Toledo, Ohio: Black Frog Brewing… Why that is a Big Deal for Craft Beer!
Nestled within a serene subdivision on the outskirts of Toledo, Ohio, lies a quaint garage on a quiet street. Unassuming as it may seem, this is the birthplace of Toledo’s latest craft brewery, and it is anything but ordinary. Black Frog Brewery stands as the first minority-operated brewery in the city, and possibly the entire state. We had the privilege of sitting down with Chris Harris, the founder of Black Frog Brewery, on Friday the 13th to savor a beer and learn more about this remarkable venture.
As a recent addition to Toledo’s craft beer scene, Black Frog Brewery joins a community that is rapidly growing and catching up to its counterparts in Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati. With established breweries like Maumee Bay Brewing Company, Great Black Swamp Brewing Company, and the upcoming Black Cloister Brewing Company, the arrival of Black Frog Brewery is eagerly awaited by a community hungry for exceptional craft beer.
Aside from their incredible brews, one of the defining features of Black Frog Brewery is the fact that it is minority-owned and operated, a first for Toledo and possibly the entire state of Ohio. Chris Harris, the owner, finds himself in the exclusive group of minorities and people of color who pursue their passion for brewing beer at a professional level.
Chris Harris, a United States Armed Forces veteran, embodies the American Dream that resonates with countless home brewers. His journey into the art and craft of brewing beer began humbly, experimenting with a user-friendly Mr. Beer machine. With each batch he brewed, his passion grew stronger, and he constantly upgraded his equipment, tinkering with recipes along the way. Co-workers and friends became avid fans of his beer, requesting more and more, which led him to contemplate whether his beloved hobby could transform into a legitimate profession. During our conversation with Chris, he shared his special cream ale with us, a delightful brew that perfectly complemented the beautiful summer evening. Recently, Harris took the plunge, filing paperwork, acquiring a brand new Blichmann System, and, most importantly, constructing his nano-brewery with his father’s help inside his residential garage in the peaceful town of Holland, just outside Toledo. Excitedly, Chris Harris updated his Facebook page with the news.
We delved into the significance of his minority status as he entered the world of craft beer. The name of his brewery, Black Frog, draws inspiration from both Toledo’s local culture and history, as well as his own identity as a minority. Exploring the logo of Black Frog Brewery, you’ll notice honey bees alongside the frog, a unique twist that guarantees every recipe will incorporate honey, adding a sweet touch to his brews.
It is undeniable that the craft beer industry is predominantly dominated by white males. During our conversation, Chris and I revisited an article I wrote about the craft beer drinker and explored the reasons behind the current state of the industry. We touched upon a fantastic piece by NPR that shed light on the lack of people of color involved professionally in craft beer. Individuals such as Michael Ferguson of BJ’s Restaurants, Andres Araya of 5 Rabbit in Chicago, and Omar Ansari of Surly represent the few minorities in the field of professional craft beer. This lack of representation is a crucial topic of discussion, and Chris Harris offered valuable insights. He respectfully suggested that the underrepresentation of minorities in craft beer might stem from limited access to craft beer knowledge. While African Americans do enjoy beer, many living in inner-city areas lack exposure to craft brews, as these beverages are not readily available in the carry-outs and stores targeting their communities. Chris also acknowledged the socio-economic factors that could create a divide, as craft beer often comes with a higher price tag. Families and individuals of color, especially in inner-city communities, may not have the financial means to afford higher-quality beer. We inquired about his strategies to reach inner-city populations, and while he had some interesting ideas such as farmer’s markets, festivals, and local bars, we shared a lighthearted moment when Chris jokingly emphasized that being a minority brewer did not mean he would exclusively produce malt liquor in 40-ounce bottles.
Some argue that “beer is beer, and everyone can enjoy it.” While this holds true, it overlooks the deeper issue at hand. Why is the craft beer industry ethnically homogeneous and inadvertently exclusive to white males? We encourage you to share your thoughts on this matter in the comments below.
One of the most inspiring sentiments Chris Harris expressed was the opportunity he has as an African American brewer to introduce a whole new audience to craft beer and welcome them into the craft beer community. He believes that diversifying the craft beer scene will benefit everyone involved, both from a business and consumer standpoint.
Though Black Frog Brewery and Chris Harris are still in the early planning stages, with a busy summer ahead of them, there is a strong belief that they will have a significant impact not only on Toledo’s craft beer scene but on the entire craft beer community across America.
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