Here’s a piece I wrote for Alcohol Professor this week on inclusivity and diversity in the craft beer industry. I talked with J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham, aka Dr. J, about her initiative Craft Beer For All, which aims to do just that.
Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:
Sara Havens: What first got you interested in craft beer?
Dr. J: I’ve been a huge craft beer fan since the late ’90s/early 2000s and was, just like a lot of people, an avid consumer and home brewer. Around 2009, I started working at a home-brew shop while I was in graduate school, and it just kind of became the core of my social life at the time.
At some point, I was like, “Well, I have this big academic life and this big beer life, and I don’t see why they should be different.” I started doing my academic work about the brewing industry. I wrote my dissertation about the beer industry and have been publishing articles about the cultural aspects of the brewing industry for quite a long time.
I think my interest in the industry in terms of diversity is not terribly difficult to understand — I’m a queer black woman and didn’t see a lot of people who looked like me. One of the first questions you ask yourself is, “Why?” And the second question is, “How do I change this?”
SH: Do you happen to know the statistics on minority-owned breweries?
Dr. J: The Brewers Association has all that information to date, but the trends are not surprising. Women and people of color are concentrated in the front-of-the-house roles other than technical brewing or management.
There are probably about 50 black-owned breweries in the U.S., or less than 1%. What we see pretty universal in all markets — whether you’re talking about people working in this industry or the consumers — is that certain groups are, across the board, underrepresented.
SH: How can we make craft beer more inclusive?
Dr. J: It’s kind of one of the drums that I’ve beat for the last two years. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. If there were things everybody could do or could be communicated in an article, then we would already have done that.
One of the important things to remember is that both the industry and a particular brewery don’t exist in a vacuum. They are part of their community, and the industry is part of the U.S. economy and political structure. So they’re not immune to what’s going on in the country more broadly.
Just one example: If you look back to the origins of craft beer in the 1960s and 1970s, this is when the country is in the grips of the Civil Rights movement. Schools are not really totally desegregated yet. Women’s rights are not even that far along. In 1970, a black person or a woman aren’t walking into a bank and saying they need a loan to start a brewery.
That just didn’t happen. This unacknowledged history is just embedded in the industry.