Diversity has almost always been an awkward topic in the craft-brewing industry, primarily because there isn’t much of it. From race and ethnicity to gender and sexual orientation to age, ability or socioeconomic status, there’s not a lot of variation inside the country's 8,000 or so breweries — though there are several recent and important exceptions, including a few of Colorado's beer makers.
“A lot of people are very aware of this in the craft-beer world,” says Kristina Schostak, Left Hand Brewing’s communications manager and head of the company’s new Open Hands Committee, which is trying to promote diversity at the Longmont brewery. “For instance, people point out that we are a diversity committee that is, optically, not very diverse. That's why we formed — to ask why that is, and to do something about it."
That endeavor will be helped along this year by a grant from the Brewers Association, which just awarded $50,000 to fourteen different events around the country, with the goal of encouraging “diversity and inclusion” in the craft-beer world. That number is up from last year, when the BA gave out $20,000 to six different events.
Some of the other winners include: ColdXela, a Los Angeles festival focused on Latinx, Asian and African-American beer brewers; FemAle Brew Fest, a one-day Florida event that celebrates women in brewing; and the grand opening of Virginia’s Samuel D. Outlaw Blacksmith Shop Memorial Musem, a post-slavery-era museum that is collaborating with a local brewery called Black Narrows Brewing on a beer that will be served at the event.
Denver’s Suave Fest, which took place for the first time last September, also won a BA grant for the second year in a row. Organized by the newly opened Raices Brewing, the festival will grow in 2020, taking place in a larger outdoor space and including Latinx-owned breweries from around the country.
At Left Hand, the grant (the BA asked that the individual grant amounts not be revealed) will help to create the Open Hands 48 Film Festival, which will take place in July. The brewery will give participants 48 hours to make a five-minute film (with specific parameters that won’t be revealed until the last minute) showcasing diversity, inclusion and equity in craft beer. They will be aired in the taproom on July 26. Left Hand will then donate money to charities selected by the winners of various festival awards.
And the brewery’s definition of diversity is wide. In addition to the variables mentioned above, it also could include single parents, veterans or immigrants and their children.
“This is really cool for our town and for our industry,” says Schostak, who says she is half Latina. “We’re hoping that the grant will encourage other breweries to have this kind of activation as well.”
For Suave Fest organizers Tamil Maldonado and Jose Beteta, the grant brings validation not just to the young festival, but to the cultural programming that has been a big part of their brewery, Raices. “I think the BA really likes what we're doing for inclusion and diversity,” says Beteta, who credits Maldonado for “bringing vibrancy” to the brewery on an almost daily basis with events that run the gamut from music and dancing and bilingual karaoke to soccer parties, game nights with Mexican lotería, and country-specific food pop-ups.
Maldonado is currently one of just a handful of women who were invited to participate in a BA media presentation this weekend in New York City about women’s experiences in the beer industry.
Beteta says Suave Fest, which featured beer from ten Latino-owned breweries along with food, culture and dancing, will be much larger in 2020 and will have more sponsors. Early-bird tickets for the fest, which will be in September, go on sale next week at suavefest.com.
As for the BA, which represents Independent craft breweries nationwide, it plans to publish a series of case studies written by its newish “diversity ambassador,” Dr. J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham, that spotlight “best practices in action." The organization will also introduce a pilot mentorship program.
“It’s inspiring to see so many organizations striving to connect and welcome new people to beer and each other,” BA craft-beer program director Julia Herz says in a statement. “While there is still much work to be done, we are proud to continue our commitment to nurture a more diverse and inclusive craft beer community, and we congratulate this year’s grant recipients.”
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.