Florida State University graduate and entrepreneur Wade "Bunchy" Collins is brewing something big. By 2021, Collins hopes to open the doors of Bunchy's Homebrew, a Black-owned brewery in Tampa.
"Black people do not have the capital and the patience to deal with the system, because it is extremely in favor of the rich and will target the poor, as we have already been made the target of a state agency," Collins tells New Times, detailing the arduous steps necessary to launch a beer-making facility in Florida.
"Opening a brewery is difficult in that it requires the cooperation of different state and federal agencies," he explains. "The process is very costly, and one would need a substantial amount of capital to complete the state's process. Before the state will provide the required licenses, we would already need to have secured a location, renovated the location to the health department standards, and have purchased and installed the brewing equipment. Only then will the state inspect it all and maybe permit the licenses we need."
While most breweries are owned by people who started at home and aren't necessarily the affluent, the craft beer industry's overwhelming whiteness points to deeper racial undertones.
As Thrillist notes, "It's a widely known fact that Black Americans, on the whole, have less wealth, lower incomes, and more difficulty securing bank loans than white Americans do. And those three factors create another barrier to entry into the craft beer industry."
For Collins, opening a brewery in West Tampa — a majority non-white neighborhood adjacent to historic Ybor City — could be a step toward reversing some of the racial and socioeconomic effects of gentrification by offering a quality product to a demographic grossly overlooked by the worldwide beer industry.
"In learning to brew beer at home and giving away the product to friends and family, I began to study what it was about Bunchy's Homebrew that was so popular, and looking at my demographics," Collins explains in an email exchange. "I realized that most people drinking Bunchy's Homebrew had never been to a brewery, had a craft beer, and/or simply did not consider themselves beer drinkers."
In Collins' view, craft beer is beer that deviates from the typical dominant style sold in national and international markets, and instead ventures into a world of bubbly invention and diverse flavors.
"I realized that all of the breweries in town did not represent a large demographic of consumers," he says. "There was no marketing for Black people. The environments were not always welcoming to us, and I found myself at times the only Black person in the building, sitting alone in a taproom designed to look like a working man's trophy room."
Collins thinks it's a flagrant "missed opportunity to market to and serve an entire market of people who obviously consume alcohol, seeing as there is a liquor store on every corner in Black neighborhoods."
A self-described overly obsessive person who fiercely focuses on an interest when he identifies one, Collins hit on the fact that his target consumers don't like the bitter, hoppy taste of India pale ales (IPAs) — the type of beer that dominates the craft market.
"Most people prefer sweeter ones, such a Belgian ale or wheat ale," he says of Black drinkers.
Bunchy's Homebrew offers a unique line of brews that incorporate spices such as ginger and coriander and offer robust fruitful flavors — like the aptly named One Banana wheat ale and the Tropical Storm hazy pale ale juiced up with pineapple and mango.
Further separating Bunchy's from the pack: his incorporation of popular television and hip-hop culture nostalgia — another personal passion. Dxmn, Gina!, a peach-jalapeño wheat ale, draws its name from the '90s sitcom Martin. The rich Prolific hazelnut porter honors the late rapper Nipsey Hussle, and Flower Bomb hibiscus wheat ale is named after Wale's radio hit, "Lotus Flower Bomb."
"It is important for us to create this space because there is no place where a Black person can give their beer dollars to another Black person. It is becoming increasingly important for our community to circulate our wealth within our community, but we lack in businesses that allow us to do so," says Collins, who considers it essential to have a stake in an industry he loves but that has historically ignored the Black consumer. "We are solving one more inequality and giving our community a chance to support itself and circulate the wealth in our community."
Aside from Green Bench Brewing Company, a Black-owned brewery in St. Petersburg specializing in lagers, Black craft-beer lovers in Florida must spend their money elsewhere.
COVID-19 has pushed back Collins' target launch date of Martin Luther King Day 2021, but he remains determined to open in West Tampa sometime next year.
"We'll be a small brewery starting out and plan to grow over five years into a larger market, where you'll be able to find our beer in stores throughout the state," he says.
Initially, Bunchy's will only sell beer onsite, inviting guests to drink in the taproom and buy six-packs to go. He also foresees staging events "catered to all communities, and working alongside other breweries to help create more opportunity for all people in the beer industry."
Collins prides himself on being a family-oriented person and wants to bring that same spirit to his brewery.
"We want to be a place where families come and spend their Saturday evenings or where alumni come to enjoy college sports," he says. "We want to be a haven for Buccaneers football fans and for people who want to unwind throughout the week. We want to be a home away from home where anybody can discover something new without the condescending assumption that a nonaficionado shouldn't be at a craft brewery.
"Ever been to a Black family reunion? That's Bunchy's Homebrew," he says.
As the city of Tampa continues to grow, Collins wants to encourage more Black businesses to join him on Main Street "so that we can help foster a village of Black businesses to further serve our community."
To learn more about Bunchy's Homebrew, visit Collins' GoFundMe page.
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