It’s a clear, chilly December afternoon, and Marcus Baskerville is putting the final touches on a sour beer that will “taste like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”
Sweat pants tucked into bulky rubber-soled boots, the head brewer of Weathered Souls Brewing Company climbs a stepladder and pours gallons of raspberry and blueberry puree into a stainless-steel “bright,” or finishing, tank. Baskerville already dumped in two pillow-sized bags of marshmallows. The small-batch brew will mature and clarify before being tapped as part of a fourth-anniversary celebration of the Northside microbrewery cofounded by the soft-spoken, bearded 35-year-old, known as a bit of a mad scientist in craft beer circles.
“The part of brewing I enjoy the most is the ability to create,” he says. “I’m going to call this one Brown Bag Luncheon.”
After the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd earlier this year, Baskerville, whose surname comes from the Virginia plantation where his ancestors were enslaved, searched for a creative way to help, to do something.
“I was on my way to Dallas, alone in the car listening to ‘The Breakfast Club,’ and Breonna’s Taylor’s mom was on,” he recalled. “She brought me literally to tears. I have two young daughters, and I thought about their future. I had to find a way to contribute.”
A recipe for collaborative change
After some intense woodshedding, he came up with the plan for Black Is Beautiful. According to its mission statement, it is a brewer-centric “collaborative effort to raise awareness for the injustices people of color face daily and raise funds for police brutality reform and legal defenses for those who have been wronged.”
Baskerville placed the recipe for a basic stout – a rich, dark brown beer – on the website, which interested brewmasters can download and personalize under the Black Is Beautiful label. Proceeds would benefit a local group of their choice. Weathered Souls donates to 100 Black Men of San Antonio, a 20-year-old organization that strives to alter the life trajectories of disadvantaged youth by example. The Black Is Beautiful brand has raised more than $40,000 locally, Baskerville said.
Launched in June, Black Is Beautiful attracted 300 breweries the first day, as well as national media attention from outlets such as Forbes magazine, CNN, and the New York Times. More than 1,200 breweries are participating in the initiative today.
“It’s been amazing to see it take off – mostly by word of mouth and social media,” Baskerville said. “I know that racism and inequality are not going anywhere anytime soon, but we feel this is a step toward creating change.”
Other brewers across the country and around the world – the Black Is Beautiful initiative has spread to Germany, Switzerland, Japan, China, and Brazil – have been inspired by Baskerville’s commitment.
“The Black Is Beautiful cause is just so important,” said Jim Hansen, owner of Brew Monkey Beer Company in northeast San Antonio. “We always are looking for ways to help out in the community, and with recent events around the country, it just seemed to make sense.”
Hansen, who added chocolate and coffee notes to the basic Black Is Beautiful stout in a seven-barrel batch, said the beer has been a good seller: “We’re very proud of it, and it’s been rated very highly by our customers.”
He said the brewery has raised more than $6,000 from the initiative, with all proceeds going to the San Antonio African American Community Fund.
From banking to brewing
Growing up in California, beer wasn’t on Baskerville’s radar. He earned a marketing degree from California State University-Sacramento and went to work for Citibank.
“Never in my life did I ever think I’d be brewing for a living,” he said. “I could say the same about social activism.”
Offered a promotion in Citibank’s check fraud department in San Antonio, he moved east about seven years ago, bringing with him a burgeoning interest in beer making.
“I actually got into beer with my brother, who was older than me, and that was the way we made a connection,” Baskerville recalled. “We got into brewing it together when my sister gave him a Mr. Beer kit. Our first effort was just horrible.”
His first week in San Antonio, Baskerville was involved in a car accident.
“I didn’t know anybody, didn’t have a car, so I took the extra money and upgraded my brewing equipment,” he said.
Baskerville began sharing his home brews at local pubs and eventually worked his way into a job as assistant brewmaster at Busted Sandal Brewing Co. – while still working at Citibank.
“As an assistant, I learned what not to do,” Baskerville said.
His heart was in brewing, not banking. Baskerville befriended Mike Holt, a local businessman and fellow beer enthusiast, who would become cofounder and co-owner of Weathered Souls.
“One night I just threw out the question, When are we going to open a brewery, Mike?” Baskerville recalled. “And he said, I was wondering when you were going to ask.”
Baskerville’s talent ‘often overlooked’
Baskerville usually has from a dozen to 15 of his own brews – from lagers and pilsners to ales and stouts, with names such as Round About Midnight and Prestidigitator – on tap.
“We challenge the palate with a lot of our beers,” Holt said. “I remember early on, Marcus made a lavender stout. It was delicious, very subtle. That’s what caught me eye about him. When we first became acquainted, he was home-brewing and sharing samples, and it was better than any beer I could buy in the store. He just knew how to make beer that was approachable and drinkable and interesting.”
And yet, according to Holt, Baskerville’s “talent was often overlooked.” Of 8,500 breweries in the country, only about 60 are black-owned. Face it, it’s an artisan industry that appeals primarily to middle-aged white men.
“A black man in brewing is not the norm, and Marcus didn’t fit the norm,” Holt said. “But he just has this star power and personal integrity that shines through. Marcus’ talent is in the recipe-building and creativity he brings to his beer. He’s always pushing the envelope of what’s possible.”
Mastering the pitch, ‘doing what’s right’
When Baskerville came to a staff meeting in April with the BIB initiative all sketched out, Holt and the Weathered Souls staff – which includes a female sales manager, another rarity in the brew business – were “immediately 100 percent on board,” Holt said.
“It came about very quickly, within 48 hours,” he said. “He laid it out, and there was no hesitation. He’s always been a bit of an introvert, but he has something to say, and that’s really admirable. With the unprecedented success of the project, he’s done something like 150 interviews, and he’s become a very articulate spokesman.”
Baskerville brews beer “three or four times a week” (a batch ages for about a month before being served). With 20 shiny brewing vessels of various capacities and purposes on his brew floor, he has tank space of 380 barrels. One U.S. barrel is 31 gallons. “That’s a lot, for a brew pub,” he said.
A recognized leader in the craft beer industry, Baskerville recently was appointed to the board of directors of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild. In January, he will take an elected seat on the board of the Brewers Association, a national trade group that represents more than 5,400 small, independent brewers in the United States. “Yeah, that’s a big deal,” he said. Next year, too, Walmart will begin carrying the Weathered Souls brand. And he’s pleased that BIB is spreading to other areas of the hospitality industry.
“Coffee shops, wineries, and distilleries are all getting involved,” he said.
Baskerville has his own tale of injustice to tell. At age 22, he was at a party where someone was stabbed. He and a relative drove the victim to the emergency room.
“We were treated like suspects instead of people who had just saved someone’s life,” he said. “We were held overnight by the police and then released the next morning without so much as an apology.”
Black Is Beautiful is succeeding in a two-pronged effort: inclusiveness in the craft industry and raising funds in the larger social-justice arena.
“It’s helped create a dialogue, not just about black-owned businesses, which are now a bigger part of the conversation, I think,” he said. “but about inequality in general. It’s about everybody doing what’s right.”