There are a lot of conversations happening about race and gender all over the country. The beer industry is no different.
It seems that we can’t go a month – let alone a couple weeks – without some dust up on social media, where someone says something stupid or names a beer in poor taste or gives the OK to produce inappropriate bottle or can labels. There are examples from all over, including some in-depth coverage on this blog going back to 2014 and even just recently.
The conversations around these issues are front in center in today’s American political arena. As the U.S. inches forward in this year’s election cycle, voices are shouting from all over the country on all sorts of sides, on all sorts of topics. It can be hard, but conversations about race, ethnicity and gender identity are important.
Which is why, while at this year’s Craft Brewers Conference, I thought it was necessary to try and find out what the Brewers Association is doing to impact these issues in a positive way for their small niche of the world.
Some context before we get to the #longread.
The last few weeks have been ripe for discussion. Last month, one brewer’s Facebook rant on sexism went viral, and rightfully so. Last week, a Twitter argument erupted over a questionable beer label, and rightfully so. Hell, this year’s James Beard Award for Journalism went to a story about the lack of minorities in the beer industry.
It’s not hard to find labels that could easily be found as offensive.
During the event’s press conference for credentialed media, I posed a question to Brewers Association leadership, comprised of Bart Watson, chief economist, Bob Pease, president and CEO, Julia Herz, craft beer program director, and Paul Gatza, director.
— Nicol Winkler (@ThirstyGerman) May 5, 2016
What follows below is the transcribed question and answers:
Bryan Roth: Obviously, the community within beer is very welcoming and you see all sorts of people in all sorts of places, but one of the continuing conversations I know I’ve had and talked with other people is about the idea of inclusivity and diversity, whether that’s race, ethnicity or gender identity. I’m curious if there are any particular things that the BA is doing to further this conversation or even make sure that the conversation is being had to address perceived issues that may be within the community?
Bart Watson: I’ll mention a couple things. One is we are trying to gather some statistics to understand where the industry stands. We worked with a team at Stanford University – Susan [confused on spelling of last name mentioned] and and Dr. Shelley Correll – they found that a little bit more than a fifth – 20 percent – of owners, founders or CEOs or brewmasters in the beer industry, when they coded the data set we sent them in 2014, were female. So we’re working with them to see how that gets changed. Obviously, we do what we can to support beer industry groups like Pink Boots Society that support women in beer.
On the technical side, one thing we’re doing to help promote diversity, one of the things the technical committee is doing, is we’re going to translate our draft quality manual into Spanish. So that’s on their agenda to make sure those messages – the ones we preach about, high levels of draft quality – are taken to more diverse communities.
Bob Pease: The export development program has a series of publications that we’ve used some of our government grants and funding for American Craft Beer Guide, American Craft Beer and Food Guide, Brewers Association Export Guide to Quality. All of those have been translated into a variety of different languages: Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Swedish and we’re pretty proud of that.
Julia Herz: My little piece of it is beer has no gender or race, although it definitely skews. If you look at the craft brewing segment of small and independent brewers and data from Nielsen, 32 percent of craft beer comes from women purchasing that and that’s much higher than the 20-some odd percent of the mass domestics. So, at least encouraging wise, we are growing a segment supporting the brewery members that are bringing more women back to beer.
Paul Gatza: I have nothing to add.
This left me wanting more.
In hindsight, I realized that perhaps I wasn’t specific enough in what I was asking. I wanted to know if the Association was taking any exact steps to address these issues. From the press conference, it sounded like leadership wasn’t giving the topic much consideration. I thought it was actually something of a softball question, something you tee up and someone else can knock out of the park, easily showcasing progressive actions being taken or planned. But it came off to me as crickets.
I reached out to Julia Herz to follow up the next day and we sat down for a brief conversation between our busy schedules at the conference. To add context to our conversation, I mentioned to her the three latest examples I shared above about the Facebook rant, label and James Beard-winning story. I explained that I was hopeful that laying it out a bit more might spur stronger conversation.
Again, the following is a full transcription of our talk, very lightly edited to remove a few sidenote references we made that weren’t pertinent to the conversation. It is long for the sake of transparency:
Bryan Roth: As the representative body, you’re here to help spur these kinds of things and encourage this conversation.
Julia Herz: There’s a couple different ways to answer the question, but when brewers get asked it, I’m hearing both sides of ‘planet earth has the problem of discrimination, not just brewing.’ Or we’re weak in multi-culturals and craft is stronger with women than mass domestics, as I pointed out yesterday, but we know where the drinkers skew. So do most comparable American industries. Maybe on the food side that have high-end types of products are going to skew toward white males of a certain age range. Members will be on both sides of it saying one, ‘yeah, get a program going, make us stronger with multi-culturals.’ Mexican imports are certainly on fire and one of the fastest growing portions of the beer category and that comes from advertising and the way they’re targeting multi-culturals to go toward Mexican imports. What’s the BA doing about that?
The other flip side is, like, what do we pick? Do we pick religious preference? Do we pick gender? Do we pick race? Brewers will be like, ‘how do you take resources when there’s this hierarchy of all this other stuff we have to do?’ Federal excise tax regulation, we have the term of “craft brewers” being co-opted and high priority items on that are getting watered down and our members are slogging it out in the marketplace on price point with IPAs now being made not just by local brewers, but the large, globally run ones. So what’s top of mind?
