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Abigail Was Here: Black women brew craft beer in homage to historic African Nova Scotian woman

Chelsea Bundy. Photo Evelyn C. White

Beer. It was not a preferred beverage during my upbringing as a Black woman, in the racially charged US.  On the contrary, beer was widely disdained as a drink that rednecks guzzled before terrorizing us with cross burnings, church bombings and worse. 

On that note, check the film The United States vs. Billie Holiday for  searing revelations about the song “Strange Fruit.” 

Fast forward and I’m a resident of Nova Scotia where the craft beer industry has taken flight.  One night found me dining at the Hatfield House, a restaurant in Tusket. There, I was stunned to discover that the stately property had first been built in 1793 for Abigail Price, a free Black woman who signed her name with an “x” on the deed, meaning that she could neither read nor write. 

By 1816,  Price had sold her home and seemingly vanished without a trace. “No one seems to know what happened to her after that,” a restaurant staffer told me. 

Intrigued by the history of the Hatfield House, I was honoured to help produce Abigail Was Here, a craft beer that pays homage to Price. The project was led by Chelsea Bundy, 25, the sole known Black woman brewer in Nova Scotia. 

Bundy holds a chemical engineering degree from Dalhousie University and traces her interest in brewing to a guest lecture by the owners of Good Robot Brewery in Halifax. The men are all former engineers. 

“As a scientist, I liked what they said about the experimentation aspect of making beer,” she told me. “There are lots of rules in engineering, so the idea of developing new formulas with beer really appealed to me.” 

Determined to increase diversity in the craft beer world and wowed by Bundy’s credentials, Good Robot co-owner Josh Counsil hired her as a brewer last year.  “Inclusion is central to our vision as a business,” Counsil said. 

One morning, before the recent lockdown, I met Bundy at the brewery where we tweaked the recipe for Abigail Was Here, a lemon blueberry saison.  Allowing that she is not, personally, “a big fan of blueberries,” Bundy conceded that the fruit holds major sway in the province. We agreed that the brew’s lemon notes added a refreshing balance and blend. 

The beer has sold well since its release and has served to highlight the long-standing presence of Blacks in Nova Scotia. Although the Hatfield House is now shuttered, I plan to toast Price with a pint of Abigail Was Here when pandemic restrictions ease and I can again visit Tusket. 

See also: Evelyn C. White: Changing the ‘sea of white dudes’ dynamics at Halifax brewpubs

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