With Launch of Crowdfunding Campaign, Black Star Line Ferments a Business with a Social Mission

At the Startup Brewery Challenge in June, L.A. McCrae, the founder of North Carolina’s Black Star Line Brewing, took the stage to deliver a passionate, three-minute pitch about a brewery, for certain, but also something more.

“Black Star Line Brewing Company is a grassroots, family-centered brewery launching a social movement,” McCrae told a panel of five judges and a crowd of nearly 200 beer industry professionals.

The crowd roared with applause as McCrae outlined the mission.

“We are so proud to be the first, out, black, queer, woman-owned and operated brewery with an aggressive social mission to impact lives, create opportunities and transform communities,” McCrae said to accompanying cheers.

One month later, McCrae has launched something else: A crowdfunding campaign that is seeking $25,000 in startup capital on the FundRazr platform.

Should Black Star Line secure the funds, the company — which is currently producing experimental test batches in the basement of a house — would be able to officially get off the ground, purchase a 2-barrel pilot brewing system, begin commercial operations inside of Sanctuary Brewing Company in Hendersonville, N.C., and start distributing its beer in the surrounding areas, McCrae told Brewbound.

But none of that will be possible without funding from the campaign, McCrae said, adding that traditional bank financing isn’t available to the company, a single member LLC, due to “unique circumstances.”

“This happens often with black and brown entrepreneurs,” McCrae explained. “This is systemic. We don’t have people in our community with access to capital, collateral and cash.”

McCrae also told Brewbound that personal student loan debt and financial hardships resulting from a medical procedure have made it difficult to obtain loans from both traditional banks and community development financial institutions (CDFIs).

Nevertheless, the goal for Black Star Line is to “authentically cultivate community for marginalized and disenfranchised persons, one beer at a time,” McCrae, who is also an ordained theological preacher, said during the Startup Brewery Challenge.

“The craft brewing industry is missing out on the magic and soul of those who are most vulnerable in our communities – those who are historically, and demographically under and unemployed,” McCrae said.

In doing so, McCrae hopes to not only create manufacturing jobs in underserved communities, but also spark an important dialogue about issues of racism, sexism and discrimination.

“Where do black, queer people have a space,” McCrae asked rhetorically. “You aren’t going to find it. This is a response to that. This is about creating a business incubator and a container so that we can talk honestly. We want to form a community and harness this energy and continue to build a groundswell.”

By creating Black Star Line, McCrae also hopes bring a different perspective to the conversation of “diversity” within the brewing industry — a topic the Brewers Association tackled head on earlier this year with the formation of a committee specifically tasked with “identifying issues related to maximizing the diversity and inclusiveness of Brewers Association membership and of the industry as a whole including beer lovers.”

“Diversity is a word that folks use because it is more comfortable,” McCrae told Brewbound. “It is a really nice way to talk about systemic and institutional racism. I don’t want to talk about diversity. I want to talk about the ways that we are creating opportunities, changing lives and creating pathways into an industry that has exploited people like me over generations.”

Black Star Line Brewing’s FundRazr campaign is set to end in September. In addition to buying brewing equipment and beginning to make beer — styles previewed at the Brewbound Session were sweeter and less hoppy than most craft beers on the market — McCrae hopes to use some of the funds to launch the “first ever Black Brewers Gathering.”

“With your help, and over the course of the next year, we’ll be able to address issues of blight head on with collaborations in urban farming, developing sustainable food programs and the Black brewers supply chain, connecting with direct trade, and building the Black Brewers Guild,” a description on the FundRazr campaign reads.