I Have a Dream for Craft Beer

Someone I work with recently brought to my attention that there is a major lack of color in the brewing industry. I was already aware of this but having the cold hard facts laid in front of you can be pretty disheartening. Not only are my fellow brothers and sisters missing out, so is the industry as a whole. 

So what are the actual figures on black people and beer? In our own highly scientific studies we have discovered that roughly 96% of engaged Iron Horse Brewery fans are Caucasian. To put that into perspective, 81% of Washington residents are Caucasian and 86% of Ellensburg residents are Caucasian. We are located in a very white community so our fan base demographics are understandable but there’s definitely room for increases in diversity.

Garrett Oliver, Brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery.

Garrett Oliver, Brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery. gohansociety.org

It’s not just Iron Horse Brewery with a predominantly Caucasian fan base, a lack of color is an issue with virtually every craft brewer in America. White people make up roughly 60% of the population but they drink 80% of the craft beer according to a Nielsen study commissioned by the Brewers Association. I’ve read other studies that claim the craft beer audience is 90% white. We know black people like to drink beer though, about 13% of the U.S. population identify as black and black people make up about 11% of the domestic beer market. The numbers are about where they should be for domestic beer but no where near ideal for craft beer. Although the Latino and Asian craft consumption numbers could be improved, those minority groups appear to be more interested in craft beer than the black population.

The lack of black people in the craft industry is explainable but at the same time puzzling. Brewing some sort of beer or beer-like beverage is something nearly every culture in the world has a history of. There are a lot of possible reasons  as to why black folks just aren’t into craft beer. The first thing that jumps to my mind is a book my dad has called Stuff White People Like. It’s a hilarious book that I’ve thumbed through many times. I tend to guffaw particularly hard at the page that lists “Micro Brews” because well, you know. The disappointing thing is that some people take these stereotypes a little too seriously. Although I have no hard evidence of this, I have a hunch that many black people view craft breweries just like they do Seinfeld or tents; things white people are oddly obsessed with and any blatant interest in them would label you as  an “Oreo” or “white washed.”  I’d be lying if I told you I have never been called these words but if liking craft beer and ugly sweater parties make me an Oreo then I’m happy to be America’s favorite cookie.

Another cause of the racial imbalance within the craft industry could be related to income. On average, black men make 24% less than white men and black women make 36% less than white men. Craft beer is more expensive than domestic beer and breweries usually aren’t located in poor urban areas where many black communities happen to be. Another study produced by the Brewers Association claims that 70% of craft beer drinkers live within 10 miles of a brewery. This could also contribute to the lack of black people in the craft audience.

While there’s a lack of black people drinking craft beer I’d argue that there’s an even bigger disparity in the number of black people brewing craft beer. The Peoples Brewery was the first black-owned brewery located in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  It opened in 1911 but it wasn’t until 1970, seven years after MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech that a black man by the name of Theodore Mack made history when he purchased the brewery. Labeled by the media as the “Milwaukee Negro” Mack struggled to keep the brewery afloat amidst opposition and it eventually closed.

There are still very few breweries owned by black people in the United States. The data is hard to come by but only a handful of breweries in the world are owned by black people and none of them are in the PNW. Some worth checking out are Black Frog Brewery in Toledo and Cajun Fire Brewing Company in New Orleans. Brooklyn Brewery is one of the only breweries in the country with a black brewmaster; Garrett Oliver is highly regarded in the industry.

The craft beer industry can only benefit from a bigger minority presence in production/consumption. I have a dream that black people will continue to discover craft beer both as a delicious way to spend free time and as a career option. I discovered both and they might just be my best discoveries yet.   

12 comments on “I Have a Dream for Craft BeerAdd Your Comment

  1. Bob on

    Good article. I have met Garrett Oliver several times an have an autographed copy of his book. When I go to festivals I am always amazed at how few black faces I see. Seems to be a nice showing of Asians, but then beer is a preferred beverage in many of those countries, especially Japan. When I talk black folks at festivals they laugh and say they were dragged there by their white friends. There just doesn’t seem to be the same kind of interest. Standard Brewing is located in the heart of Seattle’s Central District. I have only been there a few times, but I have never seen a black face there. Too bad. It’s good craft beer.

  2. Rob on

    Why should “race” matter?

  3. The Cultural Attaché Megan Davenport on

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