The beer industry needs change. There was the sexual misconduct allegation from Melvin Brewing that went public in March. Then came misogynistic tweets from a Stone Brewing employee who, on the brewery’s Arrogrant Bastard Twitter account, made light of sexual consent (“Only wussies do the ‘ask permission’ part.”)
Plus, as Dave Infante points out in his James Beard Award-winning longread from 2015, the craft beer industry is predominantly white, male, and privileged.
Which is why I consider it very good news that the Brewers Association has appointed J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham, Ph.D., as its first diversity ambassador. She will work closely with Julie Verratti of Denizens Brewing Co. and the rest of the BA’s diversity committee.
“I’m unreasonably excited, hopefully that goes without saying,” Jackson-Beckham tells me. “It’s a really cool opportunity for me, particularly because it’s a way that I get to close a loop on some of the stuff that I do academically as a scholar and researcher, and as a passion and hobby.”
As an academic, Jackson-Beckham has written scholarly articles about beer culture, a chapter in the book “Untapped,” and is assistant professor of communication studies at Randolph College in Lynchburg, Va. She has also worked as a buyer and teacher at a homebrew supply store.
“As much as I love the [beer] community and feel at home, it’s always been pretty apparent that there [are] not a lot of folks that look like me,” Jackson-Beckham says. “It’s pretty blatant.”
In her new role, Jackson-Beckham will speak to state brewers guilds about diversifying staff and customer bases, and create actionable plans for brewers.
“Having the opportunity to not just diagnose and talk, but actually try to make movement forward to do something is kind of a dream come true for me,” she says. “There really is no ‘one size fits all’ to achieving diversity. The place to start is defining what that word means for your organization.”
For example, she says, it could mean representing the community your brewery is embedded in; increasing sales by reaching into markets you haven’t traditionally reached; or making sure that all of your packaging art is vetted with a diverse group of people.
“I’m excited about being someone who can not just say diversity is a good idea, let me come in and cheerlead,” Jackson-Beckham says. “I’m a person who comes with data and research that says this is what effective diversity looks like and what it doesn’t look like.”
This is exactly what the craft beer industry needs. Incorporating more perspectives, voices, and actionable plans for brewers will not only help breweries grow, it will make the industry stronger as a whole. Beer is inherently social. Craft beer, or small and independent beer, is community-driven. It’s time for the beer industry to put its money where its mouth is.
Draft Beer Is More Important Than Cans
According to the Beer Institute’s (BI) annual State-Level Packaging Report, draft beer comprised a whopping 61.7 percent of all on-premise beer sales in 2017. That is apparently the highest on-premise draft share ever recorded.
In other words, for brewers, taprooms are more important than ever. Brewers looking to build sustainable, profitable businesses need to invest not just in the beer list, brewing equipment, taproom atmosphere, and — O.K., fine, can design — they need to invest in training their staffs. Nobody wants a bartender who stares blankly when you ask, “What’s your favorite beer on tap?” or “What’s a grisette?” or “I only drink rosé/bourbon/juicy IPAs . What should I get?”
A brewery is its brand. Its brand is its beer, its atmosphere, and its employees. The challenge is to convince us to buy into all three.
More Beer Brands Are Becoming Available in 15-Packs, And It’s Bad for Business
In a recent “Power Hour” presentation from the Brewers Association, consultant Bump Williams cautioned craft brewers against competing with Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors by competitively pricing their beer. More specifically, he discouraged craft brewers from introducing 15-packs, which were popularized by the Founders Brewing All Day IPA 15-pack in 2014.
The more-for-less model has since been emulated by several of AB InBev’s High End portfolio brands: Goose Island IPA and Goose Island 312 are available in 15-packs; Golden Road Wolf Pup Session IPA is available in a 15-pack (and, incidentally, saw a 472 percent increase in volume sales last year, according to IRI Worldwide); and Breckenridge Brewery has a sampler pack that includes 15 beers. Next to roll out are Devils Backbone Trail Angel Weiss in 15-packs, and Blue Point Toasted Lager in 18-packs. So far, all have been priced at under $20, Brewbound reports.
“If you come out with a low price point, they’re going to beat you on it,” Williams said during the Power Hour. “They have a whole portfolio that can beat you, so do not sell on price.”
We’re with Bump on this one. Selling beer in bulk for a lower price is competitive, but it’s not what craft beer is all about. The focus should be on quality, not quantity. Lowering the price of your product signifies lowering your — and your customers’ —standards.
Startup Research Firm 3×3 Insights Aims to Partner With Small Beer, Wine, and Spirits Retailers
A new retail analytics firm called 3×3 Insights launched in New York earlier this year. Its aim is to work with small and independent retailers in the beverage industry. The company (which happens to be backed by the founder of Priceline.com), says it will partner with smaller shops selling high-end beer, wine, and spirits, to track their sales and consumer habits.
As long as 3×3 is able to get its numbers up (i.e., partner with enough independent retailers around the country), this could be extremely valuable to the alcohol industry. Data like this could provide a more accurate read on “craft” consumer spending habits, which are not necessarily reflected in the larger retail chains.
Local shops are where the beer nerds are, not the supermarkets and big box stores. At least, that’s where I’m at.