Austinite, homebrewer, and beer enthusiast Shannon Harris is aiming to open the first Black-owned brewery in Austin, along with co-owner and wife Tiana Harris. When Urban Jungle Brewing does eventually open, it will function as a brewery, bakery, farm, and even a horse rescue, found somewhere ideally in the North Austin area sometime in 2022.
Harris has been a longtime lover of beer and started getting more involved with the industry five years ago. He launched his own Instagram account, and worked on beer collaborations with breweries across the world, from California to Florida to Mexico to Africa.
Those include a Black Is Beautiful beer with Cedar Park brewery Red Horn Brewing, as well as one with Guinness Brewery’s Maryland location for Black-centered craft beer festival Fresh Fest Beer Festival. There’s a forthcoming one with Seattle-based brewery Fremont Brewing, where he also helped develop a diversity and inclusion program for BIPOC in the industry, which will launch next year. Likewise, he also has received numerous awards for his own homebrews.
The question Harris, who works in commercial real estate along with his wife, often received was: When are you going to start your own brewery? The answer is now.
Currently, there aren’t many BIPOC-owned breweries in the country. There are 63 open Black-owned breweries in America (according to beer website Porch Drink) out of approximately 6,400 breweries across the country (as reported by the National Beer Wholesalers Association in 2019). That means there is just less than one percent of breweries that are Black-owned.
Shannon Harris brewing a beerUrban Jungle Brewing [Official]
In Texas, there is currently one Black-owned brewery, San Antonio microbrewery Weathered Souls. That brewery spearheaded the national ‘Black Is Beautiful’ initiative, where breweries collaborated on beer released based on its oatmeal stout, and raised money for organizations working on police reform. Head brewer Marcus Baskerville is a friend, and even taught Harris how to brew.
“A Black person in craft beer, whether consumer or homebrewing, is scarce,” Harris acknowledges. “Especially here in Texas — it’s Texas for lack of a better word — to talk about being diverse and inclusive is trying to say that you got a unicorn from a mile away. It’s just nonexistent.” Oftentimes, when he attended beer events, he realizes he is the only BIPOC person.
“It is surprising how many breweries don’t even realize how many people of color,” says Harris, “especially Black people, come to their taprooms to spend money that help keep their lights on. But when it comes to social injustice to Black people in their community, they’re silent. “
“That’s why I’m trying to break that barrier and knock down walls,” Harris continues, with his own brewery.
To help jumpstart his efforts, Harris also launched a Kickstarter. If the goal is met, Harris plans on donating a portion to local organizations dedicated to combating social and racial injustices, such as the Austin Justice Coalition. Likewise, he’ll donate future sales from specific beers to the same groups.
For Urban Jungle, Harris often cites his inspiration and admiration of Dripping Springs brewery/restaurant/farm Jester King Brewery. The Harrises are looking to open essentially a similar venture, but somewhere else. They’re aiming for the North Austin area, specifically north of the Domain, potentially in Georgetown, Leander, or Hutto.
Harris, who enjoys baking, plans on serving on baked goods. Potential items include a take on Rice Krispie treats made with cereals (Froot Loops, Cinnamon Toast Crunch) and fruit, as well as cookies, cakes, plus paninis for those looking for savory options.
This bakery theme extends into the beer side. Harris plans on creating pastry stouts, where he will combine baked goods (cookies, cakes, Pop Tarts) with stouts. “I want you to get an abundance of flavor,” he explains, “that it feels like, when you’re drinking this stout, it literally tastes like you’re eating a double-fudge cupcake, or drinking it.”
A recent experiment is the Samoa cookie pastry porter, which he created in conjunction with a local chapter of the Girl Scouts. Urban Jungle will also feature other beers, from IPAs to fruited sours.
Another key component to Urban Jungle is the horse rescue, as they are both horseback riders. If the land size acquired is big enough, he wants more animals: pigs, donkeys, “whatever animals are out there, we will be more than willing to take them off anyone’s hands,” Harris says. There are also plans to grow ingredients on the property, while also sourcing from local farms and vendors. Additionally, he wants to offer educational programming where people, especially BIPOC, can learn about growing their own food, and youth programming with the horses.
Similarly, since Harris is also a gardening enthusiast (their home is covered in plants and they have a vegetable garden), he wants to fill the brewery space with air plants and exotic flora. It is also the inspiration behind the name.
When the brewery does open, Shannon Harris will focus more on the beers and Tiana will oversee the bakery. “It’s a team effort,” says Harris, something that he thinks is important, since “there’s not that many women in the brewing industry,” too. Tiana also has a lot of experience with farming.
Urban Jungle’s Kickstarter is seeking $60,000. The money is meant to fund zoning, licensing, permitting, and initial construction costs, as well as legal fees and the creation of the merchandise program. To further bankroll the brewery, he’s working on taking out a loan as well as potentially partnering with like-minded investors (“people who also believe that there needs to be some kind of diversity in the brewing industry,” Harris says.).
Even if the goal isn’t met, the brewery plans will still proceed, “but it would help us a lot If we can get the support of the community to join us,” says Harris, “we can bring something that’s different, new, and groundbreaking back to the community.
“We will be that brewery that welcomes you with open arms,” Harris continues, “when there’s racial injustice and inequality going on. We could be there for you.”
Urban Jungle Brewing [Official]
Urban Jungle Brewing: A Black-Owned Farm-Inspired Brewery [Kickstarter]
Urban Jungle Brewing [Instagram]
The Brew Brotha [Instagram]