Craft Queer

Louise Crane meets Lily Waite, the artist and beer lover promoting greater diversity, acceptance, and visibility in the beer and brewing industries.


Lily Waite has come a long way in just three years of working in the beer industry. From working at Wild Beer Co.’s first bar in Cheltenham (“a fantastic experience”) Lily is now running The Queer Brewing Project (TQBP), a non-profit initiative born of a need to see greater diversity, acceptance, and visibility in the beer and brewing industries. A collaborative brewing project, TQBP will donate a portion of proceeds from beer sales to relevant, important, and worthwhile charities.

Inspired by the likes of Denmark’s Hops Not Hate and London’s Craft Beer Cares festival, TQBP hopes to use collaborative brewing as a vehicle to raise awareness of LGBTQ+ through both fundraising and conversation. “The main aim of the project is to take up space, something that needs to happen across broader society, something that needs to be given more time, showing that we exist in all walks of life and our issues aren't confined to debates, for example, about LGBTQ+ issues,” says Lily, an artist, beer writer and queer trans woman who has worked for some of the leading global beer titles including Good Beer Hunting and We Are Beer. “There’s been a lot of brilliant work done in terms of panels and discussions but it seems that, in a way, that’s as far as we’ve got. We can have so many conversations and topics and debates and things but where do we go from there, how do we put it into action and actually start making a difference? I’m really excited to launch The Queer Brewing Company. This project is, to me, many things: equal parts fundraiser, increaser of visibility, and raiser of awareness. It’s effecting social change in a very targeted way through beer.”

The foundation of the project dates back to 2018, when Lily hosted an art exhibition at Marble Brewery and collaborated with them on a companion beer called “Dinosaurs Will Die” as part of Manchester Beer Week. Together, the beer and the artworks told the story of Lily's creative practice, which examines the ways in which queer and trans identities intersect with an intolerant society. Lily received an overwhelmingly positive response from members of the queer community. “I had so many people message me saying, ‘Thank you for brewing this, it’s great to see these topics represented within beer, and also, on a beer label’. I had a few people holding onto the cans and keeping them as keepsakes because it was such a big deal to see that, which was really moving actually,” says Lily. This fantastic response spurred her on to formally set up TQBP in its form today.

For this iteration of the project, Lily will work with breweries throughout the UK and beyond, releasing about one collaborative beer a month through a network of 40 beer shops, brewhouses, pubs and independent outlets including The Marble Arch in Manchester, The Free Trade Inn in Newcastle, Hop Hideout in Sheffield and Bottle Baron in Edinburgh. Nearly all were found using social media, and range from “some fantastic, London, very craft and modern beer-focussed bottle shops and bars, to places a little more out in the sticks that aren’t necessarily as craft-minded, to some local places like Tom’s Tap and Brewhouse in Crewe, they’re a fantastic microbrewery run by Sean Ayling.

A lot of their clientele and their regulars aren’t craft bros or self-professed beer geeks that we often find in the beer bubble, and that’s something I’m really interested in getting it to smaller markets perhaps, ones whose drinkers aren’t within the beer bubble as much as others might be.”

By choosing not to partner exclusively with breweries with LGBTQ+ employees, the project also intends to combat the notion that the responsibility of inciting or fostering social change and advocacy lies solely within the community. It seeks to reinforce the idea that inclusivity is an issue to which everyone has a responsibility—not just the queer community. “What I’m looking for is these issues to be brought to light in contexts and situations that aren’t just diversity panels or articles about that specific topic. I want to spread it into everyday life and as far as we can get it and almost into places where it wouldn’t otherwise go,” says Lily. “The press that the project has got already is a good way of doing that, looking beyond the craft beer bubble, because it very much is a bubble, it’s the same voices talking about the same things quite a lot of the time (not all of the time of course) but I want to get it beyond that, get the beer into places that aren’t necessarily craft beer or shops or pubs or anything.”

The project’s first official beer collaboration, Queer Royale, made in partnership with Affinity Brew Co. from Bermondsey, London, launched on 26th April. The idea for the brew came about when Lily was drinking with Steve and Ben from Affinity at Signature Brew’s tap room, and they were discussing ideas for a beer that was both easy drinking and celebratory. Thoughts turned to using champagne yeast, then to cocktails, someone mentioned the classic kir royale, and suddenly Lily exclaimed, “Queer Royale!”. Dry and spritzy, the pale ale is packed with tart flavour from real blackcurrants. Fans of the beer will also be able to purchase it in 500ml cans on Profits from this first launch will be donated to MindOut, a charity that works to improve the mental health and wellbeing of LGBTQ communities and to make mental health a community concern. Future charities benefitting from the project will be those close to Lily’s heart, that have made meaningful change within the queer community, including organisations that support trans people and their families, queer and trans healthcare rights, and other important issues. TQBP will also raise funds for charities that broadly combat intolerance and prejudice, such as anti-fascist, anti-racist, and disability-rights organisations.

“I want it to start conversations that otherwise might not happen,” furthers Lily. “We can do this by using beer as a vehicle, so, using packaging and labelling to sometimes start discussions perhaps, or very loosely, pose a question.” A rough idea that Lily is currently working on is to explore gender pronouns by using several in the name of a beer, making it clear how important they are for trans- and non-binary people. “What I think that will do is make people who aren’t necessarily aware of the importance of pronouns aware of them. And then perhaps have a conversation with another person in the pub or at home, wherever they’re drinking the beer. But I want to put these conversation starters and these topics in the hands of those who might not consider it otherwise. The responsibility of social change doesn’t lie with those who need it most.”

Further exciting collaborations are lined up for 2019 with the likes of Marble Brewery in Manchester, UK and 7venth Sun in Florida, USA. “I’ve had a few breweries approach me, partially having seen the buzz from the launch, but also I have approached some breweries. One that I’m really excited to be working with, and which I was quite shocked that they want to be working with me, is Northern Monk. It’s obviously huge, their distribution is huge, everyone loves their beer, and I’ll be brewing with them in June. People Like Us in Copenhagen, Denmark is one I’m excited to work with as well. It’s a similarly-minded project that’s a brewery-slash-social enterprise. I’ve had some good responses from some others in America… but I don’t want to give the game away too soon!”

Lily won’t give away any real specifics about what we can expect beer-wise, but says “with a fair few of the beers, I want something approachable, not a crazy 12% pudding stout that’s only appealing to people within the beer bubble.” And if you were still asking, why beer?, Lily has the perfect answer: “Beer is social lubricant; beer is social glue. Beer can also be an agent of social change. And as the old saying goes: ‘we’re here, we’re queer, and we drink good beer’.”

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