‘We also have a larger social mission’: Black-owned brewery in Philly debuts its first beers

(Image via The Philadelphia Tribune)

By Ayana Jones

PHILADELPHIA — The city’s first Black-owned brewery has brought two new beers to the marketplace.

Two Locals Brewing Company, owned by brothers Mengistu and Richard Koilor, launched the beers in partnership with FCM Hospitality and Mainstay Independent Brewing.

“It’s been great because it helped us get our product to market before actually getting a brick and mortar,” Mengistu Koilor said of the collaboration.

“Pennsylvania’s laws around beer and liquor (are) pretty strict. You have to jump through some hoops to get the license to actually be able to sell and distribute beer, so this has actually helped us circumvent that and get our product out there, which is great.”

This month marked the debut of their Nubian Brown Ale, a beer with hints of fresh baked bread, nutty and medium roasted coffee and the Prolific Hazy IPA, which features hints of mango nectar, guava and pineapple. A third beer titled Who You Wit? — a Belgian style Witbier — is slated for release in May.

Richard Koilor said that people have been responding favorably to the beers since they were released — particularly their Nubian Brown Ale.

“A lot of people have been happy that we released that beer because there is so many IPAs out there and people are happy that they are able to get a beer style that they don’t see out there that often,” he said.

The brothers aim to open Philadelphia’s first Black-owned brick and mortar brewery and tap house.

“I stand behind what Richard and Mengistu are doing with Two Locals Brewing,” Avram Hornik, the owner of FCM Hospitality said in a news release.

“They are a talented and driven team who are working hard to expand awareness of craft beer in their community, all while they look to make history with their first brewery.

“We are thrilled to work with them and help them reach their goals — and we hope to work with them down the road as they expand their brewery beyond our walls.”

Mengistu Koilor said that the craft beer world needs more diverse representation.

“We want to release great craft beer we can be proud of, but we also have a larger social mission,” he said.

“There’s a very small percentage of craft breweries in the U.S. and I think African Americans represent 1%. That needs to change.”

A 2019 diversity data survey by the Brewers Association has found that Black people make up only 1 percent of craft brewer owners.

The Koilor brothers, who were raised in West Philadelphia, started out in 2016 by home brewing their beer. After years of perfecting their craft, and sampling their brews at public events, the duo garnered attention when they joined forces with Harris Family Brewery and Double Eagle Malting to collaborate on the Black is Beautiful beer at Callowhill’s Love City Brewing. More than $9,000 in proceeds was raised and donated to support Black Lives Matters.

“The more we got into the brewing industry, the more we realized the lack of Black brewers and Black owned breweries,” Richard Koilor said.

“There has never been a Black-owned brewery in Philadelphia and we want to make that happen.”

The brothers are currently talking to potential investors and searching for the ideal location for their brick-and-mortar site.

“We want a good location where we can sort of be part of the community and grow with the community in any way that we can,” Mengistu Koilor explained.

He said that it’s been challenging to secure banking capital for their venture.

“We’re a startup and banks view us — especially because we’re in the market that we’re in – as a very high risk business,” Mengistu Koilor said.

“It’s really getting the banks comfortable with our business model, as well as us having some sort of funding underneath our belt, so we can go to the table with some leverage.”

He said bringing the beer to the marketplace enables the brothers to build their brand awareness and raise money toward their overall goal.

Two Locals’ Nubian and Prolific beers are available for purchase online or at Craft Hall at 901 N. Delaware Ave. on Fridays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The beers will be available for delivery through the BierMi app and for in-store purchase at area retailers including Bottle Bar East, BEER Love, The Bottle Shop, Bella Vista Distributors, Bloomsday Café, Pinocchio’s Beer Garden, Bryn Mawr Beverage, Swarthmore CO-OP and Local 44 Bottle Shop.

Two Locals Brewing Company releases will also be coming to Morgan’s Pier, Parks on Tap, Lola’s Garden, Harper’s Garden, Juno and The Garden at Cherry Street Pier.

Ayana Jones is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.