For Atlanta craft beer lovers, a new Thanksgiving tradition arrives on taps and in stores this week, inspired by brotherhood, friendship and a creative collaboration with Athens’ own Creature Comforts Brewing. Seeds Take Up the Soil, an inviting amber-hued sweet potato ale with notes of vanilla, sorghum, cinnamon and nutmeg is the first mass-produced beer from Our Culture Brewing in partnership with Creature Comforts.
Our Culture Brewing, founded in 2019 by twin brothers Isaiah and Isaac Smith, Shakeel Radford (Isaac’s best friend since third grade) and Isaiah’s wife Jossette Footmon-Smith, is metro Atlanta’s first Black, female and veteran-owned craft beer brewer dedicated to planting the seeds for the next generation of Black-owned brewers to thrive.
“The name Our Culture felt like the thing that was missing from the conversation,” explains Isaiah Smith. “The thing we want to bring. What represents us and what we can represent authentically. Our Culture is us trying to bring our culture into this medium, into this space. Black culture has permeated food, fashion, music and art. But for whatever reason in the entity of craft beer, it’s just not there. As beer lovers ourselves, we know it’s a great medium to bring people together and in doing so, spreading the message, the history and traditions of our culture.”
The roots of Our Culture Brewing first germinated, thanks to the Smith brothers wanting to spend more time together, a birthday gift of a Mr. Beer craft beer kit from Footmon-Smith and a home brewing class taken together at the old Hop City in West Midtown.
“We brewed an extract, brewed a beer and nobody got sick,” recalls Isaiah laughing. “We had a great time. You could make five gallons for $40 or $50 bucks worth of ingredients, make our own thing and spend time together. We started brewing every other weekend.” After taking the Hop City class with the Smith brothers, Radford, another home craft beer brewer, got pulled into the experiments.
Footmon-Smith, who started out in the couple’s garage as Our Culture’s official taste-tester, then officially came onboard. “I realized it wasn’t all that complicated so I began brewing as well,” says Footmon-Smith. “I decided I liked it. It was a mix between cooking and science. When we got to the label and logo design phase, that’s when I became an official member of the team.”
The Smiths realized their adventures in home brewing might just be a business when Isaiah went to the garage to pour himself a fresh glass and discovered a problem. “Nothing was coming out,” says Smith. “I thought a line was jammed. And then I picked up the keg and it was empty. Somehow we had given five gallons away of something we had just made. Meanwhile, we had friends saying things like, ‘We’re having a wedding in August. Could you make us something?’ When we started taking requests, we realized there was a demand.”
In addition to bringing new flavors to the craft beer marketplace, Our Culture Brewing wants to cultivate more Black-owned beer brewers in their wake. In 2021, Forbes reported that while 12-percent of craft beer consumers are Black, only one-percent of the country’s craft beer breweries are Black-owned.
It wasn’t as much shocking as disappointing,” says Footmon-Smith. “As beer and brewery fans, we weren’t surprised by that one-percent statistic, based on what we were seeing in the industry. It was one of the things that inspired us to get involved and to start making a change. One of the big reasons is that brewing is a capital-intensive industry. It takes a lot of money to get started. You also need a local, state and federal license and it can be anywhere from 12 to 18 months from when you buy a building to when you can start producing beer. There’s also the history of people of color not being able to get capital. Until recently, there hasn’t been a large effort around marketing beer to people of color either. There are a lot of stereotypes about what this industry looks like and some of them are true.”
Adds Isaiah Smith: “We didn’t really see ourselves reflected, whether that was physical representation or what’s inside the can. We weren’t really being targeted as consumers of craft beer. We didn’t identify or resonate with the flavor palettes being created by Big Bev craft beer either. It’s not something the established infrastructure was even considering.” (Luckily for craft beer fans, in the Black mecca of Atlanta, Our Culture joins two other Black-owned craft brewers, Down Home Brewing and Khonso Brewing, founded by former Morehouse classmates.)
After Footmon-Smith’s Our Culture pineapple ginger jerk sour recipe was a hit at the Georgia Craft Brewers festival, the company followed up with Summer Samba, a fruit punch IPA collaboration with Juniata Brewing, and Spoken Word, a collab with Reformation Brewing, inspired by a New Guinea breakfast dish made from plantains, coconut, brown sugar and cinnamon.
“All four of us brew and we each bring our own unique palettes and profiles into the brand,” says Footmon-Smith. “We all have very different styles. Our flavors tend to be nostalgic or reminders of experiences we’ve had. They remind us of our childhood or something we’ve experienced growing up. They tie us to our community. These are flavor profiles that we like and that our audience likes and we put them into a beer glass. It’s about taking the traditional beer styles and putting our own unique spin on them.”
