It’s no surprise that when I started getting into craft beer there were very few women, and even fewer Latinas. Luckily I was able to find a few groups like the Mikkeller running club (to combine my love of running and beer, but mostly beer) and Black Craft Beer Enthusiasts(BCBE). Between the friends I’ve made and the shares we’ve had, I’ve never felt out of place or the “other” when it comes to craft. We’re diverse and welcoming and we drink really good beer. A few days ago I saw All Things Beer 510: MLK Day Edition, where Chauncey Jackson raised some really interesting points about diversity in craft beer but I felt like there wasn’t much of a call to action. When I first started out I only gave it a passing thought but now that I’m a bit more seasoned I have a few ideas of things that may help combat the lack of diversity in craft beer.
Jackson suggests that breweries should be more diverse in their hiring practices which is akin to treating a symptom and not the illness. Sure, hiring a variety of people is great and seeing a familiar face when you check out a new tap room can feel welcoming but there’s a lot more that can happen before then to help introduce new people to craft beer. When I think about my own foray into craft beer I remember that the single most influential aspect was how welcoming people were. This continues even today as I’m one of the few women who attend homebrew club meetings, the guys make it a point to include me and never treat me as if I don’t belong. We share beers and tips and it makes our community stronger. When it comes to drinking, I always do what I can to help people transition into the world of craft. It can be a little scary and there is so much to learn that it can feel overwhelming.
Recently I met a new friend who is just beginning his craft journey. He’s tried a few things but is relatively unfamiliar with styles or brands. I put together a little sixer of bottles & cans for him to take home and try. It wasn’t about making him love my favorites, but rather learning what works for him and seeing what’s out there. I grabbed a gose, saison, stout, IPA, etc. I told him I wouldn’t be offended if he didn’t like anything, that’s totally fine, just try different things because that’s the beauty of the industry…there’s something for everyone and it would actually kind of suck if we all wanted the same exact thing. My hope is that he will pay it forward and do the same for someone else and slowly we are able to reach new people and help to combat the lack of diversity in craft beer.
I guess I should also mention that I have no problem talking to strangers, so if I’m out somewhere and someone is hesitant about something or has a question I do my best to answer without being condescending. I don’t like it when someone is a dick to me and has to “mansplain” everything so I don’t like to do it to others. I’ll be a resource for anyone who wants to learn. Because of this I thought it would be fun to do pour samples at bottle shops and grocery stores. I figured it was a good way to meet new people and also, I get paid in beer so its really a win-win situation. Its a total toss up who you’ll get to stop and have them try a sample so I approach everyone with the same energetic greeting and smile. Oftentimes I get women who stop and are curious but have only tried macro brews and don’t think that they’ll enjoy any of the samples I have. I start by asking what kind of flavors they enjoy and go from there. I’d say I probably have at least a 75% success rate in helping them find a beer they like and of course there will always be some folks that you just can’t satisfy no matter what. I think seeing a woman pour beer makes it more approachable for other women to engage in the samples and discussion.
So if you’ve been drinking craft for awhile, chances are you’ve got a decent cellar with a few things you wouldn’t mind sharing but haven’t had the opportunity. Here’s your chance! Why wait for someone else to host a share? Invite some friends over, even if you know they have nothing to bring but snacks and show them how dope beer can be. I’m not saying you need to harpoon any whales, but I’m sure you have a few interesting things you could bust open and enjoy. This is a great way to declutter your stash and enjoy some time with friends while you do it. I learn the most about new beers and breweries when I’m at a share so just imagine how awesome it would be for a total newb. You’ll probably blow their mind. Just, ya know, give them fair warning about abv so they know to have a DD to get them home.
