Crowns & Hops’ 8 Trill Pils Initiative Aims to Empower More Black Business Owners

September 09, 2020

By Ariana DiValentino, September 09, 2020

As the US experiences a reckoning when it comes to racial justice, the craft beer industry has turned its attention to its own dire lack of diversity. It’s estimated that of 8,000 craft breweries in the country, only about 60 are Black-owned. Crowns & Hops, an LA-based brewery, is not only leading these conversations and spreading awareness, but constructing a way forward.

Crowns & Hops deemed September 8 an action day for the cause of racial equity in beer, naming it “8 Trill Pils Day” after their new release, a pilsner made in collaboration with BrewDog that is available in the US, the UK, and Germany, with different can art in each country, made by artists of color. The US can features art by California native Upendo, known for his graphic illustrations and abstract design; while the UK cans are by Kingsley Nebechi and the German cans are by Baketown. One hundred percent of proceeds from the sale of the pilsner will be donated to organizations that work toward racial equity in each region: Race Forward in the US, Kwanda in the UK, and Black, Brown, Berlin in Germany.

Crowns & Hops founders Beny Ashburn and Teo Hunter first partnered with Scottish beer giant BrewDog as part of the BrewDog Development Fund, and just two years in they’re paying it forward by sharing resources with other Black-owned young businesses through the 8 Trill Pils program.

“What we want to do is bring people along with us,” Ashburn told October. “There’s room for so much more than 60 Black-owned breweries.”

The program gets its name from a report released by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, which found that the U.S. could enjoy an $8 trillion gain in GDP by closing the racial equity gap. Driving the project is the notion that racial equity is an economic issue as well as a social one. What’s good for society, it turns out, is also just good financial sense.

The pilsner itself, and 8 Trill Pils Day, are only part of Crowns & Hops’ larger “8 Trill Pils” initiative. The Inglewood-area brewery recently announced the launch of a $100,000 development fund, which will go towards establishing and supporting more Black-owned businesses in the craft beer industry. The fund is supported by BrewDog and opens for application submissions later this month.

For too long, people have wanted to own this narrative and be the ones to gift the world with a solution for ending the lack of diversity and inclusion in craft beer, and it’s never gonna happen like that.”

In addition to the fund, Ashburn and Hunter plan to use the 8 Trill Pils program as a hub for knowledge-sharing and networking, which is why 8 Trill Pils Day is more of a kickoff than an event in and of itself. Keep an eye on the brewery’s Instagram, which will host discussions on diversity in beer with their charity and business partners via Instagram Live. Ashburn and Hunter envisioned the campaign as a way to promote the new charity beer release, but also as a flashpoint to encourage beer professionals and enthusiasts to engage in the long-term effort for racial equity in craft beer.

“We pitched our business plan over 100 times, and probably learned something new each time,” Hunter shared. “To have that information available to those coming after us is not only a show of homage to our ancestors… but it pays respect to the amazing graduates and entrepreneurs that are out there."

Crowns & Hops, BrewDog, and their partnered charities stand out for the directness of their work. Rather than just focusing on bias and the perception of Black people in beer (though they certainly do that as well), the 8 Trill Pils program emphasizes working to change systems, collecting and utilizing relevant data, and getting funding into the hands of those who can use it.

Ashburn and Hunter acknowledge the value of programs like the Michael Jackson Foundation, which focuses on scholarships and education for rising beer professionals, but as entrepreneurs themselves, they felt they could make the greatest impact by supporting like-minded individuals who are ready to start their own business, whether it’s a brewery or something else.

“Starting a brewery is an expensive undertaking, hands down,” Ashburn said. “But there are so many other ways into craft beer, be it a beer bar or a bottle shop, or maybe you just want to contract brew and you don’t want your own facility. We want to keep it open, because there are so many avenues in, and every one of those changes the industry.”

Despite the role of Crowns & Hops—and its new pilsner—in launching the campaign, 8 Trill Pils is something the founders can see having a life of its own, independent of any one brewery. In their view, decentering any individual person or business is the only way to make any progress.

“For too long, people have wanted to own this narrative and be the ones to gift the world with a solution for ending the lack of diversity and inclusion in craft beer,” Hunter said. “And it’s never gonna happen like that. We didn’t get into this mess with one person, and we’re sure not gonna get out of it unless everyone is committed.”

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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