Posted on September 10, 2013

Why Aren’t There More People of Color in Craft Brewing?

Alastair Bland, NPR, September 6, 2013

Michael Ferguson sometimes jokingly refers to himself among colleagues as “the other black brewer.”

That’s because Ferguson, of the BJ’s Restaurants group, is one of only a small handful of African-Americans who make beer for a living. Latinos and Asian-Americans are scarce within the brewing community, too.

“For the most part, you’ve got a bunch of white guys with beards making beer,” says Yiga Miyashiro, a Japanese-American brewer with Saint Archer Brewery in San Diego.

Sure, there are prominent exceptions — like Garrett Oliver, the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, and Celeste and Khouri Beatty, the owners and operators of Harlem Brewing Co. There are a few others, too — but that’s out of more than 2,600 breweries nationwide.

So how did American craft brewing end up so lacking in diversity?

It’s a puzzle, agrees Wall Street Journal beer reviewer and author William Bostwick, who is working on a global history of beer to be titled “The Brewer’s Tale.” He says that virtually every culture in the world’s human history has made alcoholic beverages.

“It’s one of the few things that all cultures share, so why it’s now dominated here in the U.S., and maybe in Europe and Australia, by white males is something I can’t explain,” Bostwick says.

Frederick Douglas Opie, a food historian at Babson College, says that cultures in western and central Africa have “a long history of artisan brewing.” People of the region, he says, made beer from sorghum and millet, as well as palm wine — which, he says, was considered by some a luxury product.

{snip} Blacks, he notes, often made moonshine liquor and bootleg beer in the 1920s and ’30s. But these days, they’re all but absent from the craft beer scene. “It could be that beer is like a lot of things in the food industry which, as they grow popular, become very hip, yuppie and white.”

Looking at the nation’s community of home-brewers also sheds light on the matter, says brewer Jeremy Marshall, of Lagunitas Brewing Co.

“Craft brewing is rooted in home-brewing,” Marshall says. “And if you look at home-brewing, you see nerdy white guys playing Dungeons and Dragons and living in their mom’s basement, and I know this because I was and am one of them.”

Duke Geren, of the Portland, Ore., home-brewing shop F.H. Steinbart, says his shop’s customer base is primarily white. People of other races and ethnicities – particularly the area’s Ethiopian community — do purchase brewing supplies from the store, he notes. “But we don’t see this moving up into the commercial level,” Geren says.