Friday, September 27, 2013

Is Craft Beer Color Blind {Part 2}

It’s no secret beer culture has been historically dominated by mostly male, mostly white participants. And it seems, by the numbers at least, that craft beer culture is no different. (Check out Part 1 for a more detailed exploration of the statistics).

I spoke with Annie Johnson, this year’s homebrewer of the year, whose take on the matter is that many people of color simply don’t have access to craft beer, and that without access, there isn’t going to be interest.
“If you think about most urban cities, and you have a minority population that belong to a certain area of town, we all know it… If you go to the little corner mart, there is no craft beer. It’s Bud, Bud Light. Nothing is marketed to them except for those. They’re the only ones that are marketing to that particular crowd. And if you’re not exposed to it, you’re not going to be interested in it.”
Not wanting to leave Atlanta out of the conversation, I also invited Ale Sharpton and Lenox Mercedes to weigh in on the subject. Though neither Ale or Lenox had spoken to each other or read Annie’s interview at the time I spoke with them, they had similar thoughts on the matter.


Ale Sharpton (a.k.a. Dennis Malcolm Byron, Jr.) a prominent Atlanta beer blogger and web host who is regularly asked to contribute to Thrillist as an Atlanta beer expert (and who also writes for Beer Connoisseur,, The Atlanta VoiceJet, J'Adore, and others) agreed that lack of exposure to craft beer was a problem, but the issue is also part of a larger historical context:
“I think [exposure] is a big part of it. There was also a period of disconnection when beer was discovered in Egypt and the Sumerian civilizations, to Europe. When it was brewed eventually in the U.S., German and English immigrants played more of a role than others. That has a lot to do with it as well. Eventually, the microbrewery movement was simply dominated by whites. Things are turning around slowly.”
Ale Sharpton sees his work as a beer blogger, in part, as a form of activism:
“What I realized was that particularly African Americans were not regularly informed through avenues directly catering to them via magazines, websites, and other sources. Part of my goal of developing the Ale Sharpton brand was to help [people of color] realize that there is an awesome, exciting, and burgeoning world of craft beers to enjoy. [...]
I always try to promote festivals as much as possible, because they are the ultimate tasting vehicles for hundreds of different ales and lagers. [...] I try to help open more doors for everyone. Hopefully, the only white and black issues in the craft beer world will solely concern things like witbiers and stouts. It's a slow movement, but we are getting there one sip at a time.”
When asked to assess the current level of diversity in the craft beer circles he travels through for work, Ale says the numbers don’t lie:
“I have yet to walk into a black-owned brewery, but I have met a number of black brewers throughout my travels, including Garrett Oliver. I also think there have been issues with getting funding to start breweries. I have met a lot of aspiring black and Latino brewers who want their own breweries, but getting the funding has been the biggest obstacle. It is simply a reality that spreads beyond the beer world.
Hopefully one day race will be a non-issue, but the numbers currently don't lie. There is still not a balance. I think exposing the beautiful characteristics of beer to everyone is a step in the right direction. Perhaps breweries can start having minority brewing programs and I would like to help take part in that. Golf, tennis, and auto racing have similar programs. Why not beer?”
Ale Sharpton says brewpubs, bars, and eateries also bear some responsibility:
“One other point I would like to make: Black-dominated eateries, bars, clubs and other public establishments, for the majority, have terrible, extremely limited beer selections that are often monopolized by macrobreweries. I thrive on consulting here as well. Again, it is all about exposure and providing opportunities to taste different styles. This will lead to other open doors in the brewing world.”

