Kuumba “Smitty” Smith knows a lot about patience.
Surrounded by hoses, barrels and pallet jacks, he munches on a breakfast taco while his grains soak in the mash tun — a stainless steel tub in which sugar is separated from malted barley grains.
“This is the brewing process,” Smith said over the whirr of machines. “There’s not a lot to do besides wait.”
Occasionally, he stops to stir the grains, avoiding water puddles from the hoses connected to other tanks.
After the mash tun, the mixture goes into the boil kettle for about an hour. Then it sits in the fermentation tank for about 10 days. After that, he’ll add raspberry, blackberry and blueberry.
Smith estimated the beer — a fruited kettle sour — would be ready in three weeks.
“People call them ‘chick beers’ because they’re sweet,” said the New Orleans native. “But people don’t want to drink heavy beer all the time.”
In addition to this batch, Smith has patiently been brewing something else: plans to open the first Black-owned brewery in North Texas.
He started his business plan for Smittox Brewing Co. two years ago. And with his sights on opening in 2022 in Plano, he’s almost perfected the art of patience.
Opening a brewery wasn’t always Smith’s goal.
When Smith started brewing in 2013, he just wanted to know if he could make beer.
His first attempt was “way too bitter to drink,” but he’s not the type to give up easily. When the second batch came out drinkable, he kept going.
Smith made beer for friends. Then he started giving it to acquaintances and people he bumped into on occasion to make sure his friends weren’t too biased in his favor.
Once Smith realized people liked his beer, “that really got me into grind mode,” the 42-year-old said.
He started experimenting with different styles and recipes.
“The malts, the grains, the hops, the yeast,” said Smith, who works in customer service for a broker-dealer.
“It’s more than just boiling water, adding hops and putting yeast in there. It’s a whole science as far as how long you boil the hops and stuff like that.”
By 2015, Smith was entering competitions and beer festivals. He learned that most judges want to know how well contestants can make a fundamental beer — like the base model of a car, he said. Once people can make a solid beer, then they can start trying for specialty styles.
Smith, who has since won awards for imperial stouts and porters, hopes that his brewery will encourage ethnic minorities to experiment with craft beer like he has.
“A lot of people of color just don’t feel comfortable when they go in [breweries] and see a bunch of white dudes with beer,” said Smith, who lives in Allen. “My brewery would be that stepping-stone, especially in the Dallas area, to help bridge that gap.”
He added that creating a welcoming environment is only the first step. Many Black people don’t try craft beer because “we usually stick to what we know,” he said.
“When I started drinking beer, I was drinking like Heinekens, Coronas. … I knew it wasn’t great beer, but I knew what I was getting.”
But once people pay attention to flavor, they start to appreciate craft beer over mainstream brands.
Competitions and festivals taught Smith about brewing, and he’s learned even more from brewers-turned-mentors.
He pitches his beer recipes to area breweries and asks about collaboration opportunities. A beer with the Smittox name markets his brand — like the Short Order Porter, a breakfast porter Smith released in 2018 with Martin House Brewing Co. in Fort Worth. It sold out in weeks and then returned last year due to high demand.
And publicity isn’t the only thing he gains. Veteran brewers give Smith tips about what to look for when leasing a building, the best ways to secure funds and options for brew systems.
Brian Burton, co-owner and brewer at Hop & Sting Brewing Co., said some brewers don’t want to sacrifice time or invest in someone who might not be on their level.
But that isn’t an issue for his team in Grapevine, who had sampled Smith’s porters and kettle sours before inviting him to brew. His fruited kettle sour — called the Grace Berry Sour — is now on tap at Hop & Sting and a few other locations too.
“Part of our business is to help incubate up-and-coming brewers,” Burton said. “We got started at 3 Nations and brewed our first couple of batches out of there. So, we’re paying it forward.”
Hop & Sting also gives back through its charity beers — proceeds from those sales go to organizations like the local firefighters’ benevolent fund and Miracle League, a baseball league for children with disabilities.
One of these, their Black is Beautiful brew, donates sales to police brutality reform and organizations that support racial equity. Black is Beautiful, now a nationwide collaborative of breweries, started at Weathered Souls, a Black-owned brewery in San Antonio.
Once Smittox Brewing is up and running, Smith also plans to give back to those in need.
Smith and his wife moved to the Dallas area in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina forced them out of their home. Before they left New Orleans, they protected their clothes with bags, but they weren’t able to return until months later. During their earliest days in Texas, Smith said he felt “bummy.”
When he remembers the people who gave to him in the hurricane’s aftermath, it inspires him to be just as generous.
It’ll take some generosity from others to help Smith accomplish his dream of opening a brewery.
Smith has raised over $12,000 from a Kickstarter campaign he launched in October.
Although the campaign didn’t reach the $40,000 goal by the site’s Dec. 21 deadline, he’s relying on loans for the rest. With the pandemic straining both individual families and private businesses, he has struggled to gain financial momentum.
Smith said the support he’s received on Kickstarter has been humbling, but many people have promised to pledge and either haven’t yet or aren’t able to.
“It’s tougher for some [Black people] because we don’t have a lot of that generational wealth, so we have to get all of the funding on our own,” Smith said. “Most of the time, our friends and family don’t have that extra money just laying around.”
He has seen friends launch Kickstarters and reach their goals in what seemed like no time, so maintaining morale has been difficult. However, he’s determined to follow through with his plan.
Smith and his business counselor have meetings scheduled with banks in the new year to discuss loan options. In the meantime, he’s vetting potential management partners and raising money by selling Smittox T-shirts and other products on his website.
“The idea of taking out tons of money and not being able to put it back is scary,” Smith said. “But you don’t get anywhere by not taking chances.”
This content was originally published here.