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SPRINGFIELD — Out of some 8,000 breweries in the United States, only 60, or fewer than 1%, are black-owned businesses. In Massachusetts, which boasts more than 200 breweries, only about a half-dozen are black-owned. One of them is White Lion Brewery in Springfield.

“The fabric of the craft-beer trade doesn’t mirror the fabric of the communities we work, play, and live in,” said Berry, White Lion’s owner and founder, who sits on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee of the Massachusetts Brewers Guild.

In response, Berry and the owners of three other Massachusetts breweries — Arcpoint in Belchertown, Crue Brew in Raynham, and 67 Degrees in Franklin — have banded together on a project they hope will draw more people of color to the industry.

The project is called “As One.” Fittingly, it’s a beer — specifically, a juicy New England IPA. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this limited-release brew will go toward the creation of a scholarship at Holyoke Community College (HCC) for students of color who enroll in its beer, cider, and winemaking program.

“Throughout the country, there have been a number of initiatives driven by breweries, trade stakeholders, and guilds who recognize the diversity and inclusion deficits and want to be change agents,” Berry said. “Some of those initiatives happen to be scholarship-driven.”

The idea for “As One” came from C.J. Eldridge, co-owner of Arcpoint, who had read an article about the experiences of black Massachusetts brewery owners in an historically white-dominated industry. The story featured interviews with Berry and Kevin Merritt, owner of Crue Brew, and also mentioned 67 Degrees, which is co-owned by Arnold Cruzeau.

“I saw all those guys in the article, and it inspired me to want to get together with them and brew something and also bring some awareness,” Eldridge said. “We want to attempt to spread brewing out to more people of color, not necessarily just black, but people of color in general, and get them into the business — let them know what it’s about.”

HCC debuted its beer, cider, and winemaking program in the fall of 2020, so the decision to partner with the college made sense, Berry added. “Craft beer is all about local. If we want to expand the conversation, this is a perfect opportunity for us to align ourselves with a great local institution.”

The label for “As One” includes the names and logos of all four breweries plus HCC’s, along with this description: “As One, a collaboration of unity, is just that. We came up with a conversation starter, something to bring people together.”

It continues, “As many of you may or may not know, people of color make up approximately 1% of ownership in the craft-brew industry. To this end, we have teamed with Holyoke Community College to create a scholarship for their brewing program. The financial aid will help people of color break into the industry that is far underrepresented. We hope you enjoy this beer with open minds and open hearts.”

Katie Stinchon, executive director of the Massachusetts Brewers Guild, noted that “we are very excited about the pipeline of talent that this scholarship program could generate while also helping to break down barriers, open doors, and hold them open for people of color in our community. As an industry we are very aware that the makeup of our brewery owners, staff, and consumers are predominantly male and pale. This is a great step to work to change that, and something that can be emulated in other regions and institutions across Massachusetts.”

The scholarship, as yet unnamed, will be administered by the HCC Foundation.

“Every scholarship tells a story about why someone feels it’s important to give back, or what they hope to make possible with the establishment of the fund,” said Amanda Sbriscia, HCC’s vice president of Institutional Advancement and executive director of the HCC Foundation. “The scholarship that will be created as a result of this brewery partnership is so powerful because it’s all about creating opportunity, and it’s a real example of people coming together to create positive change. HCC students can see themselves in each of these business owners and realize that they, too, can chase and achieve their dreams.”

Sbriscia joined Berry, Eldridge, Merritt, and Cruzeau on March 11 at White Lion Brewery in Tower Square in Springfield for the one-day brewing of “As One.” Canning is scheduled for Monday, March 29. The beer will be available starting Wednesday, March 31, during White Lion’s weekly “Cans to Go” sessions at the brewery, which run every Wednesday from 4 to 7 p.m., and every Saturday from noon to 4 p.m.

“Springfield has a lot of diversity, so it’s great that we’re doing this in the heart of Springfield,” Eldridge said. “A lot of people of color, they’re gonna be like, ‘oh, damn, look at these guys here, just like me. They’re pumping out beer and working together for something like that.’”

