On the website Stuff White People Like, “Microbreweries” clocks in at No. 23. In this 2013 NPR article, food historian Frederick Douglas Opie explains that craft beer is like a lot of things in the food industry, which, “as they grow popular, become very hip, yuppie, and white.” The title of a Thrillist article from 2015 reads, “There Are Almost No Black People Brewing Craft Beer. Here’s Why” (the answer seems to be: social injustice and deep-rooted racism).
For years, people have been bemoaning the lack of diversity in craft beer. The hand-wringing is understandable. A lack of diversity in any industry is a crying shame, especially in the alcohol industry, which poses so many opportunities to learn from and get to know different kinds of people.
Craft beer poses a particularly unique opportunity. “It is an affordable luxury,” Gonzalo Quintero, a lecturer on craft beer at San Diego State University, told the San Diego Union Tribune. “Craft beer is the great equalizer.”
But has the craft beer industry really failed to get more diverse?
The short answer is no. It has gotten a bit more diverse, both on the production end and on the consumption end. According to a study conducted by the Brewer’s Association, lower-income households and Hispanic populations are starting to consume more craft beer. Celeste Beatty, the African-American owner of Harlem Brewing Co., started distributing her beer to Wal-Mart this year, and a startup based in Atlanta called High Gravity Hip Hop hosts a hip hop beer festival with the tagline, “Where craft beer meets real MCs.”
“The beer doesn’t care what color you are,” Annie Johnson told me.
Johnson is a brewer at PicoBrew. In 2013, she was both the first female and the first African-American to win Homebrewer of the Year. She says she’s more concerned with the color of the beer than the color of the brewer’s skin. Johnson also believes it’s inevitable that with time, more people of color will become fans of craft beer, especially if the growth in the Pink Boots Society membership is any indicator. It all comes down to exposure, Johnson says, which is a tough barrier to break when big breweries (think lager) like to limit that exposure.
But the diversification of craft beer hasn’t been only on the production end of things. Nor has the pressure to diversify come exclusively from media outlets. Like all businesses, for craft beer to grow, it has to diversify its consumer base, and to that end, breweries are beginning to steer away from the stereotypical image of craft beer drinkers as bearded Brooklynites. This process begins by diversifying the taste of craft beer — and adopting tech industry strategies like idea incubators. With the backing capital of The Boston Beer Company and the beer brains of Magic Hat’s Alan Newman, a craft beer incubator called Alchemy & Science was born. The guys behind A & S did demographic research and have opened breweries like Angel City Brewery and Concrete Beach Brewing in Latino-centric populations, offering “innovative styles for their communities.”
Big names like Boston Beer aren’t the only ones recognizing the need to cater to people of color. Border X Brewing in San Diego boasts being a “unique, creative, one of a kind Mexican craft beer” establishment that sells adjunct (flavored) beers “like crazy” to its Hispanic customers. And owner Felipe Oliveria of Percival Beer Company purposely caters to ethnic minorities in Boston with beers that mimic popular Mexican and European lagers.
Is the diversification of craft beer progressing as it should be? It’s definitely trying. The Brewers Association gets questions about diversity all the time, and in response, program director Julia Herz says the association is actively planning for future inclusiveness. While she has told media outlets over and over that “beer has no gender and no ethnicity,” in her recent article, “Embracing Diversity in the Beer Biz,” Herz outlines the need for the craft beer world to look beyond the white male. The public’s bemoaning of the whiteness of craft beer has sparked legitimate plans for discussions, surveys, and data surrounding diversity in beer that, Herz hopes, will establish a “more inclusive path forward.”