Lenox Mercedes, owner and organizer of High Gravity Hip Hop, says brand loyalty may also play a part:
“Part of the reason the interest level is not as high is because Black and Latino people are so brand loyal that we’ve been drinking the same stuff for like 50 years. It’s Budweiser, Heineken, Guinness, Corona. And that’s pretty much the top four in terms of urban and Latino. You have a few others, here and there, but primarily that’s what we drink.”
Lenox went on to say that he hopes he and his company can be players in bringing craft beer to overlooked communities:
“There is not enough engagement going on. Craft beer doesn’t market to Black and Latino, at all. So, that’s why I exist. I saw an opportunity to say, OK, the stuff is great. We just need a conversation started around it in an atmosphere that’s comfortable and we will support those brands as well. [...]
I think [craft beer] represents a lot of good things about America, about real people in the world, that just are like… don’t bother us with wars, and all that stuff. Just do what you do and have a good time.” [...]
My whole stance is, craft beer is leaving money on the table by not marketing out.”
His reasons for creating multi-cultural craft beer conversations extend beyond mere recognition of an open market.
“Being from NY… I’m Latin. My father’s Dominican. My mom is from Ecuador. And I grew up in a black neighborhood, surrounded by an Italian neighborhood, surrounded by a Jewish neighborhood, surrounded by a Puerto Rican neighborhood… So, we hung out with everybody. Indian friends. Asian friends. Everybody. It’s like, if everybody can’t come, I’m not going.
When you come to Atlanta, there is this black/white/Mexican thing. That’s how they hang out. So, I felt that my company was needed, my festival was needed, in a macro sense. When American is fumbling through some big issues—housing crisis, unemployment, wars constantly—we need more reasons to come together than to get apart.
And if we can come around music and beer, it’s easy. Everybody relaxes.”
Although participation at this year’s HGHH event (which also had a Cinco de Mayo theme) was lower than expected, Lenox has plans to improve for future events, including altering his price structure and avoiding the theme.
“I found out, that Cinco [de Mayo] is offensive to Mexicans. Celebrating Cinco de Mayo is offensive to them. And being Latino, I was hurt. I didn’t want to offend anyone. I didn’t know that until I talked to Mexican people and they were like ‘You know we don’t celebrate that, right? Yeah, that’s totally American shit, and it’s like a spoof almost.’ So I felt bad. That’s my last Cinco de Mayo. Never again. Never, ever again. [...]
I really thought I had the formula for 700 people to attend. And I just needed some more support on the promotion. And then you’ve got stuff like ticket price. Because Black and Latino [are] new to craft beer, they’re also new to the beer festival format. So they’re not just ready to pay $40-$50 for a festival ticket, even though I know my festival is worth that.”
Despite not being native to Atlanta, Lenox says he’s not going anywhere, and is committed to seeing his company, and his city, continue to grow and diversify.
“I’ve been here ten years now, and I feel like I’m part of Atlanta, especially working at Morehouse and knowing a lot of natives. I’m invested in seeing it grow. I’m not leaving. I think this is it. My dad is here… [...] Yes, there are some areas that are unsafe, for everybody! And the West End is rough around the edges, but there are a lot of great places to go. So, now my focus is to find those places that have craft beer, respectable craft beer, and hip hop.”
Toward the end of our chat, Lenox was more forthcoming:
“To me, I’ll be honest with you. I’m really tired of the race discussion. Our packaging on earth is only that. You have to be in a certain spiritual place to be able to elevate above your race and even your gender. You’re a human being. These things such as race, you really have to evolve past that. I can sit down with anybody [and] I’m going to express myself from the heart.” 
In parting, I’d like to extend my deepest thanks to AnnieAle, and Lenox for sharing their thoughts and for being so open about their own experiences within the craft beer culture. It’s conversations like these that give me hope, not only for the future of craft beer, but for the future of the culture at large. 

Although I do enjoy unwrapping a pretty package, it’s the inside that keeps my interest. So whether we’re talking about beer or about people (who are each a unique brew of their own sort), I couldn’t agree more. Slow as it may be, craft beer’s evolution is going to need to keep pace with its growing demographic (both inside and out) if it's to maintain their grip on its minimal market share. 

We invite you to comment and contribute your thoughts on this topic here, on Facebook, and on Twitter. The full transcript of my interview with Lenox, which covers a wide range of topics--including public transit, transcending ideas of gender and race, and the right to freedom of speech--can be found after the jump.

Friday, September 20, 2013

It's a fish! It's a plane! It's a Flugtrout! {Hudson Custom Fabrication} talks about their recent job for Sweetwater Brewing Company


Set to make its inaugural (and final) flight in Miami, Sweetwater’s “Flugtrout” is a giant flying fish made of aluminum, polystyrene, plywood and Tyvek wrap, and will set sail at the annual Flugtag flying competition this Saturday, September 21, in Bayfront Park from 12-5 p.m.

The event, organized and funded by Red Bull energy drink, “challenges teams of everyday people to build homemade, human-powered flying machines and pilot them off a 30-foot high deck in hopes of achieving flight.”

The fabricators behind the job, Andrew and Whitney Hudson of Hudson Custom Fabrication (self-described beer aficionados both) happily agreed to build the flying fish for one of Atlanta’s oldest craft breweries. They took some time out from running their small business and running after their three daughters to answer a few questions about the job and what makes their business unique.

To vote for Team Sweetwater, the brewery suggests you "click the big red VOTE button a time or 10, or text MIA13 to 72855. The rules say we can't bribe ya, but we'll send you some serious good karma if you help us out." You can also follow the event on Facebook, and cheer them on through social media @redbullMIA, hashtag #flugtag.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

I Love Beer {Soap}

Some soap from Brown Bag Soap Company came in the mail last week, and I immediately swooned.

This may come as no surprise, but as a work-from-home/stay-at-home mom most days, I am usually in no hurry to bathe (I know I'm not alone here). But these soaps had me looking for an excuse to lather up.

