“So why are we going 5 hours out of our way to go to a brewery?”
The sun is shining brightly as we’re driving through Wisconsin on this beautiful summer day. It’s the beginning of June and this is day two of my road trip from Ohio to my hometown in Southern California. Our car is quickly filling with beer as we stop at breweries along the way, trying to maneuver bottle after bottle in an already cramped Dodge Dart. The passenger on this trek through the United States is my younger brother. He’s a bit hesitant about this segment of the trip. I get it. As we travel further from Chicago, we begin to see fewer people who look like us. We’re heading deep into the country, parts of the US we’ve only heard stories about.
“Don’t you know the Midwest is full of racist people?”
For many in my community, this is the sentiment. I’ve dealt with my share of racism. I’ve been stopped for committing the crime of “driving while brown.” I’ve had one of my own teammates voice her fears of moving to a new part of the country because of “all the dirty Mexicans.” I’ve experienced more casual racism than I would like to admit. I guess wearing a bowtie makes people feel comfortable enough to voice their bigoted thoughts… For some, like my family and countless friends back home, years and years of dealing with these instances makes them very wary about trusting people outside of their own race. It’s a defense mechanism.
After another couple hours of driving, we arrive at our next destination, Decorah Iowa, home of the award winning Toppling Goliath Brewery. Upon entering, I am handed a glass.
“Clark’s sharing brews to welcome Mikkel for their collaboration.”
We make our way outside to find a tasting already in progress. It’s a full crowd of beer enthusiasts, chatting and enjoying the day, having excellent brews. There is no pushing or shoving, just a crowd of people that are actively trying to make sure everyone is getting a chance to taste the next beer that is being shared. While the crowd is friendly, it’s obvious that my brother is uncomfortable. From his perspective, it’s understandable; two skinny Latinos, who most would see and think aren’t old enough to drink, much less travel without their parents, don’t necessarily look like they belong at a brewery in the middle of Iowa. He was very slow to open up and hesitant to talk to strangers in a patio filled with older Caucasian males. Minutes later, I notice that his demeanor had changed. He was no longer uncomfortable; instead, his expression resembled astonishment at what he was experiencing. These strangers were actually reaching out and trying to make him feel welcome! While he may not have known a single thing about beer, and admitted as such, they were happy to educate him on what we were drinking and made an effort to bring him into the rest of the group. He looked right at home in a place full of strangers.
Hours flew by and we got back in the car heading to our next destination on our road trip. Our interaction following this visit is still as clear as the day it happened:
“Dude, these white people are really nice.”
“No dude, that’s beer people.”
As I stand in line for yet another beer release, it’s easy to see that I don’t characterize what one would expect a craft beer nerd to look like. As a Mexican/Venezuelan American, I am well aware that I am typically one of the few splotches of color in an otherwise white male dominated community. Living in Ohio, it’s even more noticeable. Regardless of where I’ve lived or traveled, one thing has remained true:
Craft beer doesn’t care what you look like. It doesn’t care what the color of your skin is, your sexual orientation, gender, religion, political ideology etc. This is one of the few communities that is welcoming. For a kid traveling across the country looking for his new home, I knew that no matter where in the country I was, I could find a home in the craft beer community.
It should come as no surprise that I’ve found myself pretty frustrated with Good Beer Hunting’s recent article regarding the lack of diversity in the beer industry. What could have been an opportunity to do some good for the community instead completely fell completely flat. Their attitude following the criticism they received shows that they are clueless as to what this is all about. Our issue is not at all with the topic, but rather how it was addressed. We are receiving representation from people that have no understanding about the issues at hand. In Good Beer Hunting’s discussion with The Brewsroom last night, both stated that they have no experience working for a brewery or even selling craft beer. The extent of their knowledge is in the marketing perspective of the beer industry and therein lies the problem. What we have here is an outsider’s perspective of serious issues within the craft beer culture with regard to minorities and women. Their attempt to provide a dialogue about the lack of inclusion instead became a sensationalist witch hunt, going after good people that are actually making a difference in the industry and using the plight of women and minorities as fuel for their attempt to gain clicks. I mean it worked, I guess. I’m sure that their site has seen a lot of traffic after publishing that post.
The lack of minority inclusion in the beer industry is far more complex than some brewery employees being goofy on Instagram. With regard to their opening remarks, GBH truly misses the point of these accounts. With the industry quickly becoming more and more pretentious, it’s refreshing to see breweries let loose a little and take themselves less seriously. I know that the stereotype of the “pretentious neckbeard” bashing people for their beer choices is something that repels a lot of my friends from the community. These accounts do far more to welcome people than they do to exclude them. They are able to break away from being a business and are able to humanize themselves to their consumers. Some do cross the line, and I’m not defending those instances, but they definitely aren’t the cause for minorities feeling excluded from craft beer.
