Inglewood, California-based Crowns & Hops Brewing Company took the throne as the winner of Brewbound’s 2019 Pitch Slam competition, held this week during the Brewbound Live business conference in Santa Monica, California.
The business pitch competition, sponsored by Craft Brew Alliance’s innovation arm, the pH Experiment, featured 15 contestants who delivered pitches during an initial judging round on Wednesday. Five companies advanced to the finals on Day Two of the conference.
Crowns & Hops CEO Beny Ashburn and head of beer operations Teo Hunter impressed the judges with a pitch centered around promoting craft beer in the African American community, as well as a strong slate of mid-level ABV beers led by an American Stout. The company was founded six years ago, and is now in the process of opening its first full-time brewery in Inglewood next year.
“Six years ago we noticed a big void of black and brown cultural representation in the craft beer industry,” Ashburn told the judges during the duo’s pitch on Thursday afternoon. “Since then, we’ve been dedicated to promoting diversity and inclusion in craft beer. Our brand mission is to preserve culture, expand the palate, and build the community.”
Judges for the final round included Arlington Capital Advisors principal Ryan Lake, Deschutes Brewery brewmaster of new product development Veronica Vega, Brew Pipeline president of sales Marty Ochs, pH Experiment co-founder Tom Bleigh, and Willie’s Superbrew CEO Nico Enriquez, who won the 2018 Brewbound Pitch Slam competition.
In the final round of the Pitch Slam, Crowns & Hops competed against a varied group of alcoholic beverage brands, including Indianapolis craft brewery Metazoa Brewing, which features a social mission centered around animal welfare; premium wine spritzer brand Little Fancy; fruit-forward sour beer maker Urban Artifact of Cincinnati; and organic hard kombucha brand Morabeza.
During the competition, judges highlighted the importance of social missions in helping early stage breweries to differentiate and create a connection with consumers. On that front, Crowns & Hops delivered the clearest vision by highlighting the lack of representation for people of color in the craft beer industry and the need to promote and foster that community. In addition to beer, the brewery has created shirts and jackets featuring the slogan “Black People Love Beer,” as well as a seasonal line of beers with the same name.
“There are so many lessons from the craft beer community that we can use if we truly hold true to the concept of being community and what it means to be community,” Hunter said while accepting the award. “We have all the lessons and all the tools and all the recipes — pun intended — to really build some serious bridges.”
Veronica Vega told Brewbound that the judges believed Crowns & Hops had the “best vision” to move the craft beer industry forward, while creating a strong product with an authentic origin story.
“Diversity is something that we obviously should have been talking about years ago,” Vega said. “I think that authentic origin story, the fact that they are listening to their consumer base and are authentically introducing craft beer to folks where we’ve done a disservice to in not reaching out to these communities. The potential there for the future has the biggest impact for craft beer in the future.”
The eleventh edition of the Brewbound Pitch Slam, formerly known as the Startup Brewery Challenge, also continued to reflect a changing landscape for the craft beer industry through an expansion of product categories. In addition to the wine spritzer and hard kombucha brands that competed in the finals, the semifinal round also featured companies making mead, superfood-enhanced beer, and organic light beer. In addition to the five finalists, the semifinal round included Braveheart Brewing, Annapurna Mead, TUYA SuperBrew, Aurochs Brewing Company, Pink Ocean Rosé Spritz, Author Mead Co., O LIGHT, Orchid Island Brewery, Kandula Brewing Company, and Halyard Brewing Company.
With its victory, Crowns & Hops won a paid trip to Craft Brew Alliance’s headquarters in Portland, Oregon, where they will engage in strategy sessions, a $10,000 advertising package and free registration to Brewbound Live Winter 2020.
Crowns & Hops joins previous winners of the Brewbound Pitch Slam, including Wilie’s Superbrew, Novo Brazil Brewing, Armada Brewing, Border X Brewing, Hopewell Brewing, Wynwood Brewing Company, Braxton Brewing Company, CODA Brewing, Appalachian Mountain Brewery, and 5 Stones Brewing.