Hopportunity Awaits is a brew on a mission to help highlight careers in craft beer, and inspire more of us to hold the door for the unique talent among us, creating more pathways for diversity, in every sense, across every role. Partial proceeds will benefit Craft x EDU as we work together to launch an educational grant for emerging professionals in craft beer.
On the cans, you will meet 10 industry professionals who are ready to tell their remarkable stories of how they got their start and paved their own path in craft, rules be damned. Without further ado…
Meet Alisa Bowens-Mercado, turning a passion of dance & lagers into Connecticut’s first Black, woman-owned brewery.
How did you discover the world of craft beer, or what inspired you to join?
It was the 1970’s and both of my grandmothers were beer drinkers. Their beer of choice was always a pony of Miller High Life. At that time, women didn’t drink, and if they did, it usually wasn’t beer. The lineage continued with me. When I was in college, I would be the only one ordering beer. My friends would drink wine, ‘sexy on the beach’, or strawberry daiquiris. Meanwhile, I’m just, “Give me a Miller High Life and I’m good.”
While salsa dancing professionally, I was looking for fun things to do on my off time and my husband and I came across the Cape Cod beer festival. Up until then, I had mostly drank beer in bars. I didn’t know you could have whole festivals dedicated to it and sampling so many different flavors and styles. I really enjoyed it, but I did notice there were not a lot of people of color and not a lot of women. Really the only women there were there because of their significant others.
While seeing all the creative styles was interesting, I was just thinking, “Do they have a Bud Light here?” I just wanted a regular beer. I ended up only drinking this one pumpkin beer the entire time because it was the most normal or close to beer that I knew and had a lower ABV. On the way home, my husband remarked how quiet I was and that it never happens. I was deep in thought and had my Ah-Ha moment! “I’m going to make my own beer,” I said. And that was it!
We bought books and did research for three years. I learned that of the billion dollar industry, people of color were earning a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of what the annual revenue was. It hit me and I said, “Wait a minute,” so I’m a person of color AND female. If I’m drinking it, I’m owning it.
In 2017, ‘Lady Lager’ and Rhythm Brewing were born. I was on a mission to pay homage to my grandmothers. They did not have a voice or the power in their time like I do today. It has been my passion project from day one to diversify the industry and create spaces that allow economical growth and employment opportunities. I want everyone to be able to ‘find their rhythm’ in beer.
For me, that meant brewing lagers. I wanted to shake up the traditional lagers and give them a second chance against their reputation for being boring, watered down, or flavorless. I came from a family of entrepreneurs and had been a part of their businesses, mostly in construction. So entering a male-dominated industry like craft beer and making a whole new business, it was ‘not my first rodeo.’ My story resonated with people and before I knew it, we were collaborating with big name breweries like Sam Adams and Two Roads.
On March 10th, 2018, we had our first can release. The rapid growth from opening to our operations today proves and shows that taking all those years to focus on research paid off. If I were to give advice to anyone, it would be to stay true to your brand and do all of the market research possible.
What do you love about the craft beer community? Where would you love to see it grow or improve?
The craft beer community is very welcoming. It’s almost like ‘their success is your success’ state of mind. The Connecticut Craft Brewers Guild supported me from day one. Change is going to happen when you can put yourself in a position where people can see you. On so many levels, for change to be made, we have to see that there is a need for change. The movement over the last few years, everyone has great intentions, but if we aren’t chipping into that billion annual revenue number equally, there won’t be that shift. So I would like to see more breweries and ownership by more people of color and women.
What types of skills have helped you personally succeed in this industry?
Passions for life and change. Making and creating your own lane and bringing people on a journey with you is where it’s at. When you love what you do, it becomes a selfless mission. It’s a collective, a bigger picture. I’ve been blessed to have had so many opportunities to historically change the face and the taste of craft beer. Also, I love people. I love meeting people, sharing stories, hearing stories, and helping others find their passion and purpose.
When you walk into the room and you’re the only one in the room like you, know it’s where you’re supposed to be because that’s where change happens. Stay! You are the change, the change happens there. Change happens when you stay. I write affirmations like these for myself every day.
Who in the craft beer industry do you admire?
Celeste Beatty. I was just in Rocky Mount, NC for a family reunion and we met for the first time. She is a huge role model. She’s a rock star and I was just fangirling. Chris Harris, the brewmaster and owner of Black Frog brewery has amazing advice. Johnny from Armada Brewing is another. He made one of our first pilots and walked me through the process. Family. People in the industry, like Tom, who set up walk throughs with owners and masters in each brewery in Connecticut while I was first starting out, so I could get personal intro and walkthroughs. He believed in what we were doing and his help meant the world to us as new brewers and brewery owners.
What is the most memorable brew you’ve ever had?
It’s like having kids, all of your beers are your babies! Your flagship will always be your first and that’s special. My Birthday Girl Magic (BGM) vanilla porter 50th birthday gift to myself was really cool because I’m on the can. You see ‘est. 1971’ my birth year. Every collaboration I’ve done I’ll always cherish and hold close to my heart. Lagers are my favorite, but if I was on a deserted island, I would choose Rhythm Blue, because it reminds me of my grandmothers. It’s our unfiltered lager. We keep the goodness in. It’s like the lagers my grandmothers drank, but higher quality and flavor.
Keep in touch!
Say hi on social @rhythmbrewingco and look out for upcoming ‘Brews and Moves’ salsa events on the Rhythm Brewing website! Hoping to find Rhythm Brewing lagers near you? Look out for extended distribution of Rhythm Brewing coming soon to the north east and beyond.
Click here to meet more of our talented rule-makers and read their remarkable stories. Once you hear what they have to say, you will realize that yes, you can brew it too.