As for many others, 2020 was a difficult year for me filled with big changes. The killing of George Floyd happened as I was (literally) flat on my back — the toll of stress physically manifested itself in a thrown back and I felt unable to do anything physically, emotionally, or mentally to process what was happening.
Flashback to a little over five years ago when I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed entering British Columbia’s craft beer industry. I was a university student working at an unnamed giant coffee corporation — I applied on a whim to a craigslist advertisement for a tasting room position and found myself scrambling when I was hired.
I went from a working environment that crossed over many intersections of diversity including people of different physical abilities, sexualities, genders, and ethnicities, to one where no one (to my knowledge) seemed to stray from the cis-het whiteness that I had observed in the brewing world but never really considered before. As my education and awareness developed, I began to notice trends I found frustrating in my new industry — the sexualization of my body, the othering of my race, the assumptions of me fitting into the predetermined role of a woman in beer and leaving my life experiences, values, and morals at the door.
As I began to grow more comfortable in myself as a “beer person,” I found friends and allies that I could in part express these frustrations to, but there always seemed to be a limit to what my (majority) cis-het white peers felt comfortable hearing. I often felt alone — there wasn’t anyone I worked with who looked like me and, as a result, I had to hear and experience things I did not feel like I had the voice or power to stand up against.
I grieved alone for the loss of many to violence — there were no conversations around the murder of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, the third wave of Ferguson protests, the formation of Black Lives Matter. It often felt that two significant parts of my life, craft beer and blackness, could never work together and would always have to remain separate parts of my identity.
Something changed last year. On June 2, I woke up to a social media feed filled with black squares. Restaurants, breweries, friends, colleagues, musicians, companies — everyone I followed — had opted to join in on Blackout Tuesday, something I had not even heard of.
I still do not know why the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery were the spark for change and conversations in my industry. Black Lives Matter and Black Peoples, Indigenous Peoples, and People of Colour (BIPOC) had been talking about police brutality, systemic racism, and white supremacy for all of my conscious life — but suddenly there was a shift in acceptance of these realities by the general populace. I saw action, learning, affirmation — I saw people I would have never imagined in my wildest dreams for the first time believing the experiences of marginalized peoples.
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Then came Diversity in Brewing (DIB). In all honesty, I was hesitant to join. I was burnt out, tired, fatigued, stressed, any word you can think of to describe exhaustion. I did not want to commit myself to doing the work with a collective because, before that moment, I could not have thought of a way for craft beer and diversity and inclusion to work together. But, considering my struggles as a marginalized person within an industry that did not reflect people that looked like me, how could I not want to work towards something better?
Diversity in Brewing Scholarship
A scholarship with Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) for their brewing program was the Diversity in Brewing’s initial goal. In the end, 39 different breweries in B.C. donated to the 2020/2021 scholarship and committed to an annual donation to keep the momentum rolling. So, even if the conversation around Black Lives Matter became muted, there would still be tangible benefits to BIPOC and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Two Spirit, and more (LGBTQ2S+) folks. Acknowledging that the work is not done and there is still a long road ahead, I feel tremendous pride and privilege to have been a part of an initiative that has helped three students (so far).
Without hammering too hard on the oft-stated assertion of 2020 being the pits (which it was), the conversations and hope that I’ve had with the scholarship recipients have been uplifting, educational, and inspiring. I had the absolute pleasure of speaking to the scholarship recipients about their experiences with the beer industry and schooling so far. Each of the students were in no way new to beer, with industry experience, homebrewing experience, brewing association memberships, and a true love for craft beer.
Nishant Amin, originally from Mumbai, India, refers to himself as “a regular person who came [to Canada] to fulfil my dream of being a brewer.” Nishant’s experience as a newcomer comes with an impressive resume of work as an Industrial Engineer and a Bachelor’s Degree in Production Engineering. “Coming from a different culture and educational background has helped guide interactions in the industry in a very fruitful and positive way,” he said. “People have been open to listening to my views and ideas when it comes to contributing to the craft of making beer.”
Nishant’s unique and fresh views in regard to brewing have been well received:
“I am happy to inform that the industry has accepted me without making any distinction of where I am from or who I am… so that’s a great start.”
