More people of color brew up beer careers
Craft industry has mostly ignored minorities over last decade, but that’s starting to change
Craft beer’s taste-makers historically have been mostly white and male. But that’s starting to change for the growing niche within the $107.6 billion U.S. beer industry.
As the number of independent breweries has grown to more than 5,300 — double the number operating in 2012 — more African Americans have gotten involved in the craft beer business.
“While the numbers aren’t huge, I think there are more people of color starting to own breweries, work at breweries and be part of breweries,” said Kevin Blodger, co-owner and head brewer at Baltimore’s Union Craft Brewing, which opened in 2011. He said black-owned breweries have opened recently in Louisiana, North Carolina and Texas.
Blodger, an African American, is a member of a diversity committee started last year by the Brewers Association to help the trade group, which represents independent U.S. brewers, attract minority employees and consumers.
During a decade of sustained growth, the craft beer industry largely has ignored minorities — not
Appealing to minorities will help sustain craft beer’s double-digit growth, which for several years has outpaced the comparatively flat overall U.S. beer market.
necessarily on purpose, Blodger said. “It seemed to me in the past that diversity to them meant white women,” he said. Now, “they are starting to welcome people of color with open arms.”
He said he hasn’t seen any intentional exclusion of minorities. Rather, with craft beer, “there’s not much advertising budget. It’s a word-of-mouth thing, and if you look at the people that were originally involved in craft beer, it was white men. And we tend to associate with people that look like us.”
That’s changing. “As more black, Hispanic and Asian people get involved, they are going to bring more of their friends in,” Blodger said.
Appealing to minorities will help sustain craft beer’s double-digit growth, which for several years has outpaced the comparatively flat overall U.S. beer market. Sales of craft beer rose 10%, or $23.5 billion, in 2016.
In 2016, African Americans made up 12% of weekly craft beer drinkers, up from 10% the year before, according to the Yankelovich Monitor survey.
Although there’s no definitive data to support increased involvement by black people in craft beer — something the Brewers Association is attempting to document — others in the industry say they are seeing change. “I just wish it was moving a little bit faster,” said Mike Smothers, who for four years has been a sales representative for Port City Brewing of Alexandria, Va.
Even as more people of color go to work making craft beer — and take to drinking it — there’s an escalating conversation about “why is craft brewing such a monoculture?” said Garrett Oliver, an African American who became an apprentice brewer in 1989 at Manhattan Brewing and has been brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery since 1994.
“African Americans have been culturally excluded from a huge range of things, and craft brewing just happens to be one of them.”
Increasing diversity would pay off, and the association should help small breweries with outreach efforts, he says. “No matter where you go, when you present the beer in an inclusive way and show people why this is worth their time and interest, everybody is just as into it as everybody else,” Oliver said.
That rings true to Mark Ridley, who along with his wife, Sharon, owns The Brass Tap franchise at the National Harbor in Maryland, near Washington, D.C.
He had concerns about whether the restaurant, which has 60 craft beer taps, would “be a hit” in a predominantly black county. Even though the pub, which opened in June, attracts a majority of out-of-town white customers from the nearby convention center, “we do see a good minority population come through,” Ridley said.
Maybe they haven’t tried craft beer before, he said, but “once they see the quality of the beer, then people make logical choices to try something new.”
With craft beer, “it’s a word of mouth thing,” says Kevin Blodger, co-owner of Union Craft Brewing in Baltimore.
Sharon and Mark Ripley are owners of The Brass Tap, a craft beer-themed restaurant in Oxon Hill, Md. MIKE SNIDER/USA TODAY