Thursday 08 March 2018
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Craft beer has a diversity problem. It can be an uncomfortable subject for many to get their heads around, but beer is overwhelmingly dominated by white males. There are two sides to this coin, as the issue exists both within the consumer and the industry space. One cannot take the lead from the other, as diversity can only increase if the change happens in all areas that beer culture inhabits.
If you find yourself shaking your head in disagreement with this opening statement then before you read on, put this magazine down and head to your nearest pub, taproom or beer festival. Grab a beer, take a seat and look around. How many women do you see? How many people of colour? Do you think the space you currently occupy feels welcoming to the LGBTQ community? It’s only once you become mindful to the problem that beer, as a whole, can effectively promote and force change. And forcing change is essential if we are to make modern beer culture welcoming to everyone.
Some progress has been made in recent years, especially with regards to the inclusivity of women within the beer space. The modernisation brought about by the craft beer revolution and its appeal to a younger, more open-minded audience has certainly accelerated this. However, this change would not have been affected if it not for prominent female voices within the industry highlighting both the problem and the solution. Voices like Wild Card brewery’s Jaega Wise, Brewster’s Brewery’s Sara Barton and beer writer Melissa Cole, who has written so eloquently on this subject in Ferment and elsewhere.
“There needs to be more empathy, more thought and less tolerance of letting things slide,” Cole says, while holding up Cantillon’s sought after Fou’Foune apricot lambic as an example of the beer industry being too sympathetic (the name means “crazy pussy” when translated from French to English).
“And there needs to be more conversations, one of the things I don‘t talk about a lot is that social media is very often my last port of call, I often contact people in the background to discuss offensive branding before I call them out in public,” Cole adds. “Sometimes things happen so fast I don’t get the chance to but I’m always available to chat afterwards about how to change and how to keep an eye out for slipping back into unconscious sexism.”
However, even by making beer more inclusive for women the battle, nay the war, is still far from won. True diversity would reflect the acceptance of everyone, and groups like the LGBTQ community along with people of colour are too often marginalised by beer culture. It is only when the industry is truly accepting of all people that it can truly consider itself to be diverse. And sadly, you don’t have to scratch far beneath the surface to discover pockets of casual racism and sexism, lad culture, and often difficult to notice microaggressions that can often be a precursor to far worse situations. Only by the identification and removal of this issues can the beer space become truly welcoming to all-comers.
BUILDING A PLATFORM
Melissa Cole got her break in beer writing almost 19 years ago when she took a staff job at the Morning Advertiser. She remarks that while the magazine itself was by and large a male dominated environment it was an inclusive workplace environment. However, Cole also points out that “many of the people I had to deal with out in the industry were just flat out sexist.”
Cole has since become one of the most prominent voices in beer. Whether through her books, Let Me Tell You About Beer, and The Little Book of Craft Beer, her events or by her prominent social media presence (Cole has over 30,000 Twitter followers alone.) It’s through social media that Cole has used her platform to fight sexism within the industry, extending that platform to many other women in beer as she does so. It’s an example that should be followed, as creating a platform is how real change can be affected.
Another prominent voice for inclusivity within beer is Jaega Wise, head brewer at London’s Wild Card Brewery and, more recently, beer specialist on Channel 5’s The Wine Show. In December 2017 she gave a seminar at The Brewers Congress, which took place at the Institution of Civil Engineers in Westminster. Wise didn’t hold back, using examples explicitly sexualised, offensive imagery used on beer labels to hammer home the point that the industry has a pervasive sexism problem.
It was Wise’s final point that would become the most salient, however. While she admitted that organic change is happening, she also acknowledged that the industry deserves far better than to wait a generation for this to come to pass. Change must be forced in order for the beer industry to take inclusivity to its heart.
“I am a big believer of practical, enforceable & measurable change,” Wise tells me when I ask how she sees this change being enacted. “I have been heartened to see statements from CAMRA (The Campaign for Real Ale) and SIBA (The Society for Independent Brewers) with regards to the removal of Beers with sexist branding from competitions. I think it's a great start. It will remove the worst offenders from achieving accolades immediately.”
“I would also like to see SIBA as an organisation implement a marketing ‘Code of Practice’ for its members, similar to the Brewers Association in the US. SIBA has quality standards, it needs to have ethical standards too,” she says.
Beer writer and broadcaster Emma Inch – who hosts the popular Fermentation Radio show – has also been vociferously expressing how she is actively trying to grow inclusivity within beer. She expertly explained the reasoning behind her efforts in a recent blog post titled “Do You Pass the Test? Or: what can 1980s lesbians teach us about beer?” At the core of the post is the principal of The Bechdel Test, or “The Rule”, which Alison Bechdel outlined in an edition of her Dykes to Watch Out For comic strip in 1985.
