Black Frog Brewery: The first African American-owned craft brewery in Toledo, Ohio.

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It’s not too often you hear about a brewery starting in a garage, but that’s exactly the case with Black Frog Brewery in Toledo, OH, one of only two African American-owned breweries in Ohio.

In 2014, Chris Harris, a Toledo native, founded the brewery right inside his garage in between working his former day job with Social Security Administration.

Like most who dive in to craft brewing, Harris started as a hobbyist homebrewer when he got out the military.  He quickly developed the itch to start a full brewery as more and more of his friends gave his beers great reviews.

A failed venture in to wine..

The truth is the brewery almost never came to be after a failed attempt at making wine.  “I started out with making wine and found out I was horrible at it.”

After his unsuccessful venture into wine, Harris bought a Mr. Beer kit and was quickly on his way to brewing beer.  It was through that Mr. Beer kit that Harris quickly developed a love for brewing beer.  “It [the Mr. Beer kit] really sparked a passion in me,” Harris told me.

Like most, Harris moved on quickly from the Mr. Beer kit to an all-grain system, eventually deciding it was time to build an actual brewery.

Photo Credit: Black Frog Brewery

…sparked a garage brewery…

After reading about other breweries successfully starting in garages, Harris set out to convert his garage in to an operational brewery.  Unfortunately, he faced a few challenges with his state licensing department.  “I had to create a separate entrance to the brewery and do a few more modifications but eventually I was cleared to open.”

In 2014, Harris opened that tiny brewery in his garage and started supplying bomber bottles to a local establishment in Toledo, The Andersons, and doing most of the work himself.  “For the first two years, I did everything.”

When asked what the worst part of brewing in his garage was, Harris, with a chuckle cites the weather.  “In the mid-winter it was freezing and in the mid-summer it was 100 degrees,” he said, “but I loved what I was doing.”

…which quickly became a large taproom.

As demand for his beer kept growing, Harris quickly knew he needed more space. 

In 2016, he opened a 1,100 square foot, 2.5-bbl brewery and tap room not far from his garage brewery, where he still brews his beers today.

Photo Credit: Black Frog Brewery

The Frog Connection

The City of Toledo, Ohio has many nicknames including Glass City and the Great Black Swamp.  However, the one that Frog City was the one that Harris incorporated into his brewery as a homage to his hometown.  “I’m from Toledo.  I’m African-American.  So, it’s Black Frog Brewing.  It’s just me.”

Today, the frog theme even can be found in the naming conventions in his beers.

Black Frog Brewery has four core beers that it’s known for:

  • Flying Frog: named after for 180th Fighter Wing of a Ohio Air National Guard, in which Harris’ father belongs.
  • Cream of the Frog: a cream ale inspired by the cream sodas Harris drank as a child.
  • Amphibian: his pale ale.
  • Frogilicious: a honey brown porter.
Photo Credit: Black Frog Brewery

Moving Forward

At the present time, Harris plans to allow the brewery to simply grow organically.  He admits that he really loves doing everything himself and plans to keep the brewery operating that way for the foreseeable future.

Before we parted, Harris made sure to acknowledge the work being done by team putting on the Pittsburgh-based beer festival, Fresh Fest Beer Fest.  “They’re bringing a spotlight to craft brewing and I’m hoping it brings more diversity in to the craft beer scene.”

He also explained the one thing he loves most about his new brewery, “no more brewing in the cold.”

For more information on Black Frog Brewery, visit their official website:  Black Frog Brewery