"Good beer brings friends together, but great beer brings everyone together," says Marcus Baskerville, Head Brewer and Co-Owner of Weathered Souls Brewing Co. It all started with a Mr. Beer home brewing kit that evolved into one of the top breweries in the country with national recognition not only for his unique stouts, but fierce initiative behind Black is Beautiful, an international collaboration bringing awareness to the injustices people of color face daily.
With Black brewery owners standing at roughly 1% of all independent breweries, Marcus is the first Black brewery owner in Texas and the first Black member of Texas Brewers Guild. Moreover, Marcus knows beer and he knows what the community needs.
When Weathered Souls opened in 2016, pastry stouts, hazy IPAs, and pastry sours were elusive to the San Antonio scene. "There were these exciting new styles that typically San Antonio craft fans needed to go out of state to enjoy and we were the first ones to start producing them," described Marcus. Much like his first brewing experience, Marcus didn't want to start small. Along with Co-Owner Mike Holt, they opened with 240 barrels of tank space that quickly drew the masses with a thirst for something different.
Weathered Souls stands on its own as a leader in the industry, but things really changed when the team launched its Black is Beautiful project in June 2020. Less than 48 hours in, 226 breweries across the country signed on. The process is simple: Participating breweries download the stout-based recipe and can either sell it as is or put their own creative spin on it, donating 100% of the proceeds to a charity or organization of their choice that will work to further social justice, police reform, equality, and inclusion.
We chatted with Marcus Baskerville to learn more about Weathered Souls Brewery Co.—how it started and what the future holds.
What was it about making that initial beer that hooked you?
My brother and I actually brewed our first couple of beers together. The first beer was a double honey IPA—we really reached for the fences and it did not come out the way we wanted. So after that, I went back to the basics, wanting to learn more about traditional styles, basic IPAs, porters, stouts, pale ales, and saisons.
I jumped in head-first brewing a lot of things we now brew here at Weathered Souls with adjuncts, pastry stouts, barrel-aged stouts, and barrel agents. I engulfed myself into the brewing culture pretty early on even before opening our brewery.
How did the pandemic affect business from the beginning? Did you pivot at all?
We were able to survive with to-go beer—our servers and bartenders met people at their cars with orders. We did that all the way up until we were able to open a taproom, but that still meant only 25% occupancy, which wasn't really enough.
A lot of the craft beer fans and customers showed up to support; but, obviously COVID lasted a lot longer than what people expected and some of that support dwindled. There was definitely a point to where things weren't looking the greatest, even with the popularity of Black is Beautiful. You figure that's fine and dandy, but 100% of our proceeds went to our beneficiaries. Luckily, with the good graces of people picking up on the initiative and things opening back up, we have a new light upon us. And, so a lot of people are excited about our beer and we're able to start pushing stuff out.
What are some of the challenges you faced through 2020?
When lockdown hit, all bars and breweries had to close. But, you still had restaurants open and restaurants were able to serve alcohol to-go. A lot of the breweries felt technically, we should be able to do the same—originally you had to file to become a restaurant to be able to sell beer to-go. So, we had to change our brewpub license to a restaurant license just to have the ability to stay open, otherwise we would have shutdown. The laws are very archaic in that sense, and so it doesn't always benefit us.
Were you affected by the winter power crisis?
That was crazy. It shut us down for an entire week. But, one of the things we were able to do is utilize our 80 barrels, which is about a little over 2,000 gallons, of clean drinking water available in our cold liquor tank that went through its reverse osmosis. We supplied water to the local community and everybody who needed it. We ended up partnering with our district congressman and worked out a plan to supply water to the entire city. We had to at least try to assist where we could assist.
Did you always see yourself incorporating social justice into your brand and business model?
Never. That wasn't really something that was even a thought in our minds or even my mind. I mean, we've obviously always been involved in our communities, but Black is Beautiful was more of a catalyst of something I felt I needed to do in response to what was and is happening. I just laid out a plan for my business partner and management teams, and was like, this is how I'm feeling and this is what we're going to do.
Originally I planned to do a standalone release at the brewery, but after I had a conversation with Jeffrey Stuffings [founder of Jester King Brewery], I sent him a mock-up of the label and he was like, "I would understand if you don't want to do this, but you should turn this into a collaboration." And I was like, "You know what, Jeff, that's a fantastic idea." I literally started working on the mission statement later that day.
Did it surprise you how Black is Beautiful took off?
Definitely. Our brewery was known, but it wasn't known to the extent that I thought there would be 1,200 breweries, all 50 states, and 22 countries participating in the initiative. Even then, we look at the brewing industry, and we know it has the ability to be inclusive, but based on the numbers, it's not that inclusive. So, to see that many breweries involve themselves was definitely a very humbling surprise. We've personally donated close to about $50,000 to the 100 Black Men of San Antonio within over the last 10 months.
Our brewery was known, but it wasn't known to the extent that I thought there would be 1,200 breweries, all 50 states, and 22 countries participating in the initiative.
How do you see the business evolving and growing post-pandemic?
For us, the next year is about expanding and becoming a household brand name as we start pushing into other states. It's dialing in on our processes and making sure the beer going out is of the best quality. Our core list still stands the test of time to a lot of the traditional breweries. Our West Coast IPA is one of the top selling IPAs in the entire city.
In February, we partnered with Walmart and 8 other breweries to release Black is Beautiful through 330 different Walmart stores nationwide. That transitioned us to working with a few different distributors in various states. Up until Black is Beautiful, we were only available in kegs, but now cans are available for our core beers—that's opened up some huge opportunities for us to be able to go nationwide and throughout the world into Europe, Japan, China, etc.
Even though we have the ability to be open 100% we're still sitting at 75%. That's what feels safe for us and our employees. We're still running through the COVID protocol with masks, sanitizer, and everything.
What's the long term plan for Black is Beautiful?
My ultimate goal is to see it become a nonprofit so that specific organizations can continue to push the message out. The beer aspect is fun, but the message is more important. I want to see it transition into more of its own entity that can support and assist—not something that I'm running all the time while still trying to run a business.
Outside of that, the goal is to continue to release Black is Beautiful throughout the year at various times. We'll continue to partner with other retailers and entities. Hopefully, we can keep it going and keep people engaged in the mission.