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NC’s craft beer scene has a diversity problem. Scholarship initiative aims to help

Drew Jackson, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Business News

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The American craft beer boom has not been a diverse one.

In a 2018 survey of its members, craft beer trade group the Brewers Association reported that 88% of brewery owners are white and that only 1% of breweries were Black-owned. At the time, there were around 8,000 breweries in the country.

But a new scholarship program among North Carolina’s acclaimed beer scene aims to improve diversity in the industry.

Named the Many Faces Initiative, the program will host interns at four breweries and one cidery in North Carolina.

In the Triangle, Cary’s Bond Brothers Beer Company is the participant. The deadline to apply is April 8.

Other participants include Town Brewery in Charlotte, Wise Man in Winston-Salem, Archetype Brewing in Asheville and Good Road CiderWorks in Charlotte.

“The goal of the project is to cast a very wide net,” said Whit Baker, Bond Brothers co-owner and head brewer. “The paid internship is aimed for someone who is interested in beer but may not have the avenues to get into brewing by themselves.”

This is the second year for the program, which started last summer at Town Brewing in Charlotte, which brewed the “Many Faces” West Coast IPA to raise funds for the NC Craft Brewers Guild Diversity Scholarship Fund. The proceeds of that helped subsidize this year’s interns.

There is also a GoFundMe campaign raising funds for the program.

The internship is for 10 weeks this summer, paying $15 an hour. Interns will be full-time employees and rotate through all aspects of brewery operations, from production to sales and service.

At Bond Brothers, Baker said the intern will also work toward completing the Level One Cicerone exam, the beer world’s equivalent of wine’s sommelier certification, so he or she will have a real world credential to take into a job.

“The idea is to launch craft beer careers for people who feel like they can’t break into the beer scene,” Baker said. “The Catch-22 is you need experience, but you can’t get experience.”

That cycle, Baker said, has contributed to craft beer looking much like it did in the beginning, white and male.

“It’s not very diverse,” Baker said. “Most of the people in craft beer are mostly white and male.”

After eight years of homebrewing, Baker initially couldn’t get a job in beer. The former high school chemistry teacher was looking to move out of the classroom and into a brewery, but no one would hire him without experience working in one. He said his only way in was to start his own, forming Bond Brothers with brothers Jay and Jeremy Bond and Andy Schnitzer.

“Craft beer as a culture should be as diverse as anywhere, but it does tend not to be,” Baker said.

Briana Brake founded Spaceway Brewing as North Carolina’s only Black, female-owned brewery.

She got into beer as a hobbyist home brewer, a passion she wanted to pursue professionally. But with a background in computer science and law, brewing jobs proved tough to land. She completed Wake Tech’s certification program, but that still didn’t help her get a position at any local breweries. She said she sent applications to numerous breweries only to get one response.

“It just said ‘Thanks for applying,’” Brake said.

 

As she considered starting her own brewery, the costs of space and equipment seemed daunting and Brake couldn’t sign any investors or loans. She eventually found a space in Rocky Mount’s incubator development, where she could lease brewing equipment.

“Otherwise I wouldn’t be here,” Brake said of Spaceway.

“I wish there was something like (Many Faces Initiative) when I was starting out,” Brake said. “I’m trying to create more diversity, I’m trying to set an example. I want people to see me, that I’m doing it. It’s a struggle, but I’m doing it.”

Brake hopes the program can be a catalyst in the industry, leading to more people of color finding careers in beer.

“I think that’s a great first step,” she said. “People come to me, but they don’t have any experience, and I don’t have the time to give them the basics.”

Fullsteam director of tavern operations Ari Sanders is on the Many Faces Committee, a mentor program for the interns. Formerly she was a bartender at Hillsborough’s Mystery Brewing, eventually becoming general manager of its taproom, before taking over Fullsteam’s taproom and restaurant operations.

Sanders said she came to beer through a career in restaurants and that a sulfite allergy led her away from wine to beer, which she believes is better for pairing with food anyway.

The cycle of whiteness in craft beer, she said, started at the beginning. And like in other industries, it can be a struggle to break, she said.

“Most people know people more like themselves,” Sanders said. “I feel like most industries, when they start up, tend to be homogeneous. The systems in America with access to capital determine when industries start. And whatever starts up tends to be a little bit white and a little bit male.”

Sanders said the pattern of development breweries can bring can also create barriers for minority communities, pointing to the tendency of breweries to move into industrial spaces and gentrify surrounding neighborhoods.

“If craft brewing wants to be about community, it has to be about the community it’s in,” Sanders said. “The industry has a lot of work to do, and it really needs to do that work.”

That work, Sanders said, will extend beyond a summer internship program and include breweries considering their own cultures. She pointed to recent allegations of racial discrimination against high profile breweries Founders and Boulevard.

“We have to make sure we’re including people in healthy environments as we talk about inclusivity,” Sanders said. “Getting in the door is only part of it. ... I hope the conversation we’re having pushes brewers to shine a light on themselves. ... I really hope this is a life-altering experience that can change the trajectory of careers for people.”

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LEARN MORE AND APPLY

For more information on this year’s Many Faces Initiative, or to donate to the campaign, visit gofundme.com/f/many-faces-brewery-internship-diversity-in-beer.

To apply for the Bond Brothers internship, visit bondbrothersbeer.com/many-faces-initiative.

©2021 The Charlotte Observer. Visit at charlotteobserver.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.