Juneteenth takes center stage at Crafted Culture Brewing
Anthony ‘Sizzle’ Perry Jr. on the evolving importance of the holiday and his attempt ‘to replicate everybody’s cookout in one spot’ at the Gahanna brewery this Saturday
Growing up on the East Side, Anthony “Sizzle “ Perry Jr. recalled frequenting Juneteenth celebrations in Franklin Park, including one he attended with his grandfather, an ice cream distributor, who set up a cart and sold scoops to passersby, and another where he watched a performance by the pioneering Columbus rap group S.P.I.R.I.T.
Over time, these annual celebrations became a catalyst for Perry to dig deeper into the foundations of Juneteenth, which takes place on June 19 and commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. “I was 12 years old before I learned what Juneteenth was, so here I am, 20-plus years later, and I celebrate it much different than I used to,” said Perry during an interview at his Gahanna brewery, Crafted Culture, which will host a daylong Juneteenth event on Saturday, June 19. “Back then it was just like, ‘School’s out and here’s a reason to cook out and hang with my cousins.’ Now it’s a real celebration. It’s a day I can talk to my kids about real things that happened in life. It’s almost a resurgence of the griot (a storyteller, musician or oral historian in African culture), where you can sit down and tell the story, and where what was once taken away can now be recreated.”
When Perry opened Crafted Culture in February, he never envisioned leading a Juneteenth celebration, initially establishing the business — the first Black-owned brewery in Central Ohio — with the more modest goal of creating a safe space within beer culture for he and his friends. But the early media attention, including national coverage from Bloomberg News and NPR, heightened the sense of responsibility Perry felt with running the business, which has since expanded on its mission. In recent months, Perry said he has worked to seek out as many Black-owned brands as he can find. “That shelf is 20 feet long,” he said gesturing at the liquor shelf behind the bar, “and I want to line that with 20 feet of Black-owned brands.”
Perry has also continued to advance the idea of the business as a safe space for those who have long been left on the outside looking in when it comes to brewery culture, including people of color, women and those in the LGBTQ community.
“When I lock the doors at night, I’m thinking to myself, ‘Did every woman feel comfortable in here? Did she feel safe in here?’” Perry said. “‘Did every African American who came through the door feel like this place was created just for them? Did it feel like home? If anybody was in here from the LGBTQ community, did they feel welcome and comfortable?’ And I’m asking those questions every day.”
Working from this point of view has impacted virtually every aspect of the business, from the products Perry chooses to carry to the holidays celebrated within the space. So while St. Patrick’s Day passed with barely a mention (“It doesn’t represent the people that I’m trying to reach"), Juneteenth is gearing up to be a spectacle that Perry summed up as his attempt to “replicate everybody’s Juneteenth cookout in one spot.”
In addition to a trio of food vendors that includes Cleveland’s Parker & Sons BBQ, Where It All Vegan, and G’s Flavor House, which will be doing an on-site fish fry, the brewery will also be debuting a couple of new beers, including a brew cask-conditioned with ethnic teas. There will also be on-site entertainment provided throughout the day, ranging from bands and DJs to an appearance by the East High School drumline, which will be performing to raise money for the band following a year financially devastated by COVID-19. “We’re going to give them the space,” said Perry, who views this kind of community outreach as an intrinsic part of the slogan adopted by the brewery, “Be[er] the change.” “It’s going to be our time, our facility, our resources, but lending those to people who can positively impact the community.”
In past jobs, Perry said there were times he was forced to hide aspects of his personality, or to code switch in an effort to better integrate, a weight from which he said he has finally been freed since opening Crafted Culture. “To unabashedly be myself is rare,” he said. “In my 30-plus years on Earth I’ve really only been able to do it this year.”
This includes openly embracing Juneteenth, a holiday which he was forced to request off in the past, but which he is looking forward to working this weekend, particularly in light of both the coronavirus pandemic, which prevented in-person Juneteenth celebrations in 2020, and the revitalized Black lives matter movement of the last year, which Perry described as echoing the spirit of Juneteenth.
“Sometimes you really need the sound of all the voices in the choir to make you feel the music,” Perry said of the collective uprising that followed the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd in May 2020. “Everyone began to cry out in unison, and that was what made that voice so big. No one, after that, felt like they were doing it alone. And that’s part of what Juneteenth is, like, 'We’re out here now, and we’re free to function as a community, so let’s celebrate that day like that last few that got that message [that slavery had ended] and get out there and revitalize the excitement they had in that moment over and over and over.'”