All Things Beer 510: MLK Day Edition

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This is a commentary about diversity in craft beer.

I don’t want to speak for all black people in America, but one of the most important days to me, out of all of the holidays, is MLK Day. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been a hero to me since I was a child. I mean, I have the man’s face tattooed on my arm. Since this is the time of year that so many people celebrate what he stood for and I am one of those people, I thought I would devote my platform to applying his message to one of the things that I love most in life, craft beer.

In honor of a day like MLK Day I wanted to talk and write about something a little different. My video and this forward are still about beer, but deeper than the debates around hazy and West Coast IPA’s or whether or not Ballast Point and Sam Adams are still craft, this is about black people and craft beer.

Dr. King was–and the living idea of him is–as close as we have ever come to the human embodiment of equality and inclusion in America. Unfortunately, when it comes to craft beer, those two concepts are pretty foreign. And that doesn’t just apply to black people, but women as well. Although, in recent years, we have seen a significant increase in the amount of women participating in both the industry and craft beer community alike. But, as you likely can see for yourself, those same strides of diversity haven’t crossed over into how the beer scene interacts with black Americans.

There have been a few very well written articles on this subject, like Irvin Harrell’s recently published article on Hampton Roads Growler, where he sites Nielson data establishing that only 3.2 percent of craft beer drinkers are black. Me…I do videos, mostly reviewing amazing beers, but I recorded one this week to give my thoughts on this subject. This video is not scripted; it’s more like a freestyle of random thoughts that have been going through my mind since I first started my craft beer journey.

Not to burst anyone’s bubble, but my foray into the beer scene has been an IRL of what the Nielson survey revealed in study. I attend a lot of beer festivals and bottle releases, and I am almost always the only black person there. I’ve been to breweries all over the world, from Oakland to Brussels, and I am the only black person there. I feel comfortable, but I have always wondered, why the hell am I the only black person here? I see every other race represented at these events, but most of the time I stick out like a sore thumb.

Do I believe craft beer is keeping black people out? Certainly not. Exclusion isn’t a phenomenon that always plays out as something intentional. But do I believe better efforts could be made to bring people into the industry and art from all cultural and ethnic backgrounds? Damn straight. After all, it’s better for business and better for the craft beer community to have different people from different cultures sharing their love for craft beer.

My video touches on diversity a little more, but I also discuss branding in craft beer that may come across as insensitive, like the controversial Yellow Belly–aka the KKK beer–from Buxton and the Portland, Oregon taproom, NWIPA. Although those kinds of naming and design can seem clever from a creative standpoint, their messages may be confusing and repellent to many. As well, black drinkers may be put off by breweries using the names or likenesses of hip-hop or black historical figures in their branding and labeling. I bring up these topics as a PSA of sorts, for those businesses in the craft beer industry that care about marketing to black audiences.

In the end, I love craft beer and I know a lot of other black people love craft beer, too. In fact, there are multiple Facebook groups where black craft beer fans come together to share tips, reviews and stories. Those groups are well populated and just as active as their mainstream counterparts. Believe that those members know what the American beer scene has to offer. But for the new drinker or the craft curious, who may not know what to expect, whether they’re black, white, Latino, or Asian, an interaction with a snob, or a dirty beer, or seeing a bottle with a white hood on it might just send them on down the road to the wine bar.

However, to that new drinker I say, “Give craft beer a chance.” It is one of the most fun, sharing, and passionate groups I have been a part of. There is literally something for everybody in craft beer, now matter what your tastes may be. If you like cognac, there are beers aged in cognac barrels. If you’re into spicy food, there are beers brewed with ghost peppers. And of course, if you happen to get a taste for the dank side, there are thousands of IPAs out there for you to try.

I’m glad that I can encourage the continuation of this conversation. I want everyone, of every race, religion and gender, to feel welcome and included in this community where I spend so much of my time. That is definitively what is most important, using something we love to bring all types of people together.

Peace and Love. And as always, thank you for supporting my videos.

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I'm a craft beer nerd who lives in Oakland, California. My YouTube channel, All Things Beer 510, is growing fast, bringing a different look and flavor to craft beer reviews. You should follow along, because no style is untouched, and I hold nothing back. Cheers!

16 Comments

  1. Art

    January 14, 2017 at 9:07 AM

    I feel you on this. I own Full Circle Brewing in Fresno California, am black, and love craft beer. Would love to see more of us in the community. Seems like the gap could be bridged by getting it portrayed by mainstream media/entertainment of black people drinking and enjoying craft beer. This would definitely spark the communities curiosity. Would love to chat about what you think a small Brewery can do to support the cause.

    • chauncey

      January 18, 2017 at 8:30 PM

      contact me at my email if you want to further this conversation brotha. Thank you for responding cbisnews707@gmail.com

  2. Joe

    January 14, 2017 at 9:43 AM

    Have you ever visited Detroit or Grand Rapids? Plenty of diversity here..

  3. AMZB

    January 14, 2017 at 11:48 AM

    Thanks for this. It really got me thinking about how to be more inclusive in my beer drinking. As a woman who likes craft beer, I’ve definitely felt alienated on some occasions in the craft beer world (and sometimes experience condescending attitudes), and I can only imagine how much more salient that feeling must be to people of colour. Craft beer really is predominantly white, and that’s a disadvantage, because more diversity means more ideas and more creativity.

