More peo­ple of color brew up beer ca­reers

Craft in­dus­try has mostly ig­nored mi­nori­ties over last decade, but that’s start­ing to change

USA TODAY US Edition - - MONEY - Mike Snider

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.”

JOR­DAN MCDON­ALD/USA TO­DAY

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

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