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!

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