can figure out where they want to land after they finish the program.”
She also said the barriers to entering the industry are high, which include compliance and regulatory taxation issues.
“One of the biggest impediments to start right off would be financing,” Lehrman said.
It’s a big reason Boston chose to diversify his business portfolio. Hippin Hops Brewery & Distillery is the fourth business for Boston in the Queen City.
“I think Charlotte is a more creative market with not as much competition,” Boston said.
Industry projections show distilleries are expected to grow by over 20% this year.
Out of the nearly 2,700 craft distilleries in the nation, estimates show there are fewer than 100 that are Black-owned.
“Distilling and craft spirits in this country offer some of the best American innovation that small manufacturers can offer,” he said.
Boston told Carter the big idea for what he calls his “brew-stillery” came during the pandemic. He already had his brewer’s license and thought to build on that success.
“I might just get a distillery license and just go to Mexico and get our own tequila made and go to France and get our own cognac,” Boston said.
Boston’s businesses have created more than 60 jobs so far and he said the ABC Commission has been his biggest customer for years.
Lehrman said people can apply for the STEPUP program year-round.
“The STEPUP program actually has admissions taken throughout the year, but the program itself has a fall process where a selection committee looks at both the internal applications, the distillery applications, because distilleries host the interns,” she said. “Then what we’ve also done, which is kind of a unique feature, we recognize that, you may not have the softer skills that make you successful in the workplace. So we also peer mentor with the intern and we hope they become lifelong friends. So stepupinternship.org is the webinars.”