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 Ale Sharpton, a beer visionary on an endless mission to bring equity, innovation, & style to the industry.
How did you discover the world of craft beer, or what inspired you to join?
My family is originally from Jamaica and have raised a lot of chefs along the way. So they taught me from a young age the importance of making sure something tasted delicious.
When I was young, my uncle gave me a sip of his beer as a joke thinking I would spit it out exclaiming how gross it was; I truly liked it and said that’s what I’ll drink when I’m older. Sure enough, when I was older, beer was always my choice of beverage. During my college years at Cornell in upstate New York, I started tasting more beers and getting exposed to a lot more flavors. That was the first time I discovered Garret Oliver’s ‘Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout.’ While my friends would bring wine coolers or cheap wine to a party, I was always the guy with a six-pack of beers. I enjoyed my occasional 40, but for the most part, I was saving my money for good craft beer that most of my classmates didn’t deem worth the cost. Their loss.
Moving to Atlanta in the early 90’s was a shock because the beer scene sucked compared to what I was used to in New York. At the time, I was working as a writer for a lot of hip-hop magazines and burgeoning websites, plus working for Sony Music as an assistant A&R. I thought to myself, ‘I love this city, but in order to change it, I need to get into the beer scene and actually educate people and use the power of the pen to change the laws.’
With that plan, I started reading and writing about craft beer and merging it with hip-hop culture which no one had ever done. The law at the time here in Georgia was archaic. It was like a 6% ABV limit which meant that the macro brewers had a big stranglehold on the industry because that’s all that was accessible. And with that, I got into politics, got into writing, and wrote it my voice to bring an edge into the industry. It was not very technical like the average writers, but the marriage of hip-hop and craft beer worked for me and those new to the industry. My writing style began to blow up, but refreshing perspective to the industry, and a beer scribe was born.
Why ‘Ale Sharpton’?
I wanted to take it to the next level and build a whole brand around the voice I’ve created. I thought of ‘Ale Sharpton’ because it’s catchy. And I’m always joking around that my real name, Dennis Malcolm Byron, sounds like a law firm. So I told my then-girlfriend, now wife, Andrea, “I need to come up with a name.” I’m a brother, love hip-hop which is all about aliases, and incorporate beer in one name.
So, after a blunt and some Brooklyn Black Chocolate stouts, I came up with that at 2 a.m. that morning. It just worked: Ale Sharpton was born! And it was no disrespect to the Reverend; it was more paying homage. I was simply matching his passion for civil rights with my passion to bring a different perspective to the industry.
On the branding side, I’m an artist and designer. So I created the Ale Sharpton logo with the help of my friend Vince Robinson, followed by my own stickers. I hadn’t seen anyone else at the time doing what I was doing in the beer industry regarding branding themselves. I was just making a pathway for myself and I said I had to do it. I’m going to be the only Black beer writer out here taking things to this level.
Yes, Garret Oliver was writing beer books at the time and was a huge inspiration to me, but no one was doing it like I was: merging hip hop and craft beer. I just wanted to be different and blaze a new trail. Sure enough, it was embraced nationally. And when I started traveling the world as an editor for an Atlanta-based lifestyle magazine, I brought my Ale Sharpton stickers with me. And there you go! I can honestly say it was one of my greatest ideas and accomplishments during my lifetime. It’s been a long ride of more than 25 years and well worth it.
Did the Georgia laws on capping the ABV limit ever change? Did you lobby?
Yes, I was lobbying, educating people, writing about it and making videos to share. There were beer bars starting to form. Having those different styles of beers really helped bring awareness to what brewing infrastructure this could create in our city. One place in particular that was blazing trails was Brick Store Pub, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary; I mean, the owners got knighted in Belgium for their amazing Belgian beer bar upstairs and overall dedication to the scene. From there, Atlanta Brewing Co., Dogwood, 5 Seasons, and Sweet Water came in to name a few; all of these people helped us pave the way for Georgia’s capital.
In 2004, they passed with a new limit of 14% ABV. As expected, Atlanta opened up and sparked the emergence of local breweries. Atlanta became a hub for breweries that distribute from other states. It was a great experience to be there, hand in hand with others fighting for this change to make ATL the beer city that it is today.
What do you love about the craft beer community? Where would you love to see it grow or improve?
Beer attracts good people from all likes of life. I want to see it further diversify and provide opportunities for everyone including ownership.
What types of skills have helped you personally succeed in this industry?
My journalism career, interpersonal skills, extensive travel, confidence I could be a leader in the industry, culinary knowledge, experience in the lifestyle segment, and studying its history. Oh, and love for fashion, art, music and design.
Who in the craft beer industry do you admire?
I will always respect Garrett Oliver, Dr. J. Beckham, Sam Calagione, Grossman… simply fearless entrepreneurs, brewers, and visionaries who believed in their mission. Oh, and the enslaved brewmasters in the US who never got the credit. Trust me, there were many.
What is the most memorable brew you’ve ever had?
Miller High Life was the first I ever tasted, but the Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, Unibroue La Fin Du Monde, and my own creation, and the Piano Keys Chocolate Vanilla Imperial Stout I created and backed by New Belgium changed my life.
What advice would you give to someone trying to enter the industry but doesn’t know where to start?
Specify what your goal is and go for it. This doesn’t happen overnight. Trust me. As long as you’re doing what fuels you and not jumping in because you see it as a marketable fad, go for it. Be genuine. If you believe it, people will begin to follow what you think is dope. Remain open-minded and confident, and then go after it. Things will happen for you as you pave the way if you continue believing in yourself. So just know that there’s no wrong answer and what you like is what you like. No one has lived your life or been in your body 24/7 besides yourself, so do you!
How did the rise of social media change the way you played the game?
When I first got started, there was no social media. When Twitter and Facebook came out, they got things popping, but Instagram really embraced my love of art. I could post the captivating things I see daily. Instagram was a place to show love to a lot of great people who are doing great things. And it was an outlet for simply posting things that I consider dope.
With this app, I got to showcase my photography. I shoot a certain way and people know my style when they see it. No filters or whatever. Just straight up. I learned to fully embrace the phone instead of walking around with a traditional camera that got stolen once and was hard to keep up with on the go. Pretty much everything is by phone now and I’ve learned to get a good grip on its features.
Through Instagram, people hear my voice through how I write my captions alongside what I see through my eyes. It’s a win, win! Follow me at @realalesharpton and see how I get down!
Thanks for the love and doing this necessary project, DuClaw!