Chicago Entrepreneurs are Making a Splash in the Craft Beer Market

Left to right: Jamhal Johnson, Damon Patton, Anthony Bell
Photo: Moor’s Beer

When you think about the typical craft beer drinker, a bearded hipster who’s definitely white probably comes to mind. And you wouldn’t be too far off from reality. A study commissioned by the Brewers Association found that although Black drinkers compose 11.2 percent of the US population, they’re only drinking 3.7 percent of the country’s craft beer. As a Black woman who prefers a nice white wine, I’ve always avoided beer as something that will add inches to my waistline. But a group of friends in Chicago is on a mission to get more Black people drinking craft beer and create a badge brand that’s as timeless as Air Jordans and Mercedes Benz. And they’re doing it with a Black man draped in gold chains on the front of their can.

Moor’s Beer is the brainchild of friends and Chicago natives Damon Patton, Jamhal Johnson and Anthony Bell. The idea for the brand came in the spring of 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic and racial unrest had a firm grip on the country. “There was a lot of focus being placed on diversity, equity and inclusion. So we thought beer was a great industry to jump into because it was all white,” Johnson said. But the friends knew that images of stampeding Clydesdales or guys shouting “Wassup?” into the phone weren’t going to work as a marketing strategy this time. They were going to have to come different to make their brand inviting to the African American customers they wanted to attract.

They knew the stereotype that Black people don’t drink craft beer because they can’t afford it wasn’t true. The reality was that no one in the industry was speaking to them, which is how they decided on the brand name and logo. “We had to think of a really cool name and a story,” Johnson said. “I felt like it was an opportunity to tell the story of Northern Africans who invaded Europe and civilized the continent. I thought it was a dope way to infuse our culture, art, and hip-hop and create a cool brand with great beer.” They knew they wanted to make a statement with Moor’s, and the can art, a modernized version of Hendrik Heerschop’s 1654 painting of The African King Caspar draped in gold chains was the team’s way of letting people know what their brand was all about. The team launched their beer on Juneteenth 2021 in a few Chicago-area liquor stores, and within a few months, the brand has grown to over 150 accounts, which include a mix of bars, restaurants, arenas and grocery stores around the city. And they have no plans of slowing down.

Other black brands are getting into the craft beer space, but the guys at Moor’s say they’re doing things differently. Anthony Bell, who is responsible for Moor’s marketing strategy, says a key component of their early success has been their ability to engage with customers one-on-one at curated tasting events that include dope hip-hop music and beautiful people. This approach has helped them make Moor’s something people want to be a part of, whether they’re traditional beer drinkers or not. “People who don’t really like basketball love going to NBA all-star weekend because they get to dress up and be in spaces with people they want to be around. That’s kind of like Moor’s. You may not like beer, but where it is and how it lives is something they want to be a part of,” Bell said.

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Has a 15.5-quart capacity, has functions to grill, a rotisserie kit, and a tray, and has 100 pre-sets to choose from when cooking your food.

Bell says he’d love to eventually see Moor’s in the category with other iconic brands like Air Jordans and Mercedes Benz that people associate with quality. “We want to be a brand that creates generations of products that are still relevant because we’ve established a baseline of excellence. If you’re going to have a craft beer or a black-owned craft beer, make it Moors,” he says.

Although business has been good, the team knows that starting a brand in the middle of a pandemic in a field they knew nothing about was a huge risk and something Patton admits kept him up at night in the early days. “We’re literally walking on Mars here. We’ve got a black man on a beer can wearing Slick Rick’s chains for the first time in history, and that means different things to different people.” he said.

Looking to the future, Patton says the team has plans to expand their brand outside of their hometown. “The work will never end when you’re talking about a global brand. We’re trying to swallow an elephant by penetrating the third largest market in the country,” Patton said. “And how do you do that? One bite at a time.”