As the popularity and momentum of craft beer have only increased over the years, and San Diego brewers have been at the forefront continually innovating the craft. But, as with many industries, the craft beer industry has also been the subject of debate regarding sexism and racism within an overwhelmingly white and male-dominated industry.
A recent survey by the Brewers Association, shows that 76 percent of workers in craft beer production staff are White, as are an overwhelming 89 percent of brewery owners as well. San Diego’s craft beer industry is of course no exception to this trend, with only a tiny fraction of its vast network of 150 craft breweries owned and ran by brewers of color.
That is something that Kemet Ackee, a 33-year-old local Black brewer, and entrepreneur hopes to change. Among a growing group of daring, envelope-pushing brewers, Ackee is hoping to challenge this long-standing lack of diversity in San Diego’s craft beer scene.
Born and raised in Spring Valley, Ackee joined the U.S. Army in 2011 at the age of 22 and worked in food service while he was enlisted. After serving for nearly a decade Ackee left the army in 2020 ready to begin a new chapter and embarked on his first entrepreneurial pursuit by founding All My Friends Are Rappers, an apparel-clothing brand that promotes positivity, self-expression, creativity, and talent. It was also around this time that Ackee began working with the non
–profit Paving Great Futures, an organization that assists marginalized and at-risk individuals in underserved communities.
On the hunt for a new job to help support himself and new entrepreneurial venture, Ackee began working at Second Chance Brewery Co., one of San Diego’s acclaimed local breweries. He quickly fell in love with the world of craft beers and IPAs, he said.
“To be honest, it was just a job that I was taking to stay on my feet after leaving the military,” Ackee said. “But I quickly became really interested in the whole process. I was intrigued by all of the different types of beers. The porters, the sours, the seltzers, just learning about all of the different varieties and flavors.”
It didn’t take long for Ackee to notice that despite its popularity, Black brewers remained highly underrepresented in San Diego’s craft beer scene.
He shared his experiences of working in the local brewing scene with a group of friends and they quickly began testing various craft beers on their own time as a hobby. Before long, Ackee began brainstorming ideas on how to mend his two biggest passions, his All My Friends Are Rapper’s brand and his newfound love for craft beer.
He eventually decided to pursue a collaboration between Second Chance Brewing Co., All My Friends Are Rappers, Paving Great Futures, and Chula Vista Brewery. Ackee saw the production of a limited run-beer as an opportunity to celebrate Black History Month, and as a gateway to introduce a new audience to San Diego’s craft beer scene.
Timothy Parker, owner of Chula Vista Brewery the only Black-owned brewery in San Diego, was eager to support a fellow veteran and Black entrepreneur. Parker began home-brewing while still in the U.S. Navy. After serving 20 years in the service, he began thinking about his next move.
He opened Chula Vista Brewery in 2017 while he was still on active duty after noticing that there were few breweries in the South Bay compared to other parts of San Diego County at the time.
“When it comes to the brewing industry in San Diego there’s nothing behind the curtain that isn’t already in the service,” Parker said. “It is what you see and there’s not a lot of us, (people of color in brewing) and I’m the only one that owns a brewery. There’s still a lot of room for growth and there a lot of people still trying to figure out how to get into the industry”.
Parker, however, was hopeful that despite the craft beer industry’s lack of diversity, things are beginning to shift as more beer drinkers from diverse backgrounds integrate themselves into the craft beer instead of just being occasional drinkers.
“We need to open up the door for ourselves and leave it open for those behind us. I think it’s slowly happening but it’s going to take some time.” Parker further elaborated on why collaborating with Ackee sparked his interest. “Kemet’s an entrepreneur, he always has ideas and is constantly moving, and anytime a vet walks through my doors if I can help them out I will”, Parker said.
Parker was also intrigued at the prospect of teaming up with Paving Great Futures, particularly for their work assisting formerly incarcerated individuals and those transitioning back into civilian life after leaving the military. “I often tell people that the transition from both the military and prison are the same because both have a difficult time transitioning back into regular society. The only difference is one group is behind the bars, the other is in the military, but at the end of the government is still telling you what to do” Parker Explained. “Both of their lives are very regimented, they tell you what to eat, what to wear, where you’re going to sleep, etc. So when you transition out you have to adjust back to the customs of regular society or you can find yourself on the outskirts very quickly.”
In collaboration with Second Chance and Chula Vista Brewery, Ackee produced a Kölsch, a style beer that originates in Cologne, Germany. Kölschs are typically pale, highly attenuated, hoppy, bright, and clear with a straw-yellow hue, and must be brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot (German for “purity order”) which is a series of regulations limiting the ingredients of beer in Germany. Ackee produced a limited run of “All I Want Hoppy Kolsch” with 480 cans (sold in 4-packs) and 10 barrels. The beer is also available at Chula Vista Brewery at both its East Lake and 3rd Avenue locations.
“Once we finally got the ball rolling it was kind of unreal to think that we were actually making a beer for my brand,” Ackee recalled. It was also a very hands-on experience throughout the whole process which is something I’m very thankful for and proud of.”
Ackee has big aspirations of doing future collaborations with other Black-owned breweries and more breweries in general across the country. He even hopes to someday bring his beer on an international stage and see it sold in other countries. But aspirations aside, Ackee hopes that his move to collaborate and produce his own beer can serve as
Ackee hopes his example and experiences in the industry can serve as an inspiration to the Black community and those looking to make a career in San Diego’s craft beer industry.
“The brewing scene here in San Diego isn’t very diverse,” Ackee said. “I wouldn’t necessarily find it difficult to work in the industry, it’s just that there are not many people that know about it, and there are not too many people that are even thinking about making a beer or see that as an option. But once you bring that awareness around it and show people that it’s something accessible, more people take interest in it.”