Minorities in a Craft Beer World

Angelica RossIn a continuation of June’s feature regarding women in the craft beer industry, she and Full Pint Brewing’s Tom Marshall discussed the challenges minorities face in the craft beer world. Enjoy!




Minorities In a Craft Beer World

Back in June, I spoke with Tom Marshall of Full Pint Brewing Company about how women are perceived in the beer industry. While obviously I’m compelled to speak about women in beer, women are just small part of the equation that Tom and I discussed. During our time together, the conversation extended passed women and to your atypical craft beer consumer: minorities and older folks.

Before I dive in, let me offer a disclaimer since I know how the internet works and someone will point this out in a Facebook comment: yes, I know I am a privileged white woman in a very homogenous town and have been welcomed by the Pittsburgh libations industry. I am grateful for that and the opportunities I have been afforded by that scene in this city. I am not turning my nose up at it or failing to recognize it.

With that said…let’s talk about how some people may not have had that opportunity and how Tom is trying to open up the world of craft beer to new drinkers within Full Pint and, hopefully, extend it to other locations throughout the city.

First, it’s important to note that our conversation observed how this is a two-part problem. Really, it’s a Catch-22 situation. On one side, we have uneducated workers who aren’t sure how to speak to customers about the beverage in their glass. On the other, there are people who don’t fit into the “typical craft beer drinker” audience, can’t break into the club, and therefore aren’t given the chance to really learn about craft beer.

Tom is quite adamant that these “non-stereotypical beer drinkers” aren’t given the same chance to try to explore craft beer like their plaid-wearing, bearded counterparts.

Speaking about some breweries, he says, “You would be shocked at the percentage of people who are drinking your beer who aren’t part of your ‘key demo.” Sure, the white, 30-year-old male drinker completes the cycle: he goes out and drinks craft beer, he buys it for home consumption, he takes it to parties. He’s full cycle. But that’s only a small percentage of the craft beer audience. Not everyone who enjoys your beer are full cycle or fit that “craft beer drinker mold.”

“That’s the amazing thing about craft beer,” he notes. “It connects us all. I guarantee everyone likes craft beer,” but for some, there’s no opportunity to discover that.

So what’s the missing piece here? There’s a perspective shift that needs to happen. The messaging and appeal have to change to include these other cultures.

Just like we identified how women craft beer drinkers are pigeon-holed into only liking light, fruity, and/or wheat beers, the same has been done with minorities; stereotypically, they’ve been assigned alcohol brand and type preference. Whether it’s been intentional or not, it’s still happening.

(Seriously, google “Minorities in beer,” and see what comes up. While there has been some evolution since these articles have been published, it’s still quite shocking that it was a conversation even a few years ago. And as we all know, it takes Pittsburgh about 5 years to catch up.)

“I find that people learn about beer organically through bartenders and going to breweries, but not everyone feels comfortable or has the opportunity to do that,” says Tom.

Think about it: when you see an older person walk into a bar, what do you assume they’re drinking? Probably something they’re familiar with from a big beer brand. What about a college-aged black man? A twenty-something woman?

As far as Full Pint goes, Tom wants to appeal to the other percentage of people who don’t complete the full cycle mentioned above. In fact, he tries not to appeal to them at all. It may seem like he’s excluding the ideal craft beer audience, but really, he’s hoping to open up the world of craft beer to the folks who don’t quite fit that mold (i.e. change the messaging so it’s inclusive and welcoming to all).

From Tom’s experience, he’s found that many people, especially minorities, aren’t given the chance to feel comfortable to experiment at bars. He sees that “they are nervous to make a choice” when they walk into a bar. Because of that, they have someone make a recommendation based on their appearance instead of their tastes. Then, they don’t have the opportunity to try something new. There’s that Catch-22 again.

To add to the problem, Tom has observed that staff education is at an all-time low. There’s high turnover and it’s hard to maintain educational standards. As such, many of these staff members don’t know how to talk about beer (types, flavors you’d enjoy, etc.) to customers. This is especially unfair to customers who aren’t sure what beer they like to drink yet.

“Every bar I walk into, I offer to educate their staff on the beer. You’d be surprised by how many people turn that down,” says Tom.

Educationally speaking, bartenders are the first line. There are many great bartenders in the city who will take the time to talk you through new beverages based on flavors you already like. But what happens if you walk into a bar with 50 beer options and an uneducated (or just really busy and overwhelmed) bartender?

If you’re interested in learning about craft beer, go to a brewery. There, you’re guaranteed to talk to someone who understands beer, especially what you’re about to consume…because they made it. They can talk to you about what flavors you enjoy in your beverage and make a well-informed recommendation.

Naturally, Tom pointed to the experience you’d get at Full Pint. When you walk into the Wild Side Pub, you feel welcome and comfortable. Tony, one of the bartenders at the Pub, does a great job of matching your flavor preferences to a beer currently on tap. Tom thinks there’s something for everyone at Full Pint. Further, he recognizes that Tony wants you to try different beers and to leave having the best beer you possibly could.

For some, “Pittsburgh pride ends after donning black and gold, putting fries on everything, and ketchup,” Tom says. Yikes! Don’t be that jagoff. Instead, dear educated reader, take pride in the beer that is being brewed here and try to open up a conversation with someone who may not have felt as welcome as you do. As Tom says, beer does connect us all. I don’t know about you, but I’d hate for someone to miss out on this great beverage.

Further Reading:

Boston Brewer Caters to Minority Ethnic Beer Drinkers,” is about a minority brewer who brews with minority drinkers in mind. I could paraphrase the whole thing (and I know it’s not a Pittsburgh-based perspective), but it’s worth reading for another take on minority views in craft beer.








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