As an international student, the scholarship has helped reduce his burden of tuition fees.
Amin added: “It has probably set a platform for others like me (by that I mean a person from a country like India where brewing is not considered to be a primary career option on a larger scale) to pursue their dreams beyond the kaleidoscope of just a few career options laid out in front of them, especially since they know they could be recognized and helped in the road to what they would want to achieve.”
Jasper Bautista got interested in craft beer in 2015. “Craft beer was rapidly growing and I fell in love with the business and production of crafting beer. I always thought that maybe one day I could be a brewer and own my own microbrewery. So in 2019, I decided to jump ships and dive into the craft beer industry.”
“My experience at KPU has been great,” Bautista continued. “The teachers at KPU really give their best to help students understand the technical parts of brewing. The knowledge and precision needed to be a technical-commercial craft brewer isn’t a light subject to overlook and the program at KPU delivers all the important parts needed to succeed in the craft beer industry.”
Bautista said he hopes to own his own microbrewery one day, a unique place that serves tapas along with craft beer. “I want to shift the culture and target the hip hop and basketball community.”
Bautista added that he is very proud and honoured to receive this award.
“The Diversity in Brewing scholarship is an amazing initiative that stands for social justice. To know that the craft beer industry is here to support BIPOC and LGBTQS+ gives me hope that our world is adapting and making changes to social injustices. Cheers to the industry and to all the people that love craft beer. Together we can make a difference.”
Alex Paul was already interested in beer before he enrolled in the Brewing and Brewery Operations program at KPU. This semester will be his final one and he’s already a packaging wizard and brewery assistant at Mariner Brewing in Coquitlam. Diving into the beer industry was not without its hurdles though. “I was slightly hesitant to leave my management job of 13 years to enter into the beer industry,” he said. “Beer is something I’m very passionate about, but it always seemed like such a cis-straight bro industry, and I wasn’t sure how welcoming it would be.”
“However, since entering the program I’ve had very positive experiences! My teachers and classmates are lovely and accepting and everyone I’ve met in the industry [has] been welcoming and fun! I’m having the best time of my life.”
In regards to his level of comfortability regarding his sexuality, Alex said, “I generally try to play it cool and calm with people I am just meeting, but it is hard to hide all this fabulousness, so that never lasts long. I have found so many accepting people, so being my authentic self from the get-go is coming much easier to me the more time I spend in the industry. I love the feeling of working in a small craft brewery where I can be part of the whole process.”
Alex’s reflections on the Diversity in Brewing scholarship are poignant. “The value of the scholarship far exceeds the monetary award I was given,” he said. “Just the effect on the beer community of having a scholarship that embraces diversity from the LBGTQ+ and BIPOC communities is huge. Seeing all the breweries who supported this award and were proud to post that they were contributors opened my eyes that inclusivity is more widespread than I had initially thought entering into this industry. I hope that this scholarship entices even more diverse groups of people to enter the brewing program, and therefore the industry, as those are the people I want to work with in the future!”
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The future of craft beer in B.C. needs to be diverse. Inclusivity will need to be a reality, not just a pipe dream. Marginalized peoples from all walks of life should be — and deserve to be — reflected in our industry. The history of beer and fermentation have existed across culture, gender, race, and time. The KPU/DIB scholarship is an incredible first step; the rallying of our beer community for a common cause shows that there is interest in continuing to move and march forward. There is still much to do — let’s continue to learn, listen, and change together for a better future for all.
The Diversity in Brewing website includes a blog with stories about a range of diverse people who work in the craft beer industry in BC, along with resources for people wanting to learn more and improve their understanding of diversity in general.
The upcoming Virtual BC Craft Brewers Conference (Feb 3-5, 2021) will feature a keynote address on diversity by Ren Navarro of Beer. Diversity and a two-part diversity and inclusion workshop with Jalepeno Employee Engagement.
This article was written on the unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples–Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations.
A big thanks to Heather Keegan for her assistance in developing this story. To find out more about the author, Meghan Fulton, visit her landing page here.