What this article fails to take into account is how important cultural and socioeconomic status are to this issue. Any marketing class will teach you that failing to do this will lead to failing marketing campaigns or, even worse, alienation of the market you are trying to attract. Craft beer already has an uphill battle trying to break Hispanics from brands that they have seen for decades. In terms of the Mexican market, brands like Corona, Modelo, Pacifico, and Tecate are ingrained into the culture. For many of us, these are the first brands we saw or drank. At this point, going to a family party and not seeing these brands would be shocking. That is not even considering the battle that beer has had trying to fight with the spirits market.
Craft beer is a luxury item. While we are beginning to see craft beer in places that were once only reserved for macro brews, we need to remind ourselves that the ability to afford an 8 dollar pint is a privilege. As of 2015, the median annual personal earnings for a Hispanic person is $25,000. While the thought of going around handing out sour brews to my local community sounds pretty awesome, the individual would most likely scoff when they heard the price, regardless of whether they enjoyed the beer or not. The wealth gap in the United States does have an effect on minority inclusion in craft beer. Moreso than anything else, this is the main reason for the lack of minorities in the craft beer community.
Dave Infante does an amazing job touching on the topic of the lack of African Americans in the beer industry in his article There are Almost no Black People Brewing Craft Beer. Here’s Why. Craft beer has always been “white,” and racism in the United States did not do much to help minorities in the beer industry. As is stated in the article, this lack of diversity has more to do with simply having an industry that began so white.
The industry, however, is quickly changing. The Hispanic craft beer scene is growing and you only need to look to California to see how quickly the scene is becoming more diverse. If you frequent any Southern California brewery, you’ll see people of all races enjoying brews together. Sales reps are beginning to understand this too. One of my friends who works for a large beer distributor in Toledo told me just how much of a hit pairing 5 Rabbit beers with some of their Mexican restaurant accounts has been.
The issue is not that craft brewers are trying to keep us out, it’s that this industry is still trying to find ways to properly use marketing to their advantage. Where once I could only find macro brews at my local 711 back home, I can now go back and find a great mix of craft beers filling the shelves, taking away prime real estate from big beer. Craft beer will see an explosion in minority involvement with this next generation. While Hispanics are less likely to drink than non-hispanic whites, and are more likely to abstain from alcohol, acculturation can lead to higher levels of alcohol consumption. Hispanics are joining the craft beer scene at a faster rate than anyone else. All it takes is some market research to see that the breakdown of consumers is quickly becoming diversified. At least in California, breweries are taking notice and you’ll find that most festivals have some sort of craft brewery participation.
Craft beer is one of the few communities that welcomes people from all walks of life. From my experience, frequenting the “dumpster fire” that is the Facebook craft beer trade groups, no matter how angry people are or how off the rails things may get, I have seen very few, if any, racist comments or slurs mentioned. We only have to look at the Craft Draft 2Go debacle from last fall, in which the owner was outed as a Nazi sympathizer, to see how quickly the beer community comes together to eliminate these types of bigoted individuals from the community. The community is very close and does a very good job at regulating these types of situations. Racism is not taken lightly here.
This community is far from perfect. I continue to see women have a tough time being respected in the community, but this is far more a problem with the attitudes of the craft beer drinkers than the craft brewers. It’s improving and I’m seeing more and more males stand up against the misogynistic comments that are often thrown out to females in the beer threads. We have a long way to go here and women in this scene continue to have to deal with more garbage than the rest of us. The issues in craft beer are representative of issues in our society as a whole. Racism and misogyny are still prevalent in the United States.
We are aware of the problems that exist within our little community. What we don’t need is a privileged “whitesplaination” of our issues. Good Beer Hunting attempted to highlight the lack of diversity, but their lack of understanding of the issues at hand led to a lazy and sensationalist attack on breweries that actually do promote inclusivity in the beer community. I have no connection to the breweries mentioned, as I do not live in St. Louis, and the breweries would be quick to tell you that the beer community does not hold back on their criticisms regardless of how popular you are as a brewery. When people began to criticize GBH’s article, they were quick to dismiss them all, claiming that they were contributing to the problems mentioned. The irony here is GBH continues to dismiss the perspectives of the people they are claiming to champion for. I find it hilarious that GBH claims to be for diversity in the industry, but a quick scan of their staff shows no minorities. GBH writer Michael Kiser has the audacity to carry this “holier than thou” attitude toward the criticisms he has received and acts like some type of martyr for our cause, yet he is completely okay with cultural appropriation in his personal life. I’ve said this many times over the last couple of days, “we are not a tool for you to promote your business.” He spoke about our inclusion in the beer industry like it was some type of marketing tool. The attitude of GBH’s staff regarding this topic has been offensive and over the past couple of days they have continued to dismiss our perspective because it did not fit their narrative. Imagine having someone from outside of your community try and act like the moral authority on something that actually has to do with your people. That’s offensive.
Craft beer is one of the most welcoming communities I’ve been lucky to be a part of. I firmly believe it changed some of my family members’ perspectives on people outside of our own bubble and continues to impress me with its kindness and selflessness. The past couple of days have reinforced this for me. Unlike the Good Beer Hunting staff, the people in the beer community never once dismissed my perspective. Maybe they should reflect on that….