In the pecking order of things, you have to pick and choose what you’re going to go after and we would rather create a community when if you’re not going to have a targeted campaign that’s just as inclusive that allows anyone that’s skilled, not on the consumer level, because are we talking consumers or employees, too? Just create the environment so people don’t feel discluded from craft beer no matter what they are: LGBT, race, gender.
BR: Which I don’t think is necessarily the problem. What makes me most curious about it is there is a certain frequency. Every two weeks there’s some flare up on Twitter because someone spots a sexist beer label – and I know that people see “sexist” as subjective – and like you said, I certainly realize these problems are endemic of society and this is just a part of it.
But it also gets to this idea of the pecking order, that there are obviously pressing issues that take prominence for all sorts of reasons and how this is something that doesn’t go away, where that falls and how that falls within priorities.
JH: It evolves.
Organizationally, no, we don’t have a formal campaign in place, but we’re very aware of it. As a female in the beer lover universe, I use the platforms I have to always be a voice that’s not gender specific, and I’ve written on women in beer. Multiple years ago, it was a totally different type of post, Women, Craft Beer and Centerfolds, which I knew would get a lot of traffic, and it did, and it pointed out where women are excelling in the brewing industry. A recent one I wrote last year was beer has no gender, but we expect our members to be respectful and sexism has no place in selling beer is my stance. I took a stance on that and that’s in writing on CraftBeer.com. The response from that was great. That’s what I used in the press conference, that it also has no race, and that’s where I’m at as a professional in this community of trying to ever combat whats bound to come up again and again and again until planet earth solves the issue as a culture.
BR: Is this a thing where some kind of formal committee or program or initiative would be necessary? I look at in the case of black or minority members of the brewing industry. In other avenues there would be some kind of program or pipeline because they want to try and encourage it. I’m not searching for some kind of promise or an idea of something that’s happening, but can you see that thematically speaking? Is that something that might be necessary or something that would help the issue? Or is it just like you’re saying, that things are happening on their own organically and that’s the way it should be?
JH: Organically, that’s happening with Pink Boots‘ success, to take it back to gender. That’s been a good thing and we do what we can do support them. We give them space, I’m a member and I also support them through a CraftBeer.com sponsorship. There are these offshoots and as a national association, one way we see things get done is just giving people an avenue to caucus and network with each other. That doesn’t necessarily translate over to the beer lover en masse. That’s a tough one.
The American Homebrewers Association does have it also on their radar because women homebrewers, when we look at the data, is very low. They are actively working on it in a more tangible manner as a part of the Brewers Association representing homebrewers.
BR: Like you said, this is something that is on people’s radar. How often do you catch wind of stuff like this?
JH: Two of the three stories you mentioned, I hadn’t heard of those yet. [Referring to stories at top of post]
BR: I’m walking through the trade expo, and there’s a booth for Custom Woven Towels. Every piece of marketing is women in bikinis with beer label towels. I understand that they’re working their demographic. I get it, but it’s not necessary.
— Custom Woven Towels (@CWTowels) May 5, 2016
JH: But it’s not being compared to other trade shows, either.
I won’t name the shows, but I come back from trade shows that represent the alcohol beverage industry personally depressed and say ‘I took time away from my family just to go represent craft brewers and that’s what I saw? Energy drinks and stripper poles?’ It’s a really tough one to see. It’s endemic. It is going on, but sensitivity-wise, in the craft brewing community, it’s a different ballgame. That 32 percent from Nielsen statistic, which again is one data point, I can’t say that represents all sales, it’s so encouraging. That’s huge. In my piece on CraftBeer.com on women in beer from 2015, I point out there are some offenders, which I personally, not as a representative of the Brewers Association, personally as a beer lover see labeling that offends me and I get upset about that and makes me wonder what’s happening there. But it’s not happening as much as I’ve seen from some of the large global advertising over a period of time.
You can also look at it historically, where it ties to advertising, too. You’re talking about a trade show example, but in advertising what we’ve seen from large global brewers has definitely gotten better. That’s encouraging.
BR: Ironically enough, they’re just realizing it now. In the last year, Coors changed their Coors Light ads. More power to them, it’s silly it’s taken this long to embrace that.
My favorite line from MillerCoors research is discovering there are “more than a handful” of women who drink beer. pic.twitter.com/8an7hKu16C
— BryanDRoth (@BryanDRoth) January 15, 2016
JH: It is kind of silly and they realize that women are 51 percent of the population and make the majority of purchasing decisions at grocery stores. The large global brewers and hearing what MillerCoors has said to do to be aware and they have to up their game on women, it’s like ‘yeah, great, and it’s 2015 and you’re saying this?’ It’s refreshing to hear, but let’s get going on it.
BR: I was very curious to try and continue, to whatever extent, the conversation.
JH: It was an opportunity to highlight something and I can only give these piecemeal efforts that are going on and point out that the brewing community continues to go through soul searching of what their national organization should put front and center based on the limited resources. The conversation did even come up today in the members meeting what we’re discussing. It is top of mind, but what I hear is two sides of it.
For the sake of this post, I’ll leave it there.
- What *Should* the Brewers Association Do to Address Gender and Race?
- Addressing Our Whiteness
- Hey Beer Dan! 21st Century Sexism Isn’t a Myth, Even for Big Beer
- On Gender and Beer
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac
Header photo via Great American Beer Festival website.