Newly launched in March 2018, Rhythm Brewing Co. is a New Haven, CT based brewery, founded by Alisa Bowens-Mercado. Realizing the lack of craft lagers on the market, Alisa decided to create her own. Her flagship beer, Rhythm, is a modern American-style lager with an ABV of 5.5%. Brewed with South African hops, Rhythm is unfiltered, flavorful, and has a slight bite that leaves you wanting more.
Music, Dance, and Beer have played a significant role in Alisa’s life. Both of Alisa’s Grandmothers’ were beer drinkers, and on special occasions, they would sip, dance and converse about “Finding your Rhythm in Life”.
I recently interviewed Alisa where she chatted more about Rhythm Brewing Co.
The Empress Dee: Can you us a little bit about yourself and what it is that you do?
Alisa: My name is Alisa Bowens-Mercado…aka, Lady Lager and I am the first African American female brewer, yes you heard that right, brewer, brew master in the state of Connecticut. I am one of only a handful in the country. So, I make beer and I am on this phenomenal journey to break down barriers in the industry, but I am just so happy to be here with you to share with your viewers.
The Empress Dee: I am so excited to be able to talk about this, what you are doing is so amazing. How does it feel to be so successful in a male dominated industry?
Alisa: I can tell you that this is not my first rodeo. I was a general contractor in a family business, I had to adapt to being in white male dominated fields, so you know construction and then being in that career for 20 years, and then getting into brewing, I think that it has been a mission for me in all honesty, to break barriers in industries where we are not…we are underserved and we are not out there, we are not visible. I want the next Black or Brown female or male to be able to say, that I can brew or be the top brew master in the nation. So, I am literally on a mission.
The Empress Dee: Starting off, was it ever intimidating for you to work in these male dominated industries?
Alisa: No and I will tell you why. My parents and my grandparents, they brought me up with the idea that no one is better than you. Anything that you want to do then you go out there and do it! We are going to equip you with the education and the morals and the values and the drive to go out and get what it is that you want. I am not blind and I could see that there were these huge industries where we were not represented but because of wonderful parents and generations of family members that said that you are just as good as the next person and If you want something we are going to equip you with the tools that you need as an individual to go out and get it. So, somebody else might have been intimidated but I was actually like…alright boys, I am here, let’s go…move over there’s a chick in town.
The Empress Dee: I love that boss mentality! What inspired you to start this brewing company?
Alisa: I am paying homage to my grandmother; God rest her soul. My grandmothers were beer drinkers and I thought that it was so cool. So, as a kid I would see my grandmothers and think…oh my gosh, they are drinking beer. They were not drinking wine they were drinking beer. We are talking about a time where you could give a kid a sip of beer and DCF would not come knocking on your door (laughs). When I first started, I was at a brew fest in Cape Cod and there were couple of things that I noticed. There was not a lot of women and there was not a lot of people of color. On the ride home I was so quiet my then boyfriend who is now my husband asked why I was so quiet. I told him that we were at that beer festival and that there was hardly any women there and if there were any women they were dragged along by their husbands or boyfriends but that they were not there for the beer. I mentioned to him that the other thing that I noticed was that there were no people of color there either. Granted, I realized that I was on Cape Cod and so I did not expect there to be many people of color there. I also realized that there was no beer there that I really liked; I was used to drinking lagers with my grandmothers. I decided then that I was going to make my own beer and that was literally when I had my a-ha moment. I need to get more women and people of color in the beer industry. Once I got into the economics I was on a mission.
The Empress Dee: What do you look for in a good beer?
Alisa: Because I have the nickname,” Lady Lager” I just want something normal that tastes like beer. You have the trends that are out now, you have your IPA’s, your double IPA’s, you’ve got sours, you have seltzers. I just want something that is classic, clean, fresh, and crisp when it hits your palate. When I was developing recipes, I wanted to find out what everyone else was drinking and people tend to drink lagers, which means your typical big brands. As I was developing recipes, I felt that there was something missing in the industry and so I wanted to bring my favorite style of beer (a lager) back because beers get a bad rap. Like with lagers, people said that they are too watered down, I can drink 20 of them and then be running to the restroom every 5 minutes. So, when I started to develop the recipe, I knew exactly what I was doing.
The Empress Dee: What does the brewing process look like?
Alisa: It is fascinating. First you develop your recipes so that includes hops, malts, wheat, barley, it’s the water filtration system…it is everything, nuts, and bolts. It is literally like being a chemist getting in the kitchen and putting together that batch of beer that it going to come out and is going to have that flavor and taste. You start with getting all of the ingredients together and then it goes into a milling process. So, say you are cooking, and you are making some guacamole (this is probably a horrible scenario) but you get all of your ingredients and then you mash it, you are putting everything into this mill and then it gives you a blend of…the raw form of what your beer…what is going into the tanks. So, all of my ingredients go into milling form and then you grind that up together, it comes out and then we throw it over and begin the boiling process. It is fascinating and eventually it turns into the fermentation tanks, you know those big silver tanks…that is where the beer is stored and I personally call it my babies, they will give “birth” in 3 weeks because that is when the beer will be ready and then you pull it out of the tank and voila! I am missing a ton of things in between but it is a fascinating process.
The Empress Dee: I would love to watch the process because it does sound fascinating.
Alisa: I would love to have you come and visit.
