The Real Story Of Diversity In Craft Beer

Martin Johnson - Things are not as they may seem.

I have to admit when I first heard that Thrillist had published a piece on the lack of diversity in the craft beer business I didn't want to read it, much less write about it. I didn't want to read it for many of same reasons that my friend Arielle doesn't watch the HBO series Girls; she's a millennial living in a complicated Brooklyn apartment situation and working in publishing. She doesn't need to see Lena Dunham's version of her own life. I work in the beer business and I'm keenly aware that African Americans are a smaller part of this demimonde than we are in American society in general, but for the most part, my reaction is “so what.” We're underrepresented in indie rock too; I don't see anyone doing stories on that. In a world fraught with terrorist attacks, climate change and a yawning chasm between the rich and poor, whether or not the craft beer business is diverse strikes me as a pretty minor issue. I read the story because it turned up in the social media feed of a young African American woman who works for Brooklyn Brewery. Then, since this is Christmas party season I met lots more new people than usual, and after being asked about the Thrillist story repeatedly, I decided to comment. It simply wasn't something that I could ignore

The article has some merit, but the reporting is shoddy. If you're going to do a piece on African American representation in the craft beer world, you need to do more than hang out at a few Brooklyn bars, email Garrett Oliver and look at some studies. The journalist somehow missed out on a certain TV show host/veteran craft brewer. In addition the author failed to think associatively. When the wine boom began in the '80s, there weren't many African American winemakers. Now, there are dozens of African American winemakers and sommeliers. This summer, when an editor asked me to do a piece on 20 Black winemakers I wrote about 29 and there were 20 others who were considered but not featured. When I worked in the artisanal cheese world, I met fewer than ten peers of color, not just African American, but fewer than ten people of color during my 30 years slinging fromage. However, my last two hires were Asian American and Lebanese American. I had an African American staffer during my final months as well, and two Hispanic candidates just missed out on jobs with me.

I think what people forget is that while craft beer as we know it has been around for three decades, it has only been “a thing,” i.e. more than niche for only the last few years (craft beer sales have soared from 8.7 billion in 2011 to just shy of 20 billion last year). Diversification takes time. I wonder if the Thrillist writer had gone to the East Village rather than Bedford Stuyvesant, if he'd have had a different take. In the EV, I run a beer program, two of the bartenders at the best craft beer bar in the 'hood are African American. One of the managers at the leading bottle shop in the area is African American.

Of course if he had, then he might not have had a story to write, which is why the article sticks in my craw. I feel like he cherry picked data to support his thesis while aggressively ignoring information that didn't. A story on the increasing diversity in craft beer would have been more accurate, but it wouldn't have been as sexy and far less attractive as clickbait.

The Author:

Martin Johnson is a beer buyer and merchandising manager for Westside Market East Village in New York City.When not selling or drinking beer he writes about jazz and beer for the Wall Street Journal, basketball for Slate, beer for Eater and about a variety of cultural and culinary topics for The Root.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.

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