Alcohol was never a feature in our family household. My British-born Jamaican mum never kept lowly bottles of brandy hidden in the kitchen cupboards and we weren’t accustomed to anything more than a non-alcoholic “Buck’s Fizz” at Christmas time. As a small kid, Sundays were for church. As a bigger kid, I was too preoccupied with school. And as far as I was concerned, alcohol was something that was out of sight, and therefore entirely out of mind. I knew of it; I knew other people that liked it and drank it, but the only education I had about such a big part of the culture I was born into was from those borderline hilarious Channel 4 documentaries about people binge-drinking and puking up onto the street.
It wasn’t until I’d moved away to university, at that age of wide-eyed rebellion, that I began to feel the call of something different to what I had known. So I started working at a bar, and as time went on and the more I learnt about the history of beer, the more of an affinity I had with it. Beer wasn’t just some drink that was inaccessible to me anymore; it was actually euphoric to know that it was once discovered by people of colour (PoC).
Six years ago, I became interested in independent or “craft” beer and I haven’t looked back. The sheer variety of flavours, aromas and styles of beer are endless. Dark chocolate, coffee and vanilla appear in a big stout. Juicy tropical fruits and pine embrace the palate in an IPA. And now that I’m forging a career in this industry, I care deeply about what kind of future I have within it.
“Beer wasn’t just some drink that was inaccessible to me anymore; it was actually euphoric to know that it was once discovered by people of colour”
The community embedded in this profession has been insanely progressive in opening up a healthy dialogue in regards to sexism and sexist branding. There are many people already challenging the institution in that regard. While this makes me proud to be part of this industry, there is still a fundamental problem. Aside from myself, why can I only recall one other black British woman who is actively working in this business?
Is it because we feel that it’s not accessible to us? Is it because it’s not widely marketed therefore unseen to a whole host of different people who could be happily enjoying it? Are the prices too high and therefore off-putting? When I reached out to my friend Audrey Annoh-Antwi, a 31-year-old wine and craft beer enthusiast, her view was that drinking traditions play an important role in the lack of diversity in the industry: “In a black British household headed by Ghanaian parents, the pub did not exist for me. Aside from the Guinness punch…there was a lack of alcohol in West African culture. The discovery of alcohol, it’s glories and nuances, were self-led.” Her thoughts definitely echoed my experiences.
“I also feel that black women simply feel uninspired to become a part of the beer industry because it is still, unequivocally, devoid of women of colour”
Going further, I also feel that black women simply feel uninspired to become a part of the beer industry because it is still, unequivocally, devoid of women of colour. In craft beer, I see some burly bearded white guys with the old “boys club” mentality, while the commercial side is full of older white males who partake in archaic ceremonial drinking. While this in and of itself isn’t a terrible thing, it’s the homogeneous nature of the culture that saturates bars, pubs and breweries. The truth is, there just aren’t enough of us to join in and make an impact.
As a woman, I felt like I had a reason to be part of the discussions about sexism, but as a black woman, I felt even further away from what my white female counterparts so identified with.
“Here in the UK, Jaega Wise, head brewer of Wild Card Brewery is a black woman with a lot of visibility in the beer world”
Including the much mentioned Garrett Oliver, the inspirational brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, our friends across the pond seem to have made more tangible waves in acknowledging that the craft beer business needs diversity. Entrepreneurs Teo and Beny from the collective Dope & Dank have brought craft beer culture and PoC together through social media engagement and events.
Here in the UK, Jaega Wise, head brewer of Wild Card Brewery based in North London and a director at the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), is a black woman with a lot of visibility in the beer world. These are the subtle but impactful changes we need to see. It is so important for the brewing business to gain a fresh perspective on how best to move forward and become more diverse.
We also need to see healthy reflections of ourselves in the writing, talking and advertising of beer and more of us need to seek out the better quality drinks that inevitably lead into seeking out the craft market. If we keep these discussions open and gain more exposure within the intersectional areas of our community, we can then start to oust closed-minded thinking processes and begin to understand that banding together is the greatest asset to progress. Sharing ideas and cultures isn’t a hindrance to progress.
If this industry is to avert homogenisation, the fight for diversity has to come from all sides. White brewers and brewery employees simply have to educate themselves, be inclusive, hire more PoC, and listen to and reach out to all people. And not just because it’s good for business. For PoC, there needs to be an element of not giving a fuck and tuning out the noise. It’s essential to show face, try some beers and speak to people in the industry. Then when all is said and done, we can recognise that beer doesn’t have a gender or race but it does have an open mind. Beer is great, we just need some more melanin around here.