A Fresno brewing company is now part of the largest Black-owned brewery in the country
FRESNO, Calif. — On a recent Saturday afternoon, the back patio of the Full Circle Brewing Co. in downtown Fresno was filled with people soaking in the bright spring sun. Some of them sat on the wooden picnic tables, sipping on amber-toned beers and taking in the peaceful ambiance.
But as the day went on, the atmosphere turned darker – and grittier. The taproom transformed into a venue for a heavy metal show.
Dozens of metalheads from across the San Joaquin Valley gathered inside the taproom ready to headbang to the sound of distorted guitars and pounding drums.
This transformation is one that happens nearly every weekend, according to Full Circle CEO Arthur Moye.
“We are vibe curators, for sure,” he says.
The Fresno-owned and operated craft brewery recently announced a merger with the historic Speakeasy Ales and Lagers in San Francisco. The merger brings together two of California’s largest and most widely distributed Black-owned and operated breweries. It's a title that’s still setting in.
“We feel that we’re the largest Black-owned brewery in the nation, which is something powerful to say,” Moye says.
Together, the companies expect to produce more than 2 million pints of beer annually.
Building the Valley’s only Black-owned brewery
Moye’s passion for craft brewing began more than a decade ago, when he started making his own specialty beer in his bathtub. He honed his craft and eventually quit his job as an accountant.
Moye acquired Full Circle in 2016 in the hopes that he could build an inclusive, entertaining taproom. At that time, Full Circle became known as the only Black-owned brewery in the Central Valley.
His goal, he says, was to develop a place where people could have a beer and "be your super authentic self and let go and find your tribe – the people that you connect with."
Moye says he didn’t advertise its unique ownership until after the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020.
“We weren’t really vocal about it. It was just something that was, and as we started growing in the industry and talking to more and more people, they're like, ‘Wait, you're the owner? It's like, you got to tell more people about this!’” he says.
How Fresno brewery overcame historic barriers
The craft beer industry dates back to the 1960s. Dr. J Jackson of the Brewers Association says social unrest at that time made entering the industry nearly impossible for the Black community.
“Think about the 1960s, this is the height of the civil rights movement,” Jackon says. “Schools are still desegregating. Black folks aren't walking into a bank and getting a startup loan for an untested business.”
Today, there are more than 9,000 craft breweries in the country. According to the Brewers Association, less than 1% of those are Black-owned. Jackson says Black brewers trying to break into the industry still face many obstacles, like a lack of generational wealth and traditional investors.
Some Black brewers, like Moye, have turned to equity crowdfunding as a model to gain capital to start their businesses. It’s like a Kickstarter, but investors receive equity ownership in return.
Moye says the model has helped raise nearly $1,000,000 in capital, and has driven the Full Circle name beyond the Valley.
“We have more recognition. Outside of Fresno, you start to get a little bit of a Full Circle family – Full Circle army – that's rooting for the brand,” he says.
He hopes that as more diverse brewers gain access to capital, there will be more opportunities for representation in the craft brewing industry.
This story is part of the Central Valley News Collaborative, which is supported by the Central Valley Community Foundation with technology and training support by Microsoft Corp.