Kansas City musician and craft brewer Kemet Coleman remembers the surprise he felt when he first got into the beer industry back in 2013.
“Holy crap,” Coleman recalls thinking, “I’m the only Black person here.”
Eight years later, Coleman is bringing the city’s first Black-owned brewery — Vine Street Brewing — to Kansas City’s east side.
The rapper and jazz performer says he didn’t always love beer. He says his father drank mass-produced beer, but he tried it and hated it.
That changed when he discovered craft beer and the culture behind it while working for Boulevard Brewing Company in the guest services side.
It was there Coleman learned that people from the African diaspora invented beer.
That history is what led him and his partners, Woodie Bonds and Elliot Ivory, to the Jazz District. They’ll be setting up shop there and plan to run a seven-barrel operation by early 2022.
He won’t disclose the location of his brewery yet, although he says it’s a historic building that has seen the ups and downs of the neighborhood.
Coleman says he’s tried three times before to start a brewery, with little success.
“I was done. This is just something that was not going to happen,” he says.
But he kept at it, experimenting with brews and styles while working in a pilot location at the site of one of his other projects.
“This one pretty much had to work and it did,” he says. “And, you know, the stars really aligned for this one.”
Coleman hopes Vine Street Brewing will be a gathering place for community as well as a spot for music and craft brew.
“Breweries are places where the community can gather,” he says. “They’re what urbanists like me call ‘third spaces.’”
Coleman says they are going to start with the basics. They’ll offer five beers — nothing too fancy — focusing on core products like pale ale, wheat, and IPA.
“We’re itching to get more experimental, and we will, but right now we’re getting feedback on those basic styles that are go-to’s for a lot of people,” he said.
Still, Coleman says he’s not truly a brewer. He relies on his partners for guiding the formulas and varieties they plan to concoct.
Woodie Bonds, Coleman says, has a wide range and creative style. He will toss in ingredients that others won’t use.
He says his other partner, Elliot Ivory, is more of a “straight line,” meaning his styles are consistent.
But beyond the beer, Coleman wants to bring people together with music, cultural history and brewing knowledge.
“I think the Black community and other minority communities honestly would benefit from exposure to the industry,” he said. “I want this to be a safe place for all people to come enjoy beer.”