On Friday, November 17 from 6 to 8 p.m. Atlanta craft beer lovers can sample Our Culture Brewing’s Sweet Potato Ale on tap, pick up a four-pack for the holidays and meet the creative team at the Hop City location at Krog Street Market.
And while the Sweet Potato Ale’s flavor profile is meant conjure up memories of your auntie’s casserole and grandma’s pie, Isaiah Smith says the ale’s roots go back to the nyam (or yam as it became known in the US), the signature West African tuber similar to the American South’s sweet potato. And thanks to Creature Comfort’s close relationships with Georgia farmers, the sweet potatoes used for the recipe were sourced from Sundance Family Farm in Danielsville. “We processed all of the sweet potatoes by hand, got them blended and then threw them into this beer,” explains Creature Comforts director of innovation Evan Partridge in the company’s beer release video. “It’s not like anything I’ve made before which I’m really excited for.” Nine hundred gallons of Seeds Take Up the Soil were created in the Creature Comforts brewery in Athens.
Says Isaiah Smith: “Our goal is to bring people together with these flavors. You start to see pieces of yourself in each other. You’ll find in my traditions, some traditions that are in your family. It reminds us that we’re all human beings.” Adds Footmon-Smith: “When we began discussing this collaboration, everybody had their own sweet potato story. It was a cultural comfort food for anyone who had ever lived in the south or whose family has lived in the south.”
After Isaiah Smith met Creature Comforts co-founder Adam Beauchamp at an Allagash Brewing beer collab hosted at Kimball House in Decatur, Beauchamp followed up, asking “want to make a beer together?” As a result of that query, the Smiths and Beauchamp found themselves in the Smith garage in Austell. As the grains and hops fermented, the burgeoning home brewers discussed their hopes and dreams for the brand and the seeds for the Our Culture Brewing/Creature Comforts sweet potato ale were planted.
Proceeds from the sales of limited edition Our Culture’s Seeds Take Up The Soil signature glassware will benefit Black-owned farms in Georgia (Black farmers also currently represent just one-percent of farms owned in America). While Our Culture continues the hunt for a physical space to purchase for a brick and mortar location in 2024, thanks to the company’s certification to contract brew, fans can expect new releases in the interim. As their sweet potato ale introduces local craft beer fans to their brand across metro Atlanta, Our Culture is poised to launch a crowdsourcing fundraising effort as well.
“It’s really important for us to be a part of the community we’re selling our beer to,” explains Footmon-Smith. “We don’t see this just as an opportunity to make money. We see this as an opportunity to gather people together which is what we hope our taproom will do — serve as a gathering place and be in community with one another. Until we open the taproom, it’s important for us to reach out and be good stewards of our community.” Adds Isaiah Smith: My feeling is this — if Our Culture Brewing is a minority-owned brewer that makes it, that one-percent number is not going to go from one to two-percent. Ultimately, we want to is create an infrastructure and create a framework that’s going to drive sustainability and growth and do something about increasing that number for other Black-owned brewers. That’s why we’re documenting our processes. We want to help other people avoid going through the challenges we faced. We want to do for others what Creature Comforts did for us.”
The Our Culture Brewing team will host a release party for Seeds Take Up The Soil sweet potato ale Friday, November 17 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Hop City inside Krog Street Market. It will also be available throughout the fall at Red’s Beer Garden, Hop City in West End, My Parent’s Basement, Brick Store Pub, Truck & Tap (Duluth and Woodstock), Barleygarden Avalon & Pinewood, Smyrna Beer Market, The Beer Growler in Brookhaven, Gravity Craft & Homebrew Supply, and select Taco Mac locations.
You can follow Our Culture Brewing on Instagram and learn more about the company via their website. Check out a recent 11 Alive story on Our Culture here. Jossette Footmon-Smith is featured in conversation with Rose Scott on this episode of WABE-FM’s “Closer Look” focusing on women breaking into the craft beer industry.
Lead photo: Our Culture team Josie Footmon-Smith, Isaiah and Isaac Smith, Shakeel Radford with Adam Beauchamp, Creature Comforts Co-founder, Dan Reingold, Creature Comforts’ Marketing Director, and Fenwick Broyard, Creature Comforts’ Vice President of Brand Impact.
Richard L. Eldredge is the founder and editor in chief of Eldredge ATL. As a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta magazine, he has covered Atlanta since 1990.