Connecticut's First Black Woman To Brew Beer Says It's Equal Parts Business And Ancestor Veneration
Photo Credit: Winter Caplanson

Connecticut's First Black Woman To Brew Beer Says It's Equal Parts Business And Ancestor Veneration

Despite the modern misconception that the beer business is a business for white men and their “craft IPAs” in a Brooklyn basement, Rhythm Brewing Co. owner Alisa Bowens-Mercado is aware of the spirits’ true history, both in her personal life and in the greater pop culture zeitgeist.

“For me, the history of beer is what’s important,” she told AfroTech. “Women were the original beer brewers — and, sure, yes, let’s take it all the way back to Ancient Egypt, and how beer was incorporated in sacred ceremonies. But even in my own life, you know, my grandmothers were beer drinkers — so when I decided to create this company for my own, I knew I had to honor both the history of beer, itself, and beer’s history in my own family.”

Alisa Bowens-Mercado, a native of Connecticut, created her Rhythm Brewing Co. beers almost as a greater extension of herself, too. While she’s made history as the first Black woman to brew beer in the state of Connecticut — and one of only a handful of women, let alone Black women, to brew beer across the country — she’s also done so while being the owner of Alisa’s House of Salsa in New Haven.

Rhythm, you might say, literally touches everything she does.

 

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“It’s about the goodness, right?” she said. “There’s so much negativity in the world that you just have to tell a positive story — your own — in whatever way you can. For me, telling the story of me — and my ancestors — is expressed both in beer and in dance. In a way, I use both to tell the stories of the motherland.”

Rhythm Brewing Co. specializes in producing unfiltered beer — meaning that the beer is raw, and unfiltered, like Alisa Bowens-Mercado herself. How does that make the difference?

Put simply: the average beer you buy in your supermarket is pasteurized and filtered. Pasteurization, as we know from dairy-based products, kills any potentially harmful microorganisms, and is often required by FDA regulations. However, the filtration process removes what’s known as the “head” of the beer, leaving behind a bland-tasting beverage. Unfiltered beer, arguably, is even healthier than its filtered counterpart.

And that’s why, while most small beer companies produce craft IPAs, Alisa Bowens-Mercado insisted on producing a lager. And this decision paid off — it consistently sells out in its local market, and she says that there are plans to take it to a national distributor soon.

Ultimately, though, Alisa Bowens-Mercado says that she hopes she can serve as an inspiration to other women — other Black women, specifically — and to let them know that they, too, have their place in the beer industry.

“This business needs more women,” she said. “The more people like you that you can bring into your industry, the better for you. But I don’t want women to just serve as the models, or as the consumers. I want them to know that they have a place in this industry — whatever it is, whether it be as a brewer or a canner or even a truck driver — and we’re waiting for you.”

Editorial note: Portions of this interview have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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