A few locals are working to make the craft beer industry more diverse
Brian Quinn is the strategic director at Town Brewing Co. in the West End and the founder of the Many Faces Initiative, an internship program specifically geared toward helping people of color enter the craft beer industry.
For Quinn, it was the murder of George Floyd that made him want to address longstanding issues in the industry, like a lack of diversity.
In 2021, North Carolina ranked 10th in the nation for having the most breweries. There are about 380. Of those, only six are Black-owned, with three of those planning to open at the end of this year.
“I wanted to look more at what we could do as an industry moving forward to ensure that we live up to the promise of community that we constantly say we're all about,” he said. “I just felt that we could do more to really expand our definition of what community means by kind of casting a wider net when it comes to our hiring practices in particular.”
“Many Faces” launched in 2020 as a way to raise money to fund diversity scholarships through the North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild. But it quickly morphed into a grant-based internship program, where chosen breweries receive a grant to support an intern.
“Smaller craft breweries barely have the budget to hire on another part-time keg washer. So, I wanted to kind of figure out a way to get smaller breweries involved in DEI work,” Quinn said.
Breweries and people of color who are 21 and up, and eligible to work in the states, are invited to apply for the statewide, 10-week summer program. Participants will be paid and have the chance to work in and learn more about any part of the craft beer industry. They also get a chance to make and package their own beer for sale, with proceeds going back into the program.
This year, five breweries across the state are currently hosting interns, including Town Brewing.
But Quinn says, even with the initiative doing well, it can still be a challenge to connect to the right places to find applicants.
That’s where the Black Beer Chick, Eugenia Brown, comes in.
She doesn’t work for Town Brewing, but she often works as a bridge between the craft beer industry and the Black community in Charlotte.
“I've done a lot of work in just helping to really highlight women of color in craft beer,” Brown said, “because it's typically not a space that people see or think of women of color when they think of it. My big thing is Black girls drink beer too.”
Brown, a full-time health care worker, got into beer in college. After trying a craft beer from a local bar, she says her life changed.
“I remember thinking to myself when I first tried it like wow, this is not the bad beer my mom drank. Because I grew up with a mom that would drink 40 ounces and she loved to drink a beer called King Cobra and I remember trying to for the first time of that year for myself, this is disgusting.”
Brown launched her brand, “Beer Chick” in 2019. At first, she was selling merchandise like t-shirts and koozies. But an experience she had working at a local brewery made her realize she was called to do something bigger.
“I walked into training and there was one other black person in the room with me and I was like, wow, I'm so used to being the only one and being the token and it was another Black woman,” Brown said.
Later that night, she realized she had been gatekeeping by getting opportunities to work in the space, but not sharing that information with other Black and Brown people who may be interested in working in craft beer.
“I never really realized that I was also doing it, trying to protect my space,” she said. “I had gotten so used to like tokenism, being the only one that I never questioned why there was never another woman of color in the room with me.”
And from there, her mission grew. She began to work to raise money to cover the cost of Level 1 Cicerone certification for 100 women of color. And she met that goal.
“This shows the brewery that, you know what, I have a certain level of knowledge, a certain level of expertise, please hire me and give me a shot,” she said. “Unlike many other people that could probably just walk through the doors and get the job, I knew that for a woman of color it would be a lot harder.”
A Brewers Association study found that of the 500 breweries surveyed nationwide, 24% of owners were women, while 76% were men, and less and 0.5% were non-binary. But gender diversity is where the most diversity is seen.
They also found that 94% of the owners were white, while less than 3% were Black or Latino.
Slowly but surely, more Black and people of color-owned breweries are opening. But chief economist for the association, Bart Watson, says that he thinks it’s really because more breweries are opening in general.
“It's good that we're seeing more Hispanic, Black, Asian-owned breweries open but based on this, I would say we're not seeing a ton of evidence that that's shifting the overall percentages of brewery ownership, given that there are a lot of white-owned breweries opening too,” he said.
One brewery coming to Charlotte at the end of the year is Weathered Souls Brewing, owned by Marcus Baskerville. The 37-year-old’s been brewing for 14 years.
“I started bringing my beers to local breweries, plays, bars, just to get feedback and see what people thought,” he said. “And this local brewery let me host a tap takeover where they had five of my different beers on tap and all of them tapped out the same night. And so that's when I knew that, hey, you might be in a good position to start making beer for a living.”
He launched “Black is Beautiful” in 2020. Being very well known in the brewery space, he knew he needed to use his platform to make a difference.
“What Black Is Beautiful was, is a collaborative effort among all of the breweries that participated, [they would] brew a stout recipe that was created here at Weathered Souls. And then upon brewing that stout recipe, 100% of those proceeds from that stout that they sold will go to charities, foundations, organizations that support police brutality reform, social justice reform, and equality.”
Across the country, 1,400 breweries participated and they raised nearly $4 million.
Baskerville says he didn’t want his kids to look back at this moment and ask him “where was he.”
“It might not be my passion to want to be in the reform aspect, to be within the leadership aspect, to be within, you know, somebody that can give back aspect,” he said. “But if God put you here to do that, then that's what I need to go ahead and do.”
With the opening of Weathered Souls Brewing in Charlotte in the fall, Baskerville is launching the Harriet Baskerville Incubation Program, specific to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) and women. Participants will work with some of the top industry leaders to learn all about malting, hops, yeast, and packaging and marketing their beer. He’s also bringing in Small Business Administration loan officers to help with financing and provide the educational portion on opening and operating a brewery.
It's Baskerville’s love of beer and his desire to create really good beer that brought him to the brewing industry.
Now, one of his missions is to help people who look like him, do the same thing.