Gahanna's Crafted Culture Brewing becomes first Black-owned brewery in central Ohio
Anthony “Sizzle” Perry Jr. said the dream of opening his own brewery came a few years ago after an encounter with his youngest son.
The 5-year-old boy made a drawing of a man drinking a beer, but it looked nothing like Perry, who was working his way up in the craft beer industry at the time.
“He used a peach crayon,” recalled Perry, 35, of Worthington, who is Black. “And the dude had a beard. … I’ve got to be the No. 1 consumer of beer in [my children’s] lives. Why doesn’t he see me?”
Now on a mission to bring more diversity to the field, Perry will open Crafted Culture Brewing Company — the first Black-owned brewery in central Ohio — on Feb. 27. In the meantime, the Gahanna space, formerly occupied by Kindred Brewing, is hosting a series of soft openings throughout the month.
Craft beer is still a white male-dominated industry, but there have been small steps taken toward more inclusion. In central Ohio, breweries such as Lineage Brewing, the Columbus Brewing Co. and Seventh Son are all co-owned by women. And Mad Moon Cidery and Wild Ohio Brewing are also minority-owned.
Last year, the Ohio Craft Brewer’s Association — led by a female executive director — formed a diversity and inclusion committee to assist women and minorities in the industry.
But Black-owned breweries are lagging. Nationally, they make up only 1 percent of the industry, according to a 2019 survey by the Brewers Association. And in Ohio, there are just a handful, including Esoteric Brewing Co. and Cincy Brewing Co., in the Cincinnati area, Black Frog Brewery in the Toledo area and Alematic Artisan Ales in the Dayton area. Also, Two Monks Brewing Co. in Akron has a Black co-founder and vice president.
“It’s systemic at this point,” said Perry, who added that “crap beer, not craft beer” is sold in Black neighborhoods. Though he eventually built a career in the field as a bar manager, delivery driver, sales rep and brewery manager, he said it was difficult to get hired — and get people to buy beer from him.
“I'm looking around, and the only difference between me and every other rep in here is color,” he recalled.
Instead of getting discouraged, Perry said he used the experience as motivation. He envisions Crafted Culture as a place where women and people of color can work and expand their palates.
“This is the spot for inclusion for everybody — all the previously neglected craft beer consumers who haven't been supported, hired, tailored to or marketed towards,” he said.
To that end, he has developed a motto, #BeertheChange, which he intends to develop into a nonprofit to give back to diverse communities.
Crafted Culture’s brewer, Zac Baaske, who is white, said he was inspired by the company’s potential to effect change.
“I've been in the brewing industry for six years now, and pretty much everybody I've ever worked with looked like me,” said Baaske, 29, of the East Side. “I'm like, ‘Let's do what we can to see if we can change that a little bit.’”
He is also excited for the opportunity to experiment — he and Perry are conjuring up decadent, whimsical beers including a flavorful farmhouse ale, which Perry describes as “liquid soul food,” cookie butter porter and a vanilla wafer cake stout using a recipe from Perry’s nana.
“I’m obsessed with things that remind me of being a kid,” Perry said. “Zac told me I can make a Hefeweizen and throw a bunch of banana Laffy Taffys in it.”
Perry said other breweries have graciously allowed Zac to brew in their spaces until Crafted Culture’s onsite production is up and running, hopefully by June.
Perry is an outgoing, upbeat entrepreneur, quick to quote a song lyric or make a joke. His nickname, “Hot Sizzle,” was a phrase he’d yell while doing tricks as a griller at a stir-fry restaurant. (He later dropped the “Hot.”)
He branded his own blog, "Sippin Wit Sizzle," and was vocal about his vision around town.
“I’ve been calling myself the first Black-owned brewery in central Ohio for two years now,” he said.
Instead of putting his personal touch on the interior of the brewery, Perry looks forward to hanging local artwork.
“I’m a personality, but this is not my stage,” he said.
He’s taking the same approach with food and events, which are managed by Peyton, who goes by one name. Whether it's partnering with minority-owned food trucks or sponsoring a local podcaster, they want to create opportunities for others.
“We’ve both been there, sitting down with people who don’t see your dream or believe in it,” said Peyton, 38, of Bexley. “We’re helping people accomplish their goals and dreams.”
Peyton, who has known Perry for over 20 years, said he admires his friend’s work ethic and devotion to his five children, whom he involves in his business. Perry said they have conversations about beer and responsible drinking.
And they are still providing inspiration.
Recently, Perry brought them into the brewery, and his 14-year-old son jokingly ordered a radler, or fruit-infused lager.
“He goes, ‘Let me get a watermelon radler and a whiskey,’” Perry said. “I said, ‘First, no. Second, who makes a watermelon radler? That's not even a thing I ever heard of before.’”
But his son wanted to know if it could be made.
"We might have to now,” Perry said. “That might be a summer thing.”