Brewing Awareness

Appears in the November 2020 issue.

Earlier this year, Weathered Souls Brewing in San Antonio created the Black Is Beautiful initiative, a collaborative effort in the brewing community to raise awareness about racial injustice, providing a platform to show that the brewing community is an inclusive place. The brewery created an imperial stout base, then put out a nationwide call for brewers to use the recipe to put their own spin on it. Proceeds are donated to local organizations supporting equality and inclusion.

Since June, over 1,100 breweries in all 50 states plus 21 countries have created their own versions of the beer, including 30 in the Chicago area. We spoke with Charles St. Clair, co-owner and co-operator of Black Horizon Brewing in Willowbrook, about his involvement. St. Clair is the only Black owner of an active brewery in Illinois.

What is Black Horizon’s spin on the recipe?

We brought the original recipe down from 70 to about 18 IBUs (international bittering units) just to smooth out the beer. Then we added a little flaked rye to give it some spice and oats to make it a nice smooth seasonal beer at about 8.7 percent ABV. We put some of the initial batch into cobalt bourbon barrels that we’ll release this winter. We’ll probably do the original and a variant raspberry cheesecake imperial stout.

Which nonprofit did you support?

We decided to support By the Hand [Kids Club], which offers after-school clubs in Altgeld-Murray, Austin, Cabrini-Green, and Englewood. They also have a charter school. I’m a true believer in early intervention—if we can get three or four kids on the right path, that’s better than zero. We calculated out our total sales, and cut them a $10,000 check. It’s a nonprofit that runs off of private donors. Donations have tended to dry up a bit during COVID, so it’s fantastic if we can help them even out their bottom line. They were very grateful for the donation.

There’s been such a positive response to this movement. Why do you think this resonates with people?

Not everybody wants to be out there protesting because it’s not who they are. With this, they can buy some beer and make a contribution without breaking a sweat. They get to enjoy some beer and do some good.

St. Clair and his partners Kevin Baldus and Alex Stankus opened Black Horizon Brewing in July 2017. Prior to that, St. Clair served 24 years in the military, retiring as a captain in 2008. He went on to get his master’s degree from DePaul University and currently works as a senior network engineer for a law firm in Chicago.

Follow Black Horizon Brewing on Facebook for information on when its remaining Black Is Beautiful beer will be released.

Photos by Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune