Southeast

Beer for a better future: The story behind Junk Ditch's limited-release Hyper Local Pale Ale

Weeks after photographing the Black Lives Matter protests in downtown Fort Wayne, artist DJ E-Clyps of Blacklight Media got an idea.

He was sitting at a restaurant when he saw a bottle of wine that had the word “protest” written on the label.

“I was like: Why didn’t I think of that before?” E-Clyps says. “What if we put protest photos on a beer can?”

E-Clyps, whose images of the Fort Wayne protests have graced the pages of TIME Magazine and other national publications, is the mastermind behind Junk Ditch Brewing Co.’s limited-release of its Hyper Local Pale Ale on Saturday at 5 p.m. The cans’ labels feature the work of three Black artists in Fort Wayne, including his own, and proceeds will support the Family & Friends Fund for Southeast Fort Wayne, infusing a once-redlined, predominantly Black community in the city with economic opportunity.

Like the benefits of the project, the reasoning behind it is multifold, E-Clyps says. It starts with continuing the conversation about the purpose of the protests in a new way.

“Not everyone is going to express themselves by protesting,” he says. Taking the movement to a beer can provides local people and businesses with a different way to support the cause. Involving the work of Black artists in Fort Wayne takes the cause in a direction that speaks to E-Clyps’s personal experience, too, witnessing a lack of presence for Black artists in the city.

“Since a lot of Black creators aren’t featured in downtown Fort Wayne, I thought: What if we could put their art into the palm of someone’s hand?” he says. “This project is us saying, 'We don’t have to keep petitioning local leaders for change. We’re creating our own lane.'”

Photo by DJ E-Clyps of Blacklight Media and hand lettering by Matt Plett.

So why beer cans, of all things, as the medium for this movement?

“Think about it,” E-Clyps says. “It’s a pandemic. One thing people are doing is drinking, so we’re giving them refreshments, and in turn, they’re doing good for the community and supporting Black artists and a local business.”

A few weeks ago, E-Clyps reached out to Junk Ditch with the concept, and within 15 minutes, they had a deal. By chance, Junk Ditch had been brewing a new batch of beer with malt from Indianapolis and hops from Michigan, which they felt was a perfect fit for the concept.

“It’s pretty local,” says Junk Ditch Co-Founder Andrew Smith.

This week, Junk Ditch is canning and custom labeling more than 1,300 cans of Hyper Local Pale Ale at its location near downtown Fort Wayne, which marks a “first” for the business canning this high of a run, Smith notes. Customers dining at Junk Ditch on Saturday night can purchase individual 16 oz. cans of Hyper Local Pale Ale or carry out a four-pack, which will include all three designs. Junk Ditch is also partnering with other local restaurants and businesses to distribute cans throughout the community, including at the Hoppy Gnome, Bird + Cleaver, Solbird Kitchen & Tap, and teds beerhall.

Lyndy Bazile's design for the Hyper Local Pale Ale labels.

Smith says that while Junk Ditch wants to remain a comfortable, welcoming, and “safe space” for people of all backgrounds and beliefs in the city, they felt that supporting the work of local Black artists was simply the right thing to do.

“We’re a business owned by two straight, white men,” Smith says. “In this particular climate, our voices don’t need to be the loudest. We came about this to figure out how we can do things with our dollars and power to make a difference.”

Since the pandemic began, Junk Ditch has donated an estimated 500-600 pounds of produce from its farm to the Human Agriculture Cooperative, which feeds residents living in a food desert on the Southeast side. They see the Hyper Local Pale Ale release as a continuation of this effort.

“We’re just trying to be of help,” Smith says.

Theopolis Smith's piece, "Sun Made," draws attention to Black beauty among the wonders of the world.

E-Clyps says that from the start, he wanted the Hyper Local Pale Ale project to be a true collaboration for everyone involved. He also wanted it to speak to the power of Black and white unity without anyone having to diminish themselves or their work.

Each artist was given the freedom to choose which artwork they would display on the label, E-Clyps says. To make the project as inclusive as possible, he asked female artist Lyndy Bazile of AfroPlump and fellow male artist Theopolis Smith of Phresh Laundry to contribute designs. He also asked a white Fort Wayne artist Matt Plett to help with the hand lettering and layout of the labels. Plett has designed labels for Junk Ditch before, and he sat down with each artist individually to create a cohesive look that would honor their work.

“I wanted this to be a creation by both races to show that you can work together to get something accomplished,” E-Clyps says. “No one has to be lesser than the other; this is about truly unifying to create something great.”

As for his own label, he chose an image of protesters in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge downtown to spread a message of unity and equality.

“When you look at that photo, there are so many different races there,” he says. “I thought, ‘This is the dream MLK envisioned: All the races together, pushing for equality.’”

E-Clyps notes that all of the artists involved in the Hyper Local Pale Ale release are donating their work to support Hyper Local Impact’s Family & Friends Fund for Southeast. (Hence the name, Hyper Local Pale Ale.) Kristin Giant of Hyper Local Impact and Ty Simmons of the Human Agriculture Cooperative have been collaborating on this fund for months, using an open-source, community-led fundraising model to raise more than $400,000 toward a goal of $1 million. All of the money raised will ultimately be turned over to community leaders in Southeast Fort Wayne to determine how the funds are used.

For Theoplis and Bazile, supporting the Southeast side of town was the main selling point to get involved with the Hyper Local Pale Ale project.

Theopolis says he feels as though the Southeast side has many negative stigmas attached to it, but it is often misunderstood. His design, called "Sun Made," is calling attention to the beauty of Black people with a play on the Sun-Maid Raisins brand, featuring a sun-kissed Black woman rising above the wonders of the world. 

"I pretty much count People of Color as a wonder of the world," he says.

Theopolis Smith, aka Phresh Laundry's, design for the Hyper Local Pale Ale labels.

Bazile says fundraising for the Southeast community was a big motivator for her to donate time to the project, as well.

“The money that the Fund is raising will assist residents of the Southeast side in the ability to activate important programs and businesses that build momentum and stability,” she says. “The Fund is also creating critical awareness throughout the whole of Fort Wayne, exposing the inequality and lack of access that has devastated the Southeast quadrant for so long. The Family and Friends Fund is not only a financial investment, it's an emotional and personal investment, and I am so honored to be a part of the effort.”

Bazile’s piece for the label is called "Currency,” and it depicts women, inspecting and organizing leaves as if they were dollar bills.

“For me, this image speaks to the idea that the success of human life is too heavily tied to an intangible object that only a certain few have real access to,” she says.

Lyndy Bazile's design for the Hyper Local Pale Ale labels is called "Currency."

With a powerful mission, on top of local beer and artwork, E-Clyps thinks the sales will go well on Saturday night. The release of Hyper Local Pale Ale is intended to last until 8 p.m., but it may sell out before then.

“The flavor is new; the cans are new; when it’s gone, it’s gone,” he says.

But while this project may be a fast-turn, one-time deal, E-Clyps hopes it sets the tone for future collaborations in Fort Wayne. He’s in the process of shifting his work at Blacklight Media to become more of a marketing agency with a mission to connect area businesses to Black talent in the city.

“I want to sit down with companies and help them figure out how we can make these collaborations happen with Black creatives,” he says. “I want this to be a platform for Black creatives, so in the future, we can do more collaborations.”

He mentions that many companies and organizations in Fort Wayne hire marketing firms outside of the city to do research or creative projects here. At the same time, he sees a lot of untapped talent and potential within the local market. He hopes the Hyper Local Pale Ale release draws attention to that disparity.

“Why are we outsourcing so much creative talent when we have so much talent here locally?” he asks.

Visit the Facebook event page for Junk Ditch's Hyper Local Pale Ale Can Release to learn more.

Collaborate on a project with Blacklight Media

Companies and individuals interested in collaborating with Blacklight Media on future projects can email DJ E-Clyps at [email protected], or visit his website at blacklightmediafw.com.

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