    I really liked your discussion, in the video, about the friend of yours who felt really uncomfortable and out of place in a craft beer setting, and why that might have been. I would love to hear more about what elements of craft beer culture are most alienating to new beer drinkers from underrepresented communities. I like to host informal tastings now and again, so as to introduce people I know to the wonderful world of craft beer, and I’d love to know more about how to be more inclusive and shed some of the elitism that people find so alienating.

  4. Justin Martin

    January 14, 2017 at 1:38 PM

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. Part of the appeal of beer for me is the rich history and culture that surrounds it, from the Belgians, Germans, and Brits to all regions of the U.S. through the current craft movement. But I’ve noticed the astounding whiteness that pervades most taprooms and beer events and have often wondered about branching out.

    Full disclosure, I’m a burly, bearded 38 year old white dude. But by no means do I want to go out every weekend and just be surrounded by people who look like me or grew up like me. That can get really boring after awhile.

    I’m not sure what can be done in my current position as an enthusiast, but I’m trying to work my way into the industry and this is a topic I plan to be mindful of as I do. But I want to avoid doing so in any way that is patronizing or coming across as the stereotypical Dangerous Minds/great white savior type that is so often portrayed with this kind of thing. It’s a fine balancing act, but once again I applaud you for opening up this conversation.

    • chauncey

      January 18, 2017 at 8:32 PM

      Thank you reading and watching my friend. I just hope that this continues the conversation and craft beer can be more diverse as it is now

  5. ThatEastCoastBeatch

    January 15, 2017 at 1:16 AM

    I’m a woman who works in craft beer and one of my coworkers was drunk at a company dinner and literally said “I don’t think women could ever sell beer the way men can.” I promptly asked him if I slapped his dick on the bar to make the sale (cause I’m funny and crass like that) but that shit was such a fcuked up thing to hear, esp under the auspices of a workplace environment. And I agree with you, better attempts need to be made to not ostracize large segments of the market. Why would I, as a mid thirties woman, want to drink a beer called “raging bitch?” Or buy beers with scantily clad women (let’s be real, usually with way better tatas than I!). Where are the beers with sexy dudes on the front? Or raging boner beer? I’d buy that in a heartbeat nawwhatimsayin? My point is that you aren’t alone and I’m glad to see anyone addressing this issue. It’s not going away.

    • chauncey

      January 18, 2017 at 8:33 PM

      I really appreciate your comment and I find that women are really supportive of this article and I understand why.

  6. Dane

    January 15, 2017 at 6:47 PM

    I agree with everything you said. I love the fact that there is a passionate group of people trying to bring other people together, in my opinion that is what craft beer is all about. I would love to hear some ideas on how to move forward.

    • chauncey

      January 18, 2017 at 8:35 PM

      How we move forward is to educate our friends about being diverse not just in craft beer but in life as well. I believe that introducing friends who may not be familiar with craft beer really helps. I know this is something that I am trying to do in my community.

  7. Chad Bramble

    January 16, 2017 at 3:54 PM

    Thanks for your video!

    It’s funny, my wife and I have talked about how more women are getting into the craft beer scene, but we have not talked about an important part of her identity: being Asian. I would guess she is usually the only Asian when we go to a brewery as well…

    Let me know if you are coming to SLC! We are super homogenized like white milk here, but you’d still be welcome!

    • chauncey

      January 18, 2017 at 8:35 PM

      Thank you for your comment my man, I really appreciate it

  8. Marcus Williams

    January 18, 2017 at 7:22 AM

    I live in the Metro Detroit area and as a black man that has recently discovered craft beer within the last 2 or 3 years I have found it hard to expose my friends to this craft beer world. They are so stuck on the Bud Light Platinums and Coronas that they won’t even look twice at what I bring to the parties. After bringing my personal choices and seeing them go untouched I just started asking what beer they want me to bring. It usually ends up being Labatt’s which is as close to craft beer as they will get.

    I enjoy visiting beer specialty stores and attending tastings. I had a great time at the Grand Rapids Wine, Beer, and Food festival recently and while there were other black men there that I know personally, they tended to lean towards the wine and food but ignore the beer. I know more women, regardless of race, that enjoy craft beer more than my black male friends.

    That being said, when I am out at bars/restaurants such as HopCat or Granite City I do see other black men enjoying their craft beers. While the ratio is still pretty low at least it is a start and one that I think will grow steadily.

    • chauncey

      January 18, 2017 at 8:37 PM

      I believe it will grow as well. It may take time but what we can do is encourage the art form of craft beer and the great business it could provide for our community as well.

  9. speccra

    January 23, 2017 at 2:54 AM

    I love everything you’re saying in this video, and I agree communities ought to be more inclusive about race, sexuality, and all other things that separate us as people. Part of this will be on the brewers and bigger companies. The other part is on us, the people. We have to voice our opinions whether they are positive or negative in civil, thought out ways. It’s not useful to just be offended and not listen to the logic behind decisions. I think it’s okay for your friend to feel uncomfortable in that environment, but I also think it’s up to him to give it a fair chance.

  10. Sayre Piotrkowski

    June 5, 2017 at 11:04 PM

    Are you familiar with Dr. J Nikol Beckham? Her work on this subject is extraordinary. http://jnikolbeckham.com/tag/beer/

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