Although the batch is small, the goal is to make the brewing of “As One” a special, annual event that will continue to seed the scholarship fund at HCC over the years. “It’s not a one and done, that’s for sure,” Berry said.


For This Springfield Business, Better Times Are on Tap

Ray Berry

Ray Berry, seen here at the site of White Lion’s new facility in Tower Square, now under construction, says the pandemic impacted virtually every aspect of his business.

From the beginning of the pandemic, Ray Berry’s White Lion Brewery was deemed an essential business by the state’s governor.

That means it was allowed to remain open when many others had to close amid efforts to flatten the curve and relieve the tension on the region’s healthcare system.

But as any other venture on that large list can attest, ‘essential’ does not mean free of challenges, headaches, anxiety, and uncertainty about what might come next.

Indeed, there’s been plenty of all of those things for this Springfield-based company that was looking toward 2020 as a watershed year, and still is in at least some respects.

Especially with plans for a much-anticipated taproom and accompanying restaurant in Tower Square — specifically the former Spaghetti Freddy’s site — now moving forward again after a halt to most forms of construction during the spring.

“Pre-COVID, we were really ramping up and starting to fire on all cylinders relative to sales and construction — we were about to onboard another salesperson and were also looking to obtain another vehicle and perhaps another part-time person to deliver our product,” he told BusinessWest. “And then … the pandemic hit.”

And it hit hard, impacting the company from “front to back,” as Berry put it.

“Pre-COVID, we were really ramping up and starting to fire on all cylinders relative to sales and construction — we were about to onboard another salesperson and were also looking to obtain another vehicle and perhaps another part-time person to deliver our product. And then … the pandemic hit.”

By that he meant virtually every aspect of the business, from the closure of the hundreds of bars and restaurants (as well as MGM Springfield) that sold White Lion to a halting of construction work on the brewery; from the canceling of high-profile events where the brand had a presence, such as the Holyoke Road Race, to the suspension of the beer gardens the company has hosted in downtown Springfield and Westfield during the summer and fall months.

“It was just like a crash — it all happened at once within a 48-hour period when the state and federal governments stepped in and put restrictions in place,” he noted, adding that, as sales plummeted (only liquor stores, also deemed essential, remained as a distribution point), the company had to lay off some of its employees in stages and figure out how to manage with those who remained.

White Lion has been helped by assistance programs on a number of levels, from the federal Paycheck Protection Program to the local Prime the Pump initiative created by the Development Department in Springfield, said Berry, adding that this help, coupled with the remaining business from liquor stores, enabled the company to stay on its feet during those brutal spring months.

And as the state continues to reopen businesses, the outlook for White Lion continues to brighten. Restaurants have reopened across the region, and the state’s casinos have been given the green light to open their doors, although MGM Springfield has not given a specific date when it might do so. And work has resumed on the project in Tower Square, and Berry is projecting that his crew can be in and brewing beer by the end of this month.

“The taproom component is under construction now,” he went on, “and we hope that by mid-August, the taproom piece, as well the kitchen piece, will be complete, and that by the end of August or early September we can start welcoming people into the space.”

Meanwhile, White Lion has recalled most of its seven employees and expects to be “whole” in that regard by late July, he said.

Projecting beyond the next few months is difficult, but Berry believes the company will be able to open its beer gardens in late August or early September, noting that these ventures will be part of phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan.

Looking back — and ahead — Berry, echoing countless other business owners across every sector of the economy, said the pandemic has provided a stern test, one he believes his team is passing through determination and imagination.

“It’s been a challenge in every way you can imagine,” he told BusinessWest. “It’s just a predicament that we’re in, and we have to pivot and continue to find ways to remain resourceful and efficient for the benefit of the sustainability of the company.

“I always said that we’re all resilient as people,” he went on. “And there’s always going to be a light at the end of the tunnel. We don’t know how long that tunnel may be, but there will be a light, and we’re starting to see some of that that now.”

—George O’Brien

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