The mess in the kitchen, the needs of my child, the pile of laundry yet to be washed -- all faded for at least a few moments while I inhaled the delicious aroma of these hand-crafted, locally made, beer-infused bars of soap-sent glory.

"What are you doing?" My husband asked, walking into the kitchen with an armful of groceries, a fistful of mail, and his work bag slung over his shoulder.

"Smelling beer soap. Here, smell it!"
And he did. And it was good.

click image to enlarge
The package Hannah sent me last week has been sitting nearby my usual workspace, and taunting me with its delicious and heady aroma of hop resins and essential oils. Made with Sweetwater 420, orange and lemon essential oils, and a touch of honey, the Pale Ale Bar was easily my favorite, and with a host of natural and skin-soothing ingredients, my four-year-old was happily compliant when I tested them out on him at bath time.

click image to enlarge
Not a soap snob? You will be after these.

At a little over five dollars a bar, they're an investment you'll want to savor. They'd be ideal as an unexpected gift for those who appreciate plant-based personal care products, or simply need to stop and smell the hops (which I much prefer to the smell of roses anyway).

To contact Brown Bag Soap Company and purchase some soap of your own, visit their website, follow them FacebookPinterest, and Twitter, or email


This is not a paid advertisement. Products were made available in exchange for a review only. These are my personal opinions and are presented as an honest representation of my own experience. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Is Craft Beer Color Blind? {Part1} Annie Johnson, AHA Homebrewer of the Year, comments

Annie Johnson, pictured at Rogue Beer's Hop Farm in Independence, OR. Used with permission.

For Part 2 of this ongoing investigation (coming next week), I conducted interviews with High Gravity Hip Hop’s Lenox Mercedes and Ale Sharpton, prominent Atlanta-based craft beer authorities. Stay tuned for commentary from Lenox and Ale, both men of considerable talent, enthusiasm, and expertise who have both personal and professional comments on the subject.

Writing for NPR, freelance journalist Alastair Bland asks a question that’s been on my own brain from time to time. Namely: "Why Aren't There More People of Color In Craft Brewing?"

My limited experience with beer festivals on the outskirts of Atlanta has made me wonder as much. Such events can seem overwhelmingly white. That’s not a criticism of the festival or festival-goers themselves, but merely an observation that didn’t seem in keeping with my broader impressions of the craft beer culture at large. For me, craft beer encourages people to convene over a singular and unifying enjoyment--beer. It seems to include and facilitate participation (from consumption to creation) from just about everybody. It’s about demographic and democratic overlap.

While Bland touches on a number of relevant aspects of the craft beer scene, the voices in his article pretty much offer a collective shoulder shrug. Bland does mention homebrewing as an integral part of the discussion, including the following from Lagunitas Brewing Co.’s Jeremy Marshall:
"Craft brewing is rooted in home-brewing [...] And if you look at home-brewing, you see nerdy white guys playing Dungeons and Dragons and living in their mom's basement, and I know this because I was and am one of them."
Marshall’s comments seem confirmed by statistics shared at this year's Craft Beer Conference (when it comes to the consumer, at least) that the culture of craft beer is predominantly white (about 85%), male (over 70%), and young (over a third of survey participants were under the age of 45).

While this picture rings true in the way that most caricatures are true, it oversimplifies what's really a more complex crowd of interest. The Nielsen data, as artfully compiled and extensive as they seem to be, aren’t inclusive of the beer culture at large, and fail to account for some important areas of discussion.

One commenter, Cbroman, wonders “why didn't NPR interview the winner of the top spot in the American Homebrewers Association contest this year in crafting this story?”

Great question.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Barrel and Barley Craft Beer Market {ATLOnTap}

View the full size image gallery here.

Open for just a few months (since July 3rd of this year), Barrel and Barley Craft Beer Market has already gained attention from the local community for it's quality craft beer selection. The owner, Zach Yurchuck, a recent graduate of The University of Georgia, says he had a "unique opportunity" and "couldn’t think of anything I would enjoy more than doing my part to help turn NW Metro Atlanta from a beer wasteland into a beer geek’s dream."

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Burnt Hickory Brewery {On Tap}

Mmm, beer...
In an uncertain (if still burgeoning) beer scene, a number of new-ish Georgia breweries seem to be after the average drinker, offering sessionable craft versions of classic ales and lagers that have the potential to leave the average beer geek a bit... bored.

And then there's Burnt Hickory Brewery

Keeping true to their past...
In keeping with his punk-rock roots, Hedeen maintains a high-level of irreverence for the "establishment." He remains unconcerned with what's already been done, and the result is a consistent outpouring of remarkably balanced, unique, and delicious beer that aims for the possible, rather than the predictable.


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