Brewing Change Collaborative: Changing the faces in brewing one beer at a time

Ramsey Louder, Nasreen Sajady, & Elle Rhodes of the Brewing Change Collaborative // Photo courtesy of the Brewing Change Collaborative

When Ramsey Louder pours a beer at ONE Fermentary and Taproom, he may also break the ice and ask you if you consider yourself a person of color. Louder, ONE’s head brewer and the first black man to co-own a brewery in Minneapolis, makes it a daily personal goal to seek out other people of color who may be interested and motivated to work in the brewing industry. 

Despite national statistics that not only show little diversity in the brewing arena but also a disproportionately white workforce, Louder, along with industry colleagues Elle Rhodes and Nasreen Sajady, began to devise a plan that would empower people of color to become more involved in the brewing industry. Using a platform of advocacy, education, and most of all, a safe space to talk about issues in the industry that impact people of color, the Brewing Change Collaborative was conceived. 

“I am already tokenized and one of the few people of color that owns a brewery,” says Louder. “I would go to work every day and still be that lone person. I didn’t want to be the ‘only other’ in my ‘only other’ situation.”

“We have all been on the same trajectory of realizing that something needed to be done,” says Elle Rhodes, who works as the metro on-premise sales representative for Fulton Brewing. “We were all ‘unicorns’ in our own field and as far as we knew, the only three people of color in the whole [local] industry at that point.”

The Brewing Change Collaborative, whose mission is to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion for people of color, had their first monthly meeting in March 2019. Ten people joined the collaborative for the initial meeting, and through networking, social media, and word-of-mouth, the membership has multiplied to more than 100 members.

The Brewing Change Collaborative gathering at the recently opened ONE Fermentary in the North Loop // Photo courtesy of the Brewing Change Collaborative

“We are all working for the same thing,” says Rhodes. “We are all trying to occupy space so people know they have access to this space. We are all working to make sure that the space feels inviting for the minorities in the world, so that the breweries that have taken up space in urban environments actually involve their communities.”

On a mission to educate people about the need for diversity, and to recruit people of color, the collaborative has made their presence known at different local festivals and events over the past year. At times, interactions with patrons drive the group’s passion when the need for diversifying the industry shows through casual conversations. 

At a festival last year, the group faced questions from an attendee, who asked them whether or not representation from people of color in the brewing business was truly an issue. The group candidly explained their stance on why diversifying the industry is important. “He looked dumbfounded,” recalls Rhodes. “He looked like it was the first time he considered his own space. He was a middle-aged white man. He said, ‘I hadn’t even considered that.’ We were surprised and shocked. It’s the thing that grounds us. This is the reason we are doing this—[not only] for us and for our own well-being, but because clearly, it’s not something that registers for a lot of people, to have the spaces change.”

The collaborative plans to expand outreach to recruit more people of color, even if they do not have a specific background in brewing. The collaborative believes that representation is extremely important, and if pursuing a career is of interest, tenacity is one of the keys to success.

“I would be persistent, and if you want to be in the industry, you don’t have to be on the production side,” says Nasreen Sajady, quality manager at Fulton Brewing. “If you have sales experience, you can sell anything. If you have marketing experience, you can market anything. I am a microbiologist from the medical device industry, and I figured out how to apply my knowledge to the brewing industry. I don’t even drink anymore. You have to be creative.” 

The collaborative believes that people have good intentions but may not understand the daily issues that surround people of color in the competitive job industry. “It’s not welcoming for us unless we see people like us working there,” says Sajady. “If we see people like us working, then we know it’s a safer space for us to be in. We know we are actually welcome because you are employing a person of color.”

Although the collaborative promotes and encourages allies from everywhere, they want people of color to be the specific voices for change and on the forefront of diversifying the industry through conversation and outreach. 

“Some people think they can fight the fight or be the voice without being a person of color and that does make a difference,” says Rhodes. “Being able to say, ‘I can’t exactly fight this for you, but I will support you as a friend’—that has been helpful. So many people pick up somebody else’s flag and will start waving it when they don’t have a reason or a connection.”

Creating a safe social media space specifically for people of color, the collaborative has two Facebook groups—one for members of the collaborative, and one for allies who are interested in supporting the members and mission of the collaborative.

“You can discuss things that pertain to us,” says Rhodes about the member group. “If someone has a dispute or an issue, you can come to a safe space where we can share it amongst the group. It is not a requirement that you are at meetings to be a member because a lot of people are not able to make it, but that is why we have the Facebook group. Being connected and understanding what everyone is going through, if someone has a job posting, dispute, or wants to talk about the Founders [Brewing] issue; that is a safe space to be without trolling.” 

Advocating for members in disputes, the collaborative typically takes immediate action. “Pretty early in Brewing Change Collaborative, we had an issue with a local brewery that made a beer that was offensive to a certain population of the group that may not have been flagged by the rest of us,” says Rhodes. “That member has said multiple times, ‘I appreciate having a group that can back me, and would support me when I was offended by this thing.’ We stated what the issues were, we sent it to the breweries that were involved and stated our points. That made a difference for him.”

The collaborative prides itself on a diverse set of ideas, and as the group continues to grow, it plans to offer more educational classes like homebrewing and promote the group at non-brewery events in order to gain knowledge and perspectives from people of color and assess how their efforts can recruit more members.

“We all have different perspectives,” says Louder. “Perspectives are different, life experiences are different, and that’s why diversity is important. You can’t be a monolith of ideas. You need different people from different backgrounds. You need people of color, queer folks, men, and women to be able to be successful, and to move the diversity ball forward.” 

The Brewing Change Collaborative meets the fourth Thursday of every month—the 2020 list of meetings and events can be found on Brewing Change Collaborative’s social media pages. One of the upcoming scheduled events for members in March 2020, a collaboration with Witch Hunt, will be a joint brew day producing a beer to be poured at ONE Fermentary.