2009-10-09 / Business

New beer in town

By John Temple Ligon

Harlem Brewing Company CEO Celeste Beatty holds her beer, Sugar Hill, at the Liberty Tap Room on Gervais Street. Harlem Brewing Company CEO Celeste Beatty holds her beer, Sugar Hill, at the Liberty Tap Room on Gervais Street. Last week the Liberty Tap Room was host to a new beer, Sugar Hill from the Harlem Brewing Company, and to the beer company’s CEO, Celeste Beatty. Even though the company in its present form started in 2000, the Harlem Brewing Company story starts about 86 years ago during Prohibition.

According to its Web site, beer brewed by blacks has an ancient history that dates back hundreds of years in Africa. Many tribes brought that tradition to the shores of the American colonies as early as the 1600s.

Besides Liberty, other local bars and retailers carrying the new brew include Green’s, Mac’s on Main, Mellow Mushroom, Hampton Street Vineyard, Gotham Bagel Cafe, Morganelli’s, and Gervais & Vine. It’s distributed by Columbia’s Aleph and its CEO Jean–Pierre Chambas.

Entrepreneur Beatty invited the Liberty regulars to join the tasting ceremonies. She says the Harlem Brewing Company is all hers. She liquidated and leveraged everything she had to get the business up and running. She has no venture capitalists behind her, and she has no partners with her. She lives in Queens, where she grows her hops in the back yard. As a New Yorker, she first lived in Harlem.

Brewmaster Beatty knows South Carolina’s Sylvia Woods of Sylvia’s Restaurant fame, the destination–quality eatery on Lenox Ave. in Harlem between 126th and 127th streets. Woods, the “Queen of Soulfood,” grew up in Hemingway, S.C., and Beatty’s family connects with Greensboro, N.C. Beatty began her higher education at Shaw University in Raleigh, N. C. She later studied business and beer at New York University in Greenwich Village and among the bookshelves inside Strand Bookstore at the corner of 12th St. and Broadway.

Beatty and Woods have collaborated on Sugar Hill Beer recipes, as has Beatty’s son, a beer chef.

The Charlotte Post newspaper, reporting from the Queen City, calls Sugar Hill the “Queen of Beers.” The

New York Times calls it “A Beer that Takes the A Train.”

Harlem’s Sugar Hill section was immortalized by the Billy Strayhorn song, “Take the A Train (Up to Sugar Hill in Harlem),” which became the theme song for Duke

Ellington’s band. The Columbia

Star Business Section calls Sugar Hill the “Liberty Beer.”

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