Speaking at a debate at Craft Beer Rising 2018, individuals from under-represented groups urged breweries, bars and festivals to do more to combat instances of racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of abuse, and described their own experiences of discrimination while working in the industry.
Chairing the debate at the Old Truman Brewery, east London, beer writer Melissa Cole described the industry’s lack of diversity as “a literal white elephant” – referring to the fact the industry is dominated by white people.
“There is a distinct lack of diversity in beer and we don't have enough role models,” she said. “I know that by being a visible woman in the industry, it has encouraged more women to come through and I would like to encourage that in other areas as well.
“I'm acutely aware that this is not my conversation to have: I'm white, middle class and straight. But I do want to open up the opportunity for other voices to be heard, and that's what we are doing here today.”
Cole then handed over to a panel of industry figures, including writer and broadcaster Emma Inch, Wild Card head brewer Jaega Wise, and assistant bar manager and beer blogger Lily Waite.
Appealing to new drinkers
Wise, a prominent figure in the fight against sexist beer branding, highlighted the importance of appealing to a wide range of drinkers from all creeds and backgrounds.
“It’s massively important that as a brewery or as a bar that you look at the things you can do in order to encourage as many different types of people into your bar as possible,” she said. “We need to make an effort to be as inclusive as possible.
“A really good example is that, at Wild Card, we aren't really all that into our football but with the World Cup coming up, we started to think of all the people that we would be missing out on simply because we chose not to show it on the television.
“We aren't purposefully making that choice; we are unconsciously biased against football lovers. But we're going to show it and we're going to get a load of new people into our bar who never would have come beforehand."
Alexandra Sewell, an employee at the BottleShop and founder of The Black Malt Bottle Share Club, echoed Wise’s views, and suggested that recent high-profile instances of racism and sexism were putting new drinkers off beer.
“If you want as many people as possible to be buying your beer you shouldn't be in any way exclusive,” she said. “To people who don't know beer, or our culture, this is a real sweet spot for growth in the industry but what is happening on the surface with these instances of sexist and racist branding makes a really bad example to newcomers.
"I won't touch those beers; I just won't go there. It's just not representative of the culture that I love and the beer culture that I love.”
More gender-neutral bathrooms needed
On the subject of what could be done to encourage greater diversity within the craft beer industry, Lily Waite, an assistant bar manager, beer blogger and transgender woman, argued that small steps such as installing gender-neutral bathrooms would help trans people and those of a non-binary gender feel more comfortable in bars, pubs and at beer festivals.
"The craft industry has been more accepting and tolerant [than the industry as a whole],” she said. “However, there are definitely some things that we can and should do. Last night, I was in the Beer Merchants Tap and I noticed that the gender-neutral toilet said M/F on it.
“I just pointed out that if they changed that to gender neutral then trans people will feel so much more comfortable, and they took that on board straight away.”
“I am confident in using gendered bathrooms, but it would just demonstrate that the venue has shown that awareness, and so that people can know there is somewhere that they can feel comfortable and safe. It's a tiny gesture but it goes a long way.”
Making minorities feel safe
Beer writer and broadcaster Emma Inch also called for more gender-neutral toilets, and emphasised the need for pubs and bars to do more to make minorities feel safe while out drinking.
“In the world that I work in most of the time, people are nice to me but I do have a long history of being on the receiving end of intense homophobia, often centred around bars and pubs,” she said. “I think a lot of what we are talking about is about safety and negotiating safety. If you are from a minority, particularly an obvious minority, every place you go you are negotiating safety.”
“Not having to think about negotiating that safety comes from a place of privilege; people who don't have to think about their safety every time they open the door to a new pub or a new venue are coming from a place of privilege.
“For me, that is what this discussion needs to be about; it is about feeling safe and feeling welcomed, and not having to check 'is this person going to be OK with me?' or 'am I safe here from abuse or attack?'.”
The debate will be available to watch in full on the Craft Beer Rising website in the near future. The full panel was as follows: Emma Inch (Fermentation Radio), Ellie Walsh (Gosnell’s Mead), Lily Waite (7000 jars of beer), Sanj Deveraj (James Clay), Jaega Wise (Wild Card Brewing), Colin Johnston (Crisp Malting) and Alexandra Sewell (BottleShop).