Craft beer needs more diversity. The realization hit New Haven’s Alisa Bowens-Mercado five years ago while she was at a beer festival. She didn’t mean diversity in terms of more women and minority ownership of breweries; not yet anyhow. Back then she was thinking about diversity of flavor.
At that festival, every beer she tried was either too hoppy or too sour for her taste. She felt the craft industry needed more approachable options for drinkers like her.
“I want to make a beer that, when I go to a beer festival, that I can drink,” she told her husband.
Four years later Rhythm Brewing Co. was born and Bowens-Mercado, owner of Alisa’s House of Salsa, a dance studio in New Haven, became Connecticut’s first female African-American brewer. This month, as she celebrates Rhythm Brewing’s one-year anniversary, the company’s flagship product, Rhythm Unfiltered Lager, is available at more than 200 locations across the state. Bowens-Mercado is also getting ready to start distributing it in the Bahamas.
The predominantly white and male brewing industry in Connecticut has embraced her. She’s earned the nickname “Lady Lager,” while her mother, Millicent Bowens, who works for her in sales, is known at beer festivals as “Momma Rhythm.” Bowens-Mercado is also happy to bring both diversity of flavor and ownership to the industry.
“I hope this opens doors for females, No. 1, and people of color, so that we can diversify the industry,” she says. “I go to beer tastings all the time. I have women come and wrap their arms around me, or they’re crying. They’re like, ‘Thank you. This is inspirational.’ ”
Bowens-Mercado has tapped into diversifying trends in the larger craft beer industry. She’s friends on social media with the Brewers Association’s ambassador of diversity, a position created last spring, and last year participated in the Fresh Fest in Pittsburgh, the first black brewers festival.
She doesn’t have a physical brewery but works with Black Hog Brewing Co. in Oxford to produce her beer. She will soon expand her lineup to include a lighter lager and a stout. Eventually, Bowens-Mercado hopes to open her own brewing space and taproom.
She was inspired to launch the brand with a lager because both of her grandmothers were beer drinkers who loved Miller High Life and other mass-produced lagers.
While some craft beer purists may cringe at the mention of Miller High Life, Rhythm lager is a far cry from the weak, relatively bland lagers they might imagine. It is full-bodied and flavorful, reminiscent of top craft lagers such as the iconic Brooklyn Lager.
As for the brewery’s name, that was inspired by Bowens-Mercado’s background as a dancer. “Whatever you do in life, I always say you find your rhythm,” she says. “Whether you’re brewing beer or dancing.”