The road to opening a small business is never easy, and the process of realizing the dream behind Black Star Line Brewing Co. has been no exception. As the first black-, queer-, female-owned brewery in Western North Carolina, Black Star Line has overcome substantial difficulties along the way and has done so with a resolute conviction to blaze a trail for underrepresented people in the craft brewing industry. For BSL founder L.A. McCrae, that perseverance is finally about to pay dividends, with the brewery set to take over the Hendersonville space formerly occupied by Basic Brewing Co. by late October.
Securing financing for operations and expansion has proven challenging for McCrae, who carries substantial student and medical debt. But a small-business loan from Mountain BizWorks eventually provided the necessary startup capital to take advantage of the newly available Basic taproom and production facility. BSL will purchase Basic’s equipment, including a 1.5-barrel Blichmann brewhouse, but hopes to double that capacity with the help of an ongoing fundraiser through crowdfunding platform fundrazr.com. The campaign seeks to generate $15,000 by Nov. 1 to help pay for additional equipment and repairs as well as essential brewing supplies and staff costs.
“It’s frustrating that it’s been so difficult to get to this point,” says McCrae. “We’re trying to create living-wage jobs in the Asheville area, but we’ve met with a lot of resistance from lenders and investors that think it’s too risky. We’ll make it work — we always do.”
Much of BSL’s bootstrap funding to this point has been derived from crowdfunding and community support, efforts that have benefited from the brewery’s increased visibility on the national stage in recent months. In June, McCrae spoke at the Brewbound conference in New York, and BSL was featured in an article on vice.com with a video follow-up expected once renovations of the Basic facility have been completed. The attention has already garnered benefits for BSL, with Oregon-based Dancing Hearts Ranch — an organic farm founded and operated by queer women of color — shipping the brewery hops to support its cause.
Black Star Line has been pouring its beer at festivals and events around North Carolina throughout the summer, most recently at the 21st annual Brewgrass Festival in September. At press time, there were also plans to participate in Asheville Oktoberfest. Beer is currently fermenting for the October opening, and McCrae intends to feature dedicated guest draft lines from breweries with a similarly community-oriented vision in the taproom, including Hendersonville neighbor Sanctuary Brewing Co. and Charlotte’s Three Spirits Brewery.
In addition to getting the brewery up and running, McCrae has gone to great lengths to help organize the broader black brewing community. The inaugural Black Brewers’ Gathering, originally scheduled to take place in Asheville on Saturday, Oct. 21, will now be held at the Black Star Line taproom in Hendersonville on the same date. Although this year’s event will be smaller than originally planned, McCrae is in discussions with black brewers from around the country regarding a more elaborate gathering in the works for 2018.
The brewery’s initial lineup will include five flagship beers, four seasonals and three nonalcoholic botanicals, all of which will be geared toward sweeter, less hops-forward flavor profiles than most craft beer — and each carries a name that invokes a prominent historical figure or significant concept from African-American culture. A cooperative agreement with Sanctuary Brewing has kept BSL’s beer flowing thus far, but the transition to its own location will greatly expand the brewery’s capacity to get its beer to consumers and fulfill its mission to create a welcoming space for people whose gender identity or ethnicity might render typical craft breweries intimidating or uncomfortable gathering places.
For McCrae, this sense of belonging is paramount: “This is, first and foremost, a community place. We’re intentionally building a space that is of, by and for the community. For the folks that feel there’s no place for them, for the people who want to build for human liberation. This is a place where folks aren’t discarded or disposable. It’s about creating a home for all of us.”
Black Star Line Brewing Co. is scheduled to open in late October at 131 Third Ave. West, Hendersonville. The taproom will host the inaugural Black Brewers Gathering on Saturday, Oct. 21. For updates, check the Black Star Line Brewing Facebook page or visit blackstarlinebrewing.com.