When Celeste Beatty brewed her first batch of beer, she fell in love. She loved the process, and the smell of the boiling barley. It reminded her of cooking soup with her mother in the South when she was a child.
She began hosting brewing sessions in her living room, teaching the craft to her family and friends. Beer became “this sort of interesting platform for me to bring those people together and enjoy a great beer and have dialogue,” said Ms. Beatty, who turned her passion into a business, the Harlem Brewing Company, 16 years ago.
But as much as she hoped her venture would bring a changing and diverse community together, Ms. Beatty, 53, found unexpected challenges.
She spends time with other black people, but also with people of different races, and that has led to inaccurate speculation, she said.
“A couple times I was accused that I wasn’t a black-owned company, that I was just a front — you know, that it’s really white people that are running my company,” she said. She added that she worried she would be accused of selling out. “I even get worried about who I’m seen with or where I go,” she said. “It’s just so much paranoia around it. That, to me, is an extra burden.”
But Ms. Beatty noted that she has lived in Harlem for 25 years, and her business has always been in the community.
Sometimes, she said, she feels that people overthink what she is doing.
“It’s just beer,” she said.
She started making beer 19 years ago in her apartment near Marcus Garvey Park after a friend gave her a home-brewing kit. Friends suggested that brewing would combine two of her passions: gardening and beer.
From there, she developed recipes rooted in Harlem’s history. Her Sugar Hill Golden Pale Ale is made with locally grown hops and named after the famous Sugar Hill district. Another Harlem Brewing Company original, Renaissance Whit, pays homage to a beer Alexander Hamilton brewed on his 32-acre Harlem estate, The Grange, in what is now known as the Hamilton Heights neighborhood.
“What I liked about it was that every culture of the world pretty much has a brewing tradition of some sort,” Ms. Beatty said. “It has the ability to bring people together around the conversation.”
Ms. Beatty belongs to the New York State Brewers Association and the Craft Brewers Association, and is a board member of the New York City Brewers Guild. At events for those organizations, she rarely sees black women like herself.
Tatiana Sabin, an African-American woman from Queens, recently attended one of Ms. Beatty’s home-brewing classes. “It’s always nice to feel represented,” she said. “It’s a good thing to get people out in your neighborhood, exploring and finding out about the history.”
Her friend Ashley Morant, from Brooklyn, added, “It lets people know Harlem can produce good things.”
Ms. Beatty said that to succeed in business, she had to work with people of all races and backgrounds.
“If you want to run your business, if you want to advance your ideas, your community, whatever your interests are,” she said, “you have to go outside your comfort zone.”