DOUGLAS — Beer from a Black-owned brewery that celebrated its first anniversary this Juneteenth will be sold at Mariano’s in the coming weeks — and the brewery is planning a standalone brewhouse in Chicago, its owners said.
Moor’s Brewing Company, which sells a session ale, an IPA and an imperial porter, found out Friday that the grocery chain will sell Moor’s, said Jamhal Johnson, the brewery’s co-founder and chief financial officer.
“This placement is huge for us. It’s a tremendous accomplishment,” Johnson said. “It just allows us to be exposed to that many more customers and sell that much more beer. Our goal is to be everywhere in Chicago, and Mariano’s is an absolute channel that will allow us to achieve that.”
The placement came after the Moor’s team recently pitched Mariano’s executives for only a few minutes, Johnson said. News of the quarterly pitch meeting, which included about 20 local entrepreneurs, was first reported by Axios.
Final details have yet to be locked down, but Moor’s hopes to hit Mariano’s shelves next month “in time for football season,” Johnson said. The brewery and the 45-store grocery chain are still hashing out how many stores Moor’s will be sold in.
Mariano’s South Side locations are 3857 S. King Drive in Bronzeville, 1615 S. Clark St. in the South Loop and 3145 S. Ashland Ave. in McKinley Park.
Johnson founded Moor’s in mid-2020 with fellow South Siders CEO Damon Patton and chief marketing officer Anthony Bell. Patton and Bell have known each other since elementary school, while all three are former University of Illinois classmates, Johnson said.
After previously working together on other business ideas, the trio decided to start a brewery to combat the “myths” surrounding the lack of representation in the brewing industry, Johnson said.
Rather than buying into the myth that “the price point is too high” for Black people to purchase quality brews or make their own, “we found that craft beer, or beer in general, wasn’t marketed appropriately to African Americans,” Johnson said.
“We wanted to leverage the history of the Moors to … remind the community of a history that’s not widely known here in the U.S. — the science and the excellence they brought to Europe and the world with fermentation and distilling processes,” he said.
Moor’s Brewing was established on Juneteenth 2021, which coincidentally was the first time the holiday was recognized by Illinois and the federal government.
“Since launching, we’ve got our beer placed in over 300 retailers,” from chains like Jewel-Osco and Binny’s to South Side staples like Kimbark Beverage Shoppe, A&S Beverages and Kenwood Liquors.
The United Center, Wintrust Arena and restaurants like Williams Inn Pizza in the South Loop also carry Moor’s brews, Johnson said.
With their “huge” focus on securing placements in stores and venues, Moor’s is among the brewers “leading the charge” to develop Chicago’s Black-owned beer industry, “The Black Beer Baron” Jay Westbrook said ahead of a Black brewers’ tasting event this spring.
The numerous placements are crucial toward helping Moor’s expand in Chicago and beyond, helping the brewery in its quest to “get those brick and mortars that we would need to create our own product,” Johnson said.
Moor’s is currently brewed and canned at 18th Street Brewery in Hammond, Indiana, another Black-owned company.
After more than a year working with 18th Street founder Drew Fox, “a rockstar in the industry,” it’s “absolutely in our plans” to start a standalone operation in Chicago, Johnson said.
“As we start our second year, that is more and more our focus, especially as we continue to grow and demand grows,” he said.
Moor’s is open to locating anywhere in Chicago. “We consider ourselves Chicago’s Black-owned beer, so we want to definitely own that,” Johnson said.
But the South Siders dream of finding a place on their home turf: the south lakefront neighborhoods of Bronzeville and Hyde Park, or those surrounding Jackson Park.
“We want to provide an experience that is not currently available on the South Side,” Johnson said. “It would not only be the ordinary taproom brewing experience, but like our brand, we want to engage the consumers in a different way. We look forward to having our own facilities.”
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