Earlier I mentioned being one of the few women I see at my homebrew club, and the more I write, the more I realize I could totally start my own badass betties homebrew club. Home brewing is typically the segue-way into the craft industry so more diverse home brewers would *hopefully* lead to more diversity in craft. It totally worked for the guys at Vice District. They met at a homebrew club and started brewing together in their basements. What began as a hobby grew into a passion and then ultimately an addiction. Now they’re one of the few black owned breweries in the country. They’ve been able to turn their love for beer into a cozy taproom that feels like you’re hanging out in a friends basement drinking beers. Their staff is always willing to help find a beer that strikes your fancy and they also serve wine and spirits for those who just can’t accept that beer is the nectar of the gods. Also, they are dog friendly and often have food trucks outside for delicious eats.
Best Demonstrated Practices To Combat Diversity in Craft Beer
Obviously I’m not singlehandedly leading the inclusivity revolution or anything, but I do what I can to be as impactful as possible. Beyond individual involvement at the ground level I started thinking of ways breweries could combat the lack of diversity in craft beer. There’s obviously a lot of misses like the “girly beers” that are supposed to lure in women but end up alienating those of who don’t need flowers or the color pink to get our attention. While bashing all the things that have gone wrong, I’d rather focus on what’s been done really well. The examples are not exhaustive, but these are the ones that got my attention and I’d love to see more of. Goose Island, despite how some of you may feel about them, have done some cool things to reach new markets that don’t feel like they’re just trying to pander to a certain community. For instance, they recently hosted a beer tasting at the National Museum of Mexican Art. It was an event in a week-long series and while I wasn’t able to attend personally, I heard great things and all of the proceeds went to the museum.
Another brewery that totally hit the mark as it concerns reaching new markets is Brooklyn Brewery. A few years ago at New York Comic Con I was introduced to their Brooklyn Defender and I remember thinking to myself how cool it was to mix comics and beer. At the time it was just a passing observation but now on second thought I realize how genius it is. They have a new artist each year, with a new diverse fan base to tap into. They’ve had Amy Reeder, Cliff Chiang, Khary Randolph and most recently Jamal Igle create each new edition of the hero. While I’m sure each of the artists already had some beer drinkers in their midst, there’s a good chance they got a good amount of new folks interested as well. They also have Brooklyn Mash which is a series of events in cities around the globe. I was lucky enough to win tickets to the Chicago events and it definitely did not disappoint. The final event to close out the weekend was the Pilsen immersion on Sunday. Pilsen was already one of my favorite neighborhoods since its this beautiful blend of culture and art, but the immersion gave me a chance to check out some new hidden gems I hadn’t noticed before. The experience was twofold, as we walked through the neighborhood people asked what the event was about introducing potential new customers to the brand but also it introduced some beer drinkers to a neighborhood rich with Mexican culture that they may not have visited before. (and for those who may not know, Garrett Oliver, Brooklyn’s brewmaster happens to be a black guy so that’s pretty cool too)
On a more personal level, the brewery that resonates the most with me is definitely 5 Rabbit. They make solid beers, rooted in Latin American culture. I remember the first time I heard about them I was beside myself with excitement. Finally there was beer that I could associate with that was flavorful and drinkable and most importantly, it wasn’t Corona. Now I’m able to share that experience with my family and make it a point to bring a chingona or two to each of our family gatherings. Their recent holiday release, Lupita & the three kings was a big hit with my mom. Their golden ale is my go-to sixer when visiting family of friends to get them introduced to craft. So far its been a huge hit.
It would be great if more breweries could do events or beers like the aforementioned, but the truth is many of them either don’t have the funds to do so or wouldn’t even know where to start. They’re focused on making good beer and marketing outside of their fan base is pretty far out of their wheelhouse. At the root of it though it seems like is up to us as beer drinkers to help build a new market and occupy our own space. We can’t wait and leave it up to breweries to carve out a space for us. If you want to see more diversity in craft, then be an agent of change. Introduce someone new to craft or help build someone’s interest. Try out homebrewing, or if you’re a seasoned home brewer maybe start your own home brew club and invite friends. It won’t happen overnight, but eventually we’ll make some progress and see something other than white bearded faces in the beer world.