Collective champions inclusion to brew popular beers



It comes in bottles of Blackberry Freedom, and all the other tasty and very popular beers brewed by the new Change Is Brewing Collective in Halifax.

The collective includes people from different races and sexual orientations—all determined to be a force for good in business and the broader community.

Evelyn C. White wrote about how Change Is Brewing came to be and how well it is doing. What follows are excerpts from those two articles first published by the Halifax Examiner: the first last July and the second on December 31.

The first in the nation

[ Editor’s note: Blackberry Freedom pale ale first went on sale in July 2020]

...Produced by The Change is Brewing Collective, [Blackberry Freedom is] the refreshing pale ale [that] stands as the first, in the nation, to have been crafted by a group of queer and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) workers in the food, beverage, and hospitality industries.

“COVID, the killing of George Floyd, and the global Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality inspired me to examine my profession,” said Giovanni (Gio) Johnson, a microbiologist and lead brewer at Good Robot. “As one of the few Black brewers in Canada, I think it’s time to change the white male-dominated image of craft brewing. The industry needs more minority owners, journalists, beer judges, suppliers, everything.”

The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice

To that end, Johnson formed, in the aftermath of Floyd’s heinous murder, a collective with local friends and colleagues to brew Blackberry Freedom. The name references an affirming adage in Black culture that counters the negative connotations of darkness: “The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.” In addition to blackberry, the brew is infused with subtle grape notes.

...Half of Blackberry Freedom sales are designated for programs that support youth such as the YMCA on Gottingen Street and the Blxck House, a community centre in North Preston. Proceeds will also help to fund a Brewing 101 workshop for minorities (age 19+).


In addition to his job at Good Robot, Johnson, working with Damian McCartney and O’Neil Miller, co-founded The Limestone Group, an organization that produces events inspired by the music, customs, and cuisine of their native Bahamas. The enterprising young men happily joined The Change is Brewing Collective. “We got tired of knocking on the doors of craft brewers and not being welcomed,” said McCartney who is also a licensed realtor. “So we decided to make our own door.”

“It’s important to promote not just ‘tolerance’ in the Halifax food and beverage industry but true acceptance,” added Miller, a server at the Marriott Harbourstone Bar and Grill.

Three white guys who get it

“It’s true that Good Robot is owned by three white guys,” [says Jayme-Lynn Gloade a Mi’kmaq from the Millbrook First Nation.] “But whenever they mess up, they educate themselves and do better. They hired minorities long before all the ‘woke reckoning’ that’s happening now.”


Inclusion has always been the cornerstone of Good Robot, said Joshua Counsil, a co-owner of the brewery that opened in 2015, boasts a nearly 14% non-white staff, and, arguably, the most diverse clientele in the province. “We prioritize the often underserved and non-normative demographics of craft beer,” he explained. “Queer people, Black people, women.”


The Change is Brewing Collective also includes Shekara Grant, Nathan Fels, and Amber Zaza (who designed the Blackberry Freedom label that features raised fists). “Conversations and reflection with the Collective helped to turn all the grief, pain, and anger we were feeling about racism into power and resilience,” said Zaza who is Black, queer, and a staffer at Good Robot.  “All of our work is about reclaiming space for the BIPOC community.

Success follows success

Since the release of its first beer — Blackberry Freedom — the Collective has teamed with North Brewing, 2 Crows Brewing, and Lake City Cider to produce, respectively, a wheat ale, a Berliner Weisse, and a cider infused with juniper, rosemary, and thyme. The group also worked with kids at the Gottingen Street YMCA to brew a non-alcoholic, carbonated tea. Inspired by rapper Lil Nas X and his smash hit  “Old Town Road,” the youths christened the drink, Lil Soda.

“Looking back on the year, I’m very pleased,” Johnson said, noting that all the Collective’s partners have shared proceeds from their brews with non-profit organizations. “There was no existing path for what we wanted to accomplish, so we did everything ourselves. We developed the recipes, the marketing strategies, the label designs. Now people are speaking honestly about the need for more diversity in the industry.”

A transforming experience

To be sure, Lake City Cider proprietor Poet Comeau said she’s been transformed by her affiliation with the Collective. “As a white person, I’ve had to ask myself why my profession is so white,” she said. “The hurdles for minorities are real. So, I’m examining my outreach and hiring practices. It’s way past time for us to address these issues.”

Like Comeau, Rozina Darvesh, co-owner of North Brewing, said she revelled in the brainstorming sessions that produced Cherry Brook Wheat. “The work the Collective is doing to spark positive change is so important and valued,” she said, adding that her shop donated $14,000 from sales of the ale to the Black Cultural Centre in Cherry Brook.

Guided by the Collective and Ren Navarro, a Black, Ontario-based beer educator, North Brewing also awarded its first-ever $1500 Diversity and Inclusion Scholarship to Vanessa Thomas, who’ll apprentice at the company next summer.

A chemistry major at Dalhousie, the East Preston native is excited to learn more about brewing. “I’ve always been interested in beer and want to see more people of colour represented,” she said. To that end, Thomas can count — along with the Collective — Chelsea Bundy as a role model. A  new staffer at Good Robot, Bundy, an African Nova Scotian, holds a Chemical Engineering degree from Dal and crafted the brewery’s winning Zorro Dark Lager. “It was my first brew and it turned out well,” she said.

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