The Empress Dee: I will most definitely. Do you think that people tend to gravitate towards local brewing companies as opposed to mass produced beer?
Alisa: Yes, I will tell you that I have never seen anything like what has happened in the last two months. Once they know that you are there, and they find out that they can support a Black owned business and they can support someone that is in the beer industry and I am referring to the people who have reached out to me from across the country. They have said that we want to support you, we do not own this company or that company, but you own this, and we want to put our money into your brand and then when they taste the beer, they go…oh game over. Not only do you have a brand, you have a product and they can connect with me. Try calling Mr. Heineken right now or Mr. Corona, they are not going to pick up the phone. You call me, you will get me…you are going to get the brand owner. So, I have seen this in the past month or so and it has been incredible.
The Empress Dee: I am so glad to hear that you are getting all that support because that is definitely what we need right now…to be able to support one another. What is your ultimate vision for The Rhythm Brewing Company?
Alisa: I will tell you that because of all the adversity that has happened within our country with Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and all the injustices, our company right now is ready for national distribution. It is not ready next year, not in six months, we are ready right now so that it can be available everywhere, where you are located, New York, New Jersey, Detroit, L.A. because I want to tell you something the beer industry is worth 114 billion dollars and people of color are getting less than .05% of that. But we consume and we contribute 1.3 trillion dollars annually into the market. So when you take a 114-billion-dollar industry and we are getting less than 1% of the annual income that did not make sense to me and that is why I am on a mission. The brand is good, the beer is fantastic, but it should be next to every single, Bud, Heineken, Corona in every single store because we are contributing to the wealth of a brand that is going to create employment opportunities and generational wealth for generations to come. Moving forward, we can do that…I am not saying that these other companies cannot do that, but we can do that.
The Empress Dee: I love it! I read of an interview that you did where you said that you felt that it was important for brewing companies to diversify their labor. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Alisa: I am the queen of beer cocktails. Because all of my friends are like, listen you know that we support you…we love you, but we need something a little bit sweeter. So, with that said, you listen to what the consumers want. We have some incredible beer profiles that are coming out, I cannot give my secret, I could tell you in person, but we have some incredible beers that are coming out that have that flavor. It is like a beer cocktail in a bottle or in a can. People they like the beer but some people would rather have something in a cocktail. So, I was like let us do a beer cocktail…these flavors are incredible, and they will be coming out sooner rather than later.
The Empress Dee: What inspired the name of your brewing company, I understand that you are the salsa queen of New Haven (Connecticut) does that have anything to do with your name?
Alisa: Absolutely! I own Alisa’s House of Salsa and so I am celebrating 20 years of salsa dancing. So, I actually own 2 businesses (The Empress Dee congratulates her). My salsa studio is closed down right now because of Covid-19 and so I had to pivot to my other child, which is my beer. That is why I named the company Rhythm because they call me the rhythm finder when I go out and salsa dance professionally and it was just appropriate to name the company Rhythm…salsa dancer turned brewer…it is lively. I tell people all the time, find your rhythm in life, whatever that is, and I will tell you our new campaign is, “the country needs to find a new rhythm” even if it is one sip at a time and I really mean that. We have different races of people coming to support us, they support the Black Lives Matter movement. They may not be African American, but they are supporting the beer, they are supporting the movement and that is incredible. We really need to find a new rhythm as a country and if it is through our Rhythm Brew, then so be it.
The Empress Dee: That is beautiful, and you are right on track with me because I would like to ask, with everything that is going on in the Black community, what words of wisdom can you offer?
Alisa: This gave me an opportunity to sit down, pivot and reflect on what was happening pre-COVID, and before George Floyd and all the ugliness that we have seen in this country. If I could give any words of advice, everyone has something in them…everyone has some kind of passion, it takes some people years to find it but at the end of the day, we need to respect each other for who we are but we also have to start seeing the potential in others, we have to stop with these barriers and walls, we have to start letting people know as human beings that we see the opportunity within one another. We need to start opening up a little bit more and be excited about someone else’s journey, be excited about someone else’s path and then help. Let me tell you something to be the first African American female brewing company in the state of Connecticut and one of only a hand full in the country, I would love to see 100 of me. I want to see thousands of Alisa’s…I want to see more brew masters that look like me and this is not a selfish thing this is like let us help each other. Going back to national distribution, if I can do that, I can get it out to the masses, there is more opportunity not just in finding your six pack down the street, it is about employment. It is about financial generational wealth. I would suggest that with everything that is going on these days, look at someone else and see their potential.
The Empress Dee: I appreciate you for having a spirit of selflessness because especially in certain industries, like you said some people can be a little more selfish and so for you to want to reach out and help others and create opportunities for them…I absolutely love it and I applaud you for that. Thank you so much for joining us, you definitely gave me some things to think about. You make want to go and taste some beer and I am going to come and brew some beer with you and then taste yours.
Alisa: Listen, I will tell you that you are welcome anytime to come and brew with me, the process is phenomenal. Thank you so much for having me and I am glad that I could share.
The Empress Dee: Thank you! To our listeners if you would like to have a more in-depth conversation about health and wellness, Black excellence, please join our Purposely Awakened Lounge. Thank you again to Ms. Alisa, I wish you the best of luck with everything. Thank you all for joining and I hope that you have a beautiful day.