MONROE — During the summer months of 2020, following national protests and unrest across America sparked by deaths of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement, a collaborative effort to raise awareness of continued injustice toward people of color and raise funds to aid in reform was brewed.
The Black if Beautiful initiative brought the brewing community — and its customers — together. “Our mission is to bridge the gap that’s been around for ages and provide a platform to show that the brewing community is an inclusive place for everyone of any color,” wrote Weathered Souls Brewing Co. on its website. The San Antonio, Texas, brewery, owned by Marcus Baskerville, a Black man, is leading the cause.
Baskerville posed a challenge to the general brewing community, asking for all breweries and brewers far and wide “to raise a glass with us in unison and participate in this collaboration.”
Brewers would make a dark stout and donate 100% of the beer’s proceeds to local foundations that support police brutality reform and legal defenses for those who have been wronged. Brewers would also commit to the long-term work of equality and would “choose their own entity to donate to local organizations that support equality and inclusion.”
In Monroe, Jonah Levia and the Cheese City Brewers and Vintners club got in touch with Ethan Kister, owner of Bullquarian Brewhouse, about joining the cause.
“One of the things we wanted to do as a homebrew club is to figure out a way that we can be more community involved,” Levia said. “We sponsor the highway just outside of town, and we’ve done a couple of things, but we haven’t really done anything big — nothing really to kind of jump out. So late last year when we heard about this initiative and noticed all the brewers that were doing it, we thought it would be pretty neat.”
More than 250 brewers have signed on to the challenge from more than 35 states and seven countries, including the U.S. and Canada, in North America; Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands in Europe; plus Brazil, Japan and Rwanda.
The Monroe team collaborated together and wanted to do a local twist on the beer.
“We were tasting all the different beers and all their different iterations of the recipe thinking it would be a really cool idea. There’s a few breweries in Madison that have done it and put their own Madison spin on it,” Levia said. “What’s the most Monroe thing. We can’t really put cheese in a beer — we could, but it wouldn’t taste all that great.”
Levia works for Colony Brands and the brewers decided they would add Swiss Colony petits fours to the mix.
“We thought it would be perfect in the beer. When you think of an imperial stout or a milk stout, you have those ingredients already there. You already have that vanilla, roasty kind of stuff in the beer, so let’s figure out a way that we can incorporate it and put our Green County spin on it and make it more flavorful.”
Kister added 8 pounds of petits fours into the mash and aged the beer in a distilled bourbon barrel.
“The whole addition of putting it in a barrel from distillery, that was kind of like the icing on the cake,” Levia said.
It made for a local taste, while the quality came out as expected: A solid, hearty dark stout with an international bitterness unit (IBU) of 60, and a 9.5% alcohol by volume (ABV), nearly twice the content as domestic light brew like Miller Lite.
“It took a little while to figure it out, but I came up with the recipe and they had some input and decided to use some petits fours from Swiss Colony, who donated them — Jonah works there. Got that all together, brewed it up and then threw it in the bourbon barrel for a couple of months,” Kister said.
Kister and Jonah Levia of the brew club released the beer to the public Feb. 10.
“It’s fantastic. It’s one of the best things I’ve brewed to date. I’m very proud of it and I’m very happy to be able to offer it,” Kister said.
Customers that want to try the beer will have a choice of enjoying from a 5-ounce or 10-ounce glass, or filling a 32-ounce crowler. A growler is a 64-ounce glass, steel or ceramic jug, while a crowler is half the size, but made of aluminum, is sanitized and purged of CO2, which helps ensure the taste and carbonation of the beverage is optimal.
“The customers that are here, they are not going to buy less of the other stuff, but they are going to buy that (Black is Beautiful) to support stuff in the community, because that’s the kind of customer base we have,” Kister said. “It doesn’t cost mean anything but a bit of time, and I’m happy to do it.”
E4E, new MHS organization, surprised by early support
Following the mission statement of the Black is Beautiful movement, Kister and Levia have sought out multiple local organizations to donate to. One of them is the Equality 4 Everyone (E4E), a student organization at Monroe High School.
“Receiving such a generous donation really caught us off guard,” wrote sophomores Taylor Jacobson and Alex Hernandez of the club in an email. “When we started this group, we were just hoping to get some people who are also interested in equity together to talk about what we can change, and now to see people from the community reaching out to help us is heartwarming.”
The group is overseen by teacher Samantha Rudi, who also serves as the Monroe varsity girls soccer coach. She said the group was formed over the summer “in response to the national unrest that was prompted by violence against people and communities of color.”
“Our students wanted to form a group within the school that would work to make change within the school district,” Rudi said. “Specifically, the purpose of the group is to examine the inequitable procedures, actions, and processes in Monroe High School so that we may create a more positive, inviting and safe environment for everyone.”
There are about 15-25 students in the organization, which holds weekly meetings.
“They have worked to educate each other and themselves, educate their peers on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and for Black History Month, and they have plans to continue to educate members of the school community and make MHS a safe and welcoming place for all,” Rudi said.
The students in the organization said they weren’t quite sure how they would spend the donated money, but that options include going towards anti-bias training for the group, advertising of the group to fellow classmates, and more resources to help teach MHS students about equity.
Bullquarian a personalized venue
Kister started Bullquarian with his wife, Michelle. The brewhouse, located at 1128 17th Avenue in Monroe, opens at 4 p.m. each day and is following CDC social distancing guidelines by limiting the number of guests in the building at once.
Inside, the brewhouse uses dark wood aesthetics for its tables and bars, with walls painted red, purple and green.
Bullquarian offers about a dozen different options for drinks, with 10 on tap. Patrons can enjoy light and fruity beers with ABVs as low as 4.7%, or dark fusions over 9%.
One of the features that distinguishes Bullquarian from other bars and restaurants is not just the beers brewed on-site, but also the taps that pour each from behind the bar. Kister said that his wide variety were picked for various personal reasons, but the No. 1 reason was “because they looked cool.”
“(The taps) started out with the creepy doll — my wife’s Barbie. Our daughter was playing with it one day and we found its head broken off and laying under her bed. Michelle was pretty mad about it, so we decided to give it a second life as a creepy tap handle,” Kister said.
There’s also a hand-crafted giraffe that represents Kisters’ father-in-law and business partner, Irv Peters. “He collects giraffes and things of that nature,” Kister said. Other tops include a hand-painted bull breathing smoke, a garden cultivator handle, a perched eagle made by a customer and a generic stock tap with a Bullquarian logo.
There is also a mysterious and unknown head of a tool with a meter he found at a second-hand store.
“I have no idea what it is to this day. It’s some kind of an old meter,” Kister said. “Our beer is unique; our clients are unique — that tells you all you need to know.”