Insider

The brewing industry is facing a social reckoning. Now Black brewers are making craft beer more inclusive.

Summary List PlacementAfter Brienne Allan, a brewer with Notch Brewing in Massachusetts, encouraged women on Instagram to share inappropriate conversations or experiences they've been a part of while on the job, she received more than 800 responses. One woman, for example, wrote to Allan that she had been trying new...

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Summary List Placement

After Brienne Allan, a brewer with Notch Brewing in Massachusetts, encouraged women on Instagram to share inappropriate conversations or experiences they’ve been a part of while on the job, she received more than 800 responses.

One woman, for example, wrote to Allan that she had been trying new beers on tap and said she enjoyed the body of the beer. “Can I say the same about you?” her manager replied, according to an Instagram post from Allan.

Another brewer said she had been explaining to a male customer the kinds of malts and hops used in the beer he was drinking when he asked her to “get someone who would know more than you.”

A social-media user then gathered about 200 accusations of Allan’s stories and saved them in a public Google spreadsheet. The document is not a comprehensive list of all the accusations and experiences women shared, and it’s unclear who created it.

But the document does name specific breweries where alleged incidents happened, as well as identifies many of the men accused of harassment, racism, and assault.

The accusations garnered so much momentum that major breweries responded with apologies. And some men mentioned by name — such as Jacob McKean, the founder and CEO of Modern Times Beer — have resigned.

“I’m sorry that anyone has ever had to face harassment at Modern Times,” McKean said in a statement posted to Twitter after the company appeared on the compiled list 18 times. “No one should ever have to be traumatized at work, and it guts me that people have under my watch.” 

But sexist and misogynistic remarks only scratch the surface of the allegations. Many individuals came forward with stories of racism and discrimination.

Women brewers and Black brewers who spoke to Insider detailed the ways they’re fighting against a culture that frequently conflates beer with masculinity. These women say they face misogynistic remarks every day — often from male patrons and clients. 

“When I first showed interest it was mostly, I didn’t know black people drank other beer than malt liquor,” one Instagram user wrote to Allan. “Basically because you’re black your beer knowledge doesn’t exist or can’t be trusted.”

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One Black woman who had recently sat for an interview at a brewery told Allan via DM that “the head brewer was taken back when he saw a Black women with [dreadlocks] sit in front of him.”

“I got the first taste of what me as a women and a black women will face in this industry,” the woman wrote. “He quizzed me on brewing techniques.”

Racism and discrimination are not new to the beer industry

For decades, scholars have studied whiteness as a way to define the modern beer industry. The “bearded white man” has, for many, become a trope in beer, according to race and sociology scholars Nathaniel Chapman and David Brunsma, who examined race in beer consumption today.

“Beer, particularly craft beer, seems fundamentally brewed by, owned by, catered to, distributed by (and to), invested in by, advertised to, bought by, discussed by, and consumed by white men,” Natheniel Chapman and David Brunsma write in “Beer and Racism: How Beer Became White, Why It Matters, and the Movements to Change It.” 

While there’s been more attention paid to discrimination within the craft beer market, racism within the industry is nothing new.

Celeste Beatty, for example, has spent decades proving herself in the brewing industry.

Beatty, a Black brewer who owns the Harlem Brewing company, told Insider her interest in beer has often been discounted. Despite having owned the thriving Harlem Brewing Company since 2000, white male brewers sometimes question her dedication to the craft.

When Beatty would try to market the beer she produced at Harlem Brewing Co., for example, retailers sometimes turn her away without giving specific reasons why.

“Oh, we don’t have room for your beer,” Beatty said she was once told.

“Not mentioning race, but implying that there was something about the fact that I brewed the beer that wasn’t a fit for their retail space,” Beatty explained in an interview with Insider.

Other times, retailers would recommend that Beatty try to sell her beer in “impoverished neighborhoods,” she said.

“This is where your beer needs to be,” Beatty recalled hearing from white retailers. “It’s not going to be the type of beer that we would serve at a fine dining restaurant or even at our bar.”

She added that one of the reasons there are few Black people in the industry is because they have been deprived of the opportunity to acquire generational wealth.

“When enslaved people came here, they knew how to brew beer, but they weren’t allowed to develop those talents and insights by opening a brewery,” Beatty said. Europeans on the other hand, were able to create business industries and grow their expertise and finances from generation to generation.

“That wasn’t our experience, so we have a lot of catching up to do,” Beatty added.

Studies from the National Urban League, a civil-rights organization dedicated to achieving economic and social justice for Black Americans, consistently found that Black people are not employed at the same rates as white people. Historically, that’s extended to breweries as well.

In 1950, for example, about 1% of all employees in a Detroit brewery were Black. About a decade later, that percentage stayed the same in Detroit, despite the Black population in the city growing from 16.9% to 28.9% over the same time period, according to historian Thomas Sugrue.

For Black women, the industry has been even more hostile and exclusive.

Few records on brewer demographics exists in the United States. The Brewers Association, a craft-beer trade group made up of thousands of brewers and distributors, does not have records detailing its membership breakdown.

But anecdotally, people working within the industry told Insider Black women are scarce.

“If people of color is 1% of the brewing industry, you can only imagine how many women of color are actually in the field,” said Chris Gandsy of Dale View Biscuits & Beer in New York.

The way to change that, Gandsy said, is with more exposure.

“We can’t keep advertising in the same place,” he said. “If we really truly want to bring more people in, we have to go to where people are.”

Black-owned breweries are fighting back

Miller Brewing in 1994 paid out a $2.7 million settlement to nearly 100 former Black employees following a class-action lawsuit with a federal court alleging racial harassment. As part of the agreement, the company did not have to admit any wrongdoing, but vowed to correct its corporate culture.

By 2020, the renamed Molson-Coors began to once again face accusations of an internal culture of racism after a gunman shot and killed five colleagues at its Milwaukee brewery. The police haven’t yet identified a motive. But other brewery workers have said they’ve heard colleagues say the n-word to the gunman, and he once found a noose in his locker at work.

While progress appears to have been slow for the commercial industry, craft brewers are pushing ahead to make meaningful change.

For William Moore, chief operations of Down Home Brewing in Georgia, the industry seems to be getting more inclusive. In the early 2000s when he first entered the craft space, Moore would travel to beer festivals and conferences, where he’d often notice he’s one of the few Black people there in a sea of hundreds of white people.

“It was few and far in between, you know?” Moore said in an interview with Insider. “In some cases, you would be the only black person there, the only person of color.”

Going to breweries and beer festivals about 15 years later, there are visibly more Black people in attendance, he said. And that might be a product of the efforts of Black-owned breweries to diversify the industry.

Gandsy of Dale View Biscuits & Beer names his beers after prominent civil-rights figures, including one of Dale View’s most popular: the Diane Nash IPA named after the Freedom Rider who led mass sit-ins in segregated restaurants throughout Nashville.

The idea is to make lesser-known figures who fought for civil rights more familiar and expose people to culture and history that’s often glossed over in school. He noted it also exposes more Black people to beer and creates opportunities to diversify the industry.

“When you walk by licensed breweries, licensed places, it is predominately white men inside. So if you don’t see someone who looks like you, you’re less likely to go in and try something new,” Gandsy said.

Beatty told Insider that’s part of her duty as a Black woman working in the beer industry. Since launching Harlem Brewing Co., she’s been hard at work making the industry accessible to Black people.

“I walk around all the time, asking people in the community, ‘Do you want to learn how to brew?'” Beatty told Insider. “And they look at me kind of odd, but we have been able to get that conversation going and get more people in the community in a hands-on way learning about what beer is, learning about its history and the opportunity.”

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