What will it take to diversify the craft beer industry?

Getting into growing, untapped minority markets could be one way to keep the maturing, $23.5 billion craft beer industry flourishing in the United States.
8 min. read
Jose Beteta of Raices Brewing, outside a vacant storefront in Capitol Hill that may one day house his fledgeling brewery, Aug. 14, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) denver; colorado; capitol hill; denverite; jose beteta; beer; brewing; raices brewing;

Jose Beteta of Raices Brewing, outside a vacant storefront in Capitol Hill that he looked at for housing Raices Brewing Co., Aug. 14, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

There are probably more Latin-flavored craft beer varieties in Colorado than there are actual Latinos in the state's brewing industry.

Nationwide, Jose Beteta was only able to find about 10 breweries that were easily identifiable as Latino-owned or operated while researching the craft beer market. He plans to join that small list next summer with Raices Brewing Co. in Denver.

"We saw an opportunity to kind of own that. To say, 'Yeah, we're Latino, and we have Latino things happening here and we want you all to come and experience this,'" Beteta said.

Getting into growing, untapped minority markets could be one way to keep the maturing$23.5 billion craft beer industry flourishing in the United States. Seeing the opportunity, advocates are pushing an industry that's long been white and male-driven to take steps to be more inclusive. Those steps include making sure winners at the Great American Beer Festival are not promoting a racist or sexist culture.

Minorities represent more than a third of the U.S. population. In Colorado, they're about 31 percent of the state's 5.3 million population. And in Denver, 47 percent of the city's 649,654 residents. Hispanics or Latinos make up the largest minority groups, according to federal estimates.

Beteta, who was born in Costa Rica, is used to promoting diversity and finding ways for Latinos to succeed in business through his roles as executive director of The Latino Chamber of Commerce of Boulder County and co-founder of the Longmont-based nonprofit music organization Barrio E.

"We're hugely under-represented in craft beer," Beteta said. "This is an industry with a lot of opportunity, and we want to encourage other Latinos to come into this industry and tap into it. We consume it. We love the culture behind it, and we want to be a part of it."

Great American Beer Festival, Oct. 7, 2016. (Stephanie Snyder/Denverite)
Who's a part of craft beer?

The Brewers Association does not know how many of the more than 5,230 craft breweries in the U.S. are owned or operated by minorities. But the Boulder-based advocacy organization that represents craft breweries and brewpubs believes the industry has "an opportunity to explore advancing its diversity."

"I am not at all interested in confirming that breweries have an across-the-board challenge with diversity because that's not true brewery to brewery to brewery," said Julia Herz, craft beer program director of the Brewers Association.

"I am interested, though, in seeing our community be diverse in the best way that it can as well as have the beer lovers purchasing craft beer be as diverse as they can," she said.

Herz last month shared an internal study from the Brewers Association showing 28 percent of weekly craft beer drinkers were women in 2016 and 38 percent of consumers were not white. The organization plans to study the demographics of who's working in craft beer and is using 2017 as "an information gathering year."

That doesn't necessarily mean the association is waiting to act. In April, the BA announced that starting this year winners of the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup won't be able to advertise their wins if their labels or other marketing materials contain "sexually explicit, lewd or demeaning brand names, language, text, graphics, photos, video or other images."

A voting member brewery of the association can lodge a complaint about advertising and marketing not following the Brewers Association's code and an Advertising Complaint Review Panel is expected to look into the issue.

Years of work ahead

There are decades of work ahead for making craft beer more attainable for people both in front and behind the bar, said Scott Metzger, founder and CEO of San Antonio-based Freetail Brewing Co.

"This is not something we’re going to solve overnight," he said, "and we don’t want to rush to things and we don't want to pander, either."

Metzger, who identifies as half Hispanic, is on the board of director of the Brewers Association and heads its Diversity Committee. The committee created in April is tasked with identifying "issues related to maximizing the diversity and inclusiveness" of the Brewers Association and the industry overall.