The Rule, which was designed to be applied to movies, contained three principles: The movie must have two or more female characters with names, that talk to each other and that conversation must be about something other than men. Something that is still sorely lacking in modern cinema. Unsurprisingly it is also very much lacking from the beer industry–and so Inch valianty pledged to apply The Bechdel test to all of her work as a writer and broadcaster.
“The beer industry simply reflects the wider world,” Inch says. “Change comes slowly, despite the chorus of voices calling for it. We only need to look at the current situation in Hollywood (referring to revelations of historical sexual abuse and the #metoo movement) to realise that it can take many, many years for people’s voices to even be heard, let alone for any reparative action to be taken.”
Inch expresses the challenge it can be for those at the core of the industry–and with beer like in the majority of cases this means white males–to accept their privilege. She also states that creating the kind of platform that needs to exist so that the less acknowledged voices within the industry can be heard can be even more difficult. But it’s this “handing over of the microphone” that needs to happen.
“As a very visible, butch lesbian I often feel like I stand out in the industry - and I do! But I truly hope that my–albeit limited–visibility helps to encourage and support other LGBTQ people to feel that the industry is a place that they can legitimately explore,” Inch says. “For me, it’s about safety, in all its forms. Safety from attack (verbal or physical), safety from humiliation, safety from being overlooked. The more people from minorities are placed in positions of power and influence, the safer I and others will feel to engage with the industry.”
WE’RE ONLY HERE FOR THE BEER
Creating safe spaces both within the industry, in our bars and taprooms and at our beer festivals is only a part of the change that needs to occur in order to promote diversity and inclusivity. As Inch suggested, we also need to accept that there’s a problem in the first place. However, this can be incredibly difficult when you’re viewing an issue from a position of privilege. Especially if this involves perhaps a brewery, or brewer, you might respect. Being aware of problems and in turn having the strength to challenge them, is perhaps the greatest hurdle the diversity battle within beer currently faces.
“I think almost all of my negative experiences have been customer-based,” Lily Waite, a queer trans woman who works in a London bottle shop says. “I’ve experienced countless transphobic comments and attitudes over the past couple of years, all from customers, from everyday sexism, to misgendering (which happens all the time, mostly stemming from ignorance, though sometimes seemingly wilfully so), right through to some really unpleasant comments and questions.”
“The industry needs to be more visibly inclusive. For example, if more venues that had the capacity to do so implemented gender-neutral toilets, it would at the very least be a signifier to queer folk that we’d been considered. It’s not a huge thing, but it makes a massive difference,” she continues. “The industry also needs more minority representation. If we can’t literally see people like ourselves in the beer world, then it’s not going to seem as welcoming.”
Later in 2018 former Beavertown Head Brewer Jenn Merrick is to open Earth Station, a new London brewery based in East London’s Royal Docks. For Merrick, building both a workplace and a taproom that is both safe and inclusive is a core part of her business model. The brewery will, in-part, fund a new apprenticeship scheme known as The Pipework Project, which will offer a service to breweries who are looking to help those who might otherwise struggle to break into the brewing industry a fair chance. Merrick also aims to ensure Earth Station’s taproom is a welcoming space for all.
“It's primarily about being explicit in inviting everyone to the party, not just the existing craft beer community,” she says. “Our space is first and foremost going to be dedicated to serving the local community that it resides in and to contributing positively to the regeneration of the area by employing local people, offering brewing apprenticeships and partnering with the community.”
“I would not feel comfortable just parachuting in with a business that was completely outward-facing and looking for its clientele exclusively amongst some nebulous demographic of ‘stereotypical craft beer drinkers.’ I want this brewery to feel like home to my neighbors, my wife, our children and all of our extended family.”
BE THE CHANGE
Over the past few months the beer industry, and those that enjoy beer either as fans or just casually, have been presented with an opportunity to affect real change. Sadly it’s an opportunity that’s always been there but recent articles, seminars and the resulting debate are beginning to force that change.
“I believe that a more diverse beer industry will mean better beer,” Wild Card’s Jaega Wise says. “The craft beer sector is growing so rapidly that we need to be paving the way for strong, new talent behind us. This means going into universities, going into colleges, and recruiting. We need to demonstrate that working in beer is a viable option as a career for every gender, race, religion or sexuality.
Everyone can be part of the difference, but only if we allow ourselves to become aware of the problem, accept it, and challenge it whenever abuse prevents someone from experiencing beer in a way that’s different to the majority. 2018 deserves to be the year beer wakes up to its diversity problem and becomes a more inclusive industry, but this will require a concerted effort from everyone.
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