During the Prohibition Era, there was a brownstone speakeasy in Harlem that made its own house beer in the basement.
Whenever a new keg was tapped, they’d put on the blue light out front to let everyone know. This story of bold pride of craft is what inspired Julian Riley to start his beer company, Harlem Blue. “The pride and energy of beaming a blue light is what anchors everything we do,” says Riley.
Steadfastly brewing for several years now, Harlem Blue has finally released its top-selling craft beers in cans for the first time ever.
Celebrating being back just got more colorful, and NYC may have its new beer of the summer.
“There’s before COVID and after COVID,” says Riley, also CEO of Harlem Blue. “Before COVID, we were only available on draft and largely serving bars and restaurants uptown,” as Harlem’s top-selling local craft on draft. Hot spots like Harlem Tavern, Red Rooster, Harlem Hops and Corner Social, couldn’t pour the pints fast enough.
Like many other small breweries, the hospitality shutdown was very challenging. “We couldn’t sell kegs and that was 100% of our business,” says Riley. “So, I chose to overhaul our model, fix things that needed fixing, and re-startup Harlem Blue with the launch of our cans.” As a black man who grew up in the inner city, and now lives and is raising his young family in Harlem, Riley says he started Harlem Blue to appeal to a wider demographic beyond the niche hipster stereotype. “We want to make a bigger tent. More of a casual craft beer, yet known for our flavor.”
“Nowadays, all brands are talking about their purpose and elevated mission statements, and that’s great. We have that too and push every day to be a valuable contributor to our community,” he continues, “but after the last couple years, I want to have a summer where we just focus on fun. Let’s drink good beer, celebrate and appreciate being back.” Mr. Riley has often said that Harlem Blue is in the “celebration business.” “I mean we make beer for a living after all,” says the former attorney who seems happy to have traded one bar for another.
Riley started his entrepreneurial road the old-fashioned way. “I depleted all my personal savings, maxed out credit cards, and raised every penny I could from friends and family, to bootstrap this effort. We’re just getting started and I love every sip of it.”
The new 12oz cans are eye-catching and fastly finding placement throughout New York City. From bars, restaurants and bodegas all across uptown Manhattan, to retailers like Westside Markets, Key Foods, Pioneers, Foodtowns, and soon Wholefoods and Trader Joes. (There’s a retailer locator on the website.) This summer you can also find Harlem Blue at all five NYC locations of Luke’s Lobster. Plus, the brewery now offers direct-to-home delivery throughout New York and to select other states. The company is working on a Harlem based taproom -with promised updates soon.
Launched in 2016, Harlem Blue is a Harlem-based, locally brewed, premium beer company that seeks to reimagine craft beer to be more inclusive and approachable beyond the niche hipster stereotype. Celebrating the stories that make us special, Harlem Blue is anchored in local authenticity, black-owned, and crafted for the hustle of living in New York City. We grind different. We flow different. It all starts with . . . good beer, from a good place.