The industry both in Colorado and nationally is no longer rapidly growing, but rather reaching a point where brewers have to compete hard for beer drinkers' dollars.

"It’s imperative for craft beers’ long term success to be able to reach a wider breadth of people," Metzger said. "I hate for it to sound so business focused but ultimately the Brewers Association's role is to advocate and look out for its members. So in addition to it being the right thing to do, it fits in our mission of promoting and protecting craft beer."

Kelissa Hieber of Goldspot Brewing Co. sits at the bar, Aug. 24, 2017.(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Lady brewers

One area craft brewing has seen notable progress is with the number of women participating in the industry.

After surveying more than 2,500 breweries in 2014, Stanford University researchers found that 21 percent had at least one woman in a top role which was "relatively high" when compared to other industries, according to the Brewers Association.

In Colorado, it's easy to point to trailblazing women in the industry including former CEO and current executive chair of the state's largest craft brewer New Belgium Brewing Co., Kim Jordan and CEO of Odell Brewing Co. Wynne Odell.

"Bigger places setting that example is really important," said Kelissa Hieber, head brewer at Goldspot Brewing Co.

Hieber worked with the head brewer of The Grateful Gnome Sandwich Shoppe & Brewery, Bess Dougherty and other "lady brewers" earlier this year to launch Pussy Riot beers. The beers raise money for various nonprofits and causes and serve as a liquid protest to President Donald Trump's misogynistic and intolerant rhetoric.

"I think the biggest diversity problem with craft beer is it's too white," Hieber said. "If you only have just a team of guys — especially just a team of white guys — that's going to limit you somehow and create a certain culture."

Part of the way to bring more people into the industry, advocates say, is to welcome and cater brewery patrons especially when the brewery locates in a diverse neighborhood like Goldspot did in the Regis community south of Interstate 76 and Spangalang Brewery did in Five Points.

Eleni Hosack, Cheryl Fountain and Liora Dudar, of Denver, at Great American Beer Festival, Oct. 7, 2016. (Stephanie Snyder/Denverite)

That's the approach Aly Hartwig took when she created Brewers Broads in Colorado Springs in 2013. The group was an unpretenious place for women to get together and talk and taste beer, she said.

"Beer, in general, just has this culture that surrounds it where we’re just always trying to find something new or seek something new out," Hartwig said. "So it can sometimes be intimidating to be in mixed company in the sense that we’re trying to show ‘oh, I tried this beer,’ or 'oh, I tried that beer,' as opposed to us just knowing as much as we can or drinking high-quality beer."

Hartwig most recently worked for Dry Dock Brewing Co. in Aurora and was selected as one of two recipients of the prestigious 2017 Glen Hay Falconer Foundation Siebel Brewing Scholarships.

"The thing that made me want to become a brewer was going to a beer festival and being able to talk to the brewer who made my favorite beer," she said. "If he had not been as welcoming to my questions or understanding of me not knowing things than it would have been a lot more of a turn-off and I would not be where I am today."

Jose Beteta, ower of Raices Brewing Co. (Courtesy of Raices Brewing Co.)
Raices Brewing Co.

Beteta said the Colorado's craft beer industry has been welcoming as he's worked to open Raices Brewing Co. He and his wife Tamil Maldonado are currently in negotiations for a spot in Lincoln Park near Mile High Stadium. If all goes according to plan, they hope to open during late summer 2018.

Maldonado and Beteta would be among the first Latinos in Colorado to open a craft brewery. Javier and Jennifer Perez opened Cheluna Brewing Co. last year in Aurora's Stanley Market Place. Keith Villa is the brewer behind Blue Moon, a brand featured in the Miller Coors Brewing Co. portfolio.

"Hopefully, our success can lead to somebody's success story later on," Beteta said.

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Business & data reporter Adrian D. Garcia can be reached via email at [email protected] or @adriandgarcia on Twitter.

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