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On Tap: While craft beer industry is largely white, things are beginning to change and some Pennsylvania brewers helping make it happen

by on January 31, 2020 10:50 AM

Richard Koilor and his brother, Mengistu, were initially drawn to becoming craft beer brewers like many other brewers. As they started brewing their own beer, they also sought to become trailblazers, of sorts.

“We first got into beer as fans of drinking it,” Koilor says. “One day, I ordered a homebrew kit to make one gallon of an Irish red ale. The process was simple since it was a kit, but the beer turned out good. I dove into the brewing process and did a few all-grain batches myself. The more we learned about the process and the industry, the more we noticed there weren’t a lot of black brewers. There has never been a black-owned brewery in Philadelphia, so we decided we should make that happen.”

While the craft beer industry continues to be predominately white, both in who makes the beer as well as who consumes it, Koilor and others are hoping to make the industry more diverse.

In a May 2019 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Julia Herz, craft beer program director of the Brewers Association, said, “Within the craft brewing community, there has definitely been a movement internally to advance diversity and inclusion efforts. Many things are happening, and yet it’s also decades worth of work.”

The Brewers Association is the not-for-profit trade association dedicated to small and independent American brewers.

The Inquirer article cited a poll done by Nielsen-Harris on Demand that found that 88.5 percent of craft beer drinkers in the United States are non-Hispanic white, and 68.5 percent of them are male. Data from the Brewers Association showed that more than 88 percent of United States breweries are owned by whites, while 1 percent are owned by African Americans. Herz says the data is not complete or definitive.

Theories abound as to why there is a lack of diversity in the industry. Kevin Blodger of Union Craft Brewing in Baltimore told USA Today in a February 2018 article that he hadn’t seen any intentional exclusion of minorities. “There’s not much advertising budget [with craft beer]. It’s a word-of-mouth thing, and if you look at the people that were originally involved in craft beer, it was white men.”

Shaun Harris, co-owner of Harris Family Brewery in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s first black-owned brewery, says, “I don’t think there are more African-American brewers around because it’s not a thing we could pick up in our own community, and it’s not even a skill passed down from father to son right now.”

Harris, along with Tim White and Jerry Thomas, started the journey to opening a brewery in 2014. The three are hoping to have the actual brick-and-mortar brewery opened sometime this year. Harris says he brews all types of beer, including his favorite, dunkel. He also makes stouts and porters.

“If we have a flagship, it would either be my dark lager or the honey wheat ale,” he says. “Once we open our distribution channels, you will see much more of us at festivals, beer gardens, and all beer-type events across the state.”

Two Locals officially became a company in 2018. Koilor says he plans to launch a crowdfunding campaign in late February, and after the campaign, he’ll have a better idea of when Two Locals will open its doors. He says he and his brother enjoy brewing classic styles that allow them to hone their brewing skills.

“Classic beer styles are always appreciated because these styles, such as pale ale, brown ale, Belgian witbier, or stouts, are what began the craft beer movement,” he says. “They also are something different from the hoppy beers you find today.”

He says finances are a big reason why the industry isn’t more diverse.

“To get a brewery started, it costs a large amount of money, and capital is not easily accessible to minorities,” he says. “The process to open a brewery is very long, and it can be discouraging when you tally up the total cost to get the doors open. Besides that, I think African Americans look at beer as a white industry. You will find that black beer drinkers tend to stick to Coors, Corona, Stella, or Guinness. We hope to expand the pallets of our community and show the endless possibilities you can do with beer and that there is a beer out there for everybody.”

However, Koilor, along with many others, sees some positives in how the industry is trying to diversify, including the Brewers Association setting up diversity resources and a grant program. The association created a diversity committee in 2017 and has a diversity ambassador in Dr. J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham.

“I do see the industry moving in a direction that is more diverse,” Koilor says. “There are larger independent breweries who are trying to make it a point to hire diversely, and the Brewers Association has put in some programs to help generate a more diverse industry.”

Harris adds, “Times are changing rapidly as craft beer is looking to expand and diversify, so we are seeing more African Americans get interested in drinking craft beer, and once that sets in, home brewing is the logical next step.”


David Pencek is a freelance writer in State College.




David Pencek is editor of Town&Gown magazine, Town&Gown's Penn State Football Annual, and Town&Gown's Penn State Winter Sports Annual.
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