Celeste Beatty, CEO and founder of Harlem Brewery, found a love for brewing through the kitchen as an avid culinary enthusiast and practitioner with deep family roots in southern cuisine. “I had been using beer in my dishes and recipes for years,” Beatty says. Also, as a lover of a nice cold one, it seemed only fitting that Celeste began creating her own craft beers, or at least one friend thought, and gave Celeste her first home brew kit. Celeste quickly began to see a great deal of the similarities not only between her technique methods, but also in the ingredients she had already been familiar with in her style of cooking to the basics of brewing.
Prior to launching Harlem Brewery in 2000, she made small batch beer in her Harlem studio apartment, trying different recipes and ingredients. “The big difference about cooking, as similar as it may be, is that once you brew you have to let it sit and do its own thing. The process of making beer takes extreme patience, so it builds a bit of excitement as to what the final product will taste like and I think that adds to the entire brewing experience,” Beatty expressed.
Celeste kept on brewing, and perfecting the recipes that were being received extremely well by her circle of friends and counterparts who, in turn, challenged her to take her delicious beer to market and share with the masses. She took her home-grown recipes to Olde Saratoga Brewing and worked closely with the fine brewers there. It was during this time she bottled what would become her flagship Sugar Hill Golden Ale, a premium hand-crafted beer from the purest ingredients. This ale offers an unusually rich, smooth character, a well-balanced taste and uncompromising quality that has been around for generations. If not for Beatty’s diligence and research to find recipes that reflected the community and history that is Harlem, these flavors would have been lost.
Beatty, who is originally from Winston-Salem, NC, pursued her under graduate education just a short distance away at Shaw University, an HBCU in Raleigh. Shaw University, is the first historically black university in the southern United States. Founded in 1865, Shaw University has a rich history steeped in tradition, activism and service. Add to that the distinction of being the first historically black college in the nation to open its doors to women. The university is also known for some of its prominent graduates, including: singer Gladys Knight, political activist Ella Baker, businessman John A. Lankford, and athletes alike. Despite Beatty’s southern roots, she explains that the New York and Harlem connection was obvious for her.
Beatty and her mother “often took the train” from North Carolina to New York City to Sugar Hill in Harlem to visit her aunt. As a child, she had heard the great stories of Harlem as the epi-center of black culture, fashion, music and education. The Sugar Hill neighborhood of Harlem also inspired the name of the Harlem Brewing Company’s signature brew, Sugar Hill Golden Ale. “Harlem was the place to be when I was growing up. I knew that that’s where I would have to go to live one day. Harlem called out to me, so I knew that this was a place that was so rich in culture that it had to be reflected in not only the name, but the imagery, character and the taste of my beer,” says Beatty.
Sugar Hill Golden Ale is an old-style ale recipe that dates back to the prohibition and Harlem Renaissance era. “This was the type of brew of choice for the many great musicians and artists that flourished in Harlem at
that time. The likes of Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong were drinking and sharing with their friends during such a magical and influential time in our history. The legendary Harlem restaurant Sylvia’s, a Harlem culinary staple, was the first to carry this wonderful brand of beer. Now, Harlem Brewing Company beer is sold in such stores as Fairway Market, Whole Foods, and local restaurants in New York with international interest growing daily. Beatty, a true enthusiast at heart says, “People love good beer all over the world.”
Beatty remains passionate about not only beer, but growing different varieties of hops in her local garden while creating and empowering communities across the country by helping small business owners get into and learn more about the brewing industry and distribution. “I don’t want the whole pie. I just want my piece. I want others to get into and find a love for brewing like I did and build up their own companies and bring more opportunities to the table.” Both locally and nationally, Harlem Brewery believes in “paying it forward.” As such, Harlem Brewery has been an active participant in many local charity events since its founding.
When asked where does she see herself and Harlem brewery in the future, Beatty talks about building a permanent brewery on 134th Street in Harlem. This building will not only house a full service working brewery, but will also include educational tours on the science of beer making and a tap tasting room. “Craft beer is amazing because so many different people can now touch it [sic] because it’s in the community,” she said. “What Harlem Brewing Company brings to craft beer is a way for a broader audience of African Americans, Hispanics, and other cultures to be a part of this.” She is also very excited about teaching a course about the African roots of brewing at City College of New York.
“I really want to get more people in the communities we serve to get involved in this industry,” she says. “It’s so much a part of our culture and history and I am so happy to give what I can to share that. People need to know that we have been doing this for a long time. Brewing is a part of our culture. When I was visiting Africa, I took time to learn more about brewing techniques and recipes that date as far back as ancient Egypt. Good beer is at the heart of our culture and in every celebration.” The beer savvy Beatty truly stands by this fact and her product and business clearly reflect her love and contribution to her community.