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Massachusetts craft brewers team up to diversify their industry

Harpoon parent and state trade group launch a website, training series

Collin Knight, founder of Live Like A Local Tours in Boston, shared a drink with Ray Berry, founder of White Lion Brewing in Springfield.
Collin Knight, founder of Live Like A Local Tours in Boston, shared a drink with Ray Berry, founder of White Lion Brewing in Springfield.Mass Brewers Guild

Dan Kenary used to look around at craft beer events and see the same thing: “a bunch of white dudes with beards and flannel,” as he puts it.

Kenary, chief executive of Harpoon beer parent Mass. Bay Brewing, is hoping to change that, once in-person events resume. His company has teamed up with the industry’s statewide trade group, the Massachusetts Brewers Guild, to launch an ambitious effort to diversify the ranks.

This month, they unveiled a website, dubbed Hop Forward Equality, to serve as a central clearinghouse for the industry in terms of diversity and inclusion initiatives, book suggestions, job postings, and best practices. They’re also launching a series of training sessions, virtual at first, to help executives diversify their teams.

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About 6,000 people work for the craft beer industry in the state, primarily at one of the 210 breweries here. Women are playing an increasing role. But people of color remain poorly represented.

“I would love to walk into all of our places and see our patrons reflect the community better than they do right now,” Kenary said. “We’re heading in the right direction. I’m just impatient.”

Kenary’s company and the brewers guild are also supporting a video travelogue series, hosted by Live Like A Local Tours founder Collin Knight, to highlight brewers across the state and their contributions to diversity.

For the first installment of this series, Knight headed out to Springfield, to visit with Ray Berry, founder of White Lion Brewing and one of a handful of Black brewery owners in the state. He opened his brewery last year after several years of contract brewing. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed things, but now Berry is eager to welcome visitors. He raises a glass to the Hop Forward Equality effort.

“I’m very proud and encouraged by Mass. Bay Brewing and the local Mass. guild for understanding that there is truly a deficit in our trade and looking to be creative in conversation and in action steps to bring awareness and move the needle,” said Berry, who is a member of the brewers guild’s diversity committee. “They are taking a very proactive step in the right direction.”

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Mass. Bay hosted a diversity job fair in October 2019, also using the “Hop Forward” name, at the Harpoon brewery in Boston after Kenary found it tough to attract applicants from diverse communities. That fair was supposed to be a springboard to a series of job-focused events across the state in 2020, but the pandemic interfered. Brewers guild executive director Katie Stinchon and Mass. Bay HR chief Rich Ackerman didn’t want to let their momentum or the partnerships they formed fade away, so they channeled their energy into new directions: the website, the training sessions, the “Back Brew Dialogues” hosted by Knight.

The brewers can make a business case for these efforts, including broadening the market for their beers, and bringing more diversity of thought to their workforces. Stinchon estimated that craft beer trade groups in at least 10 other states have diversity and inclusion initiatives — but none have their own online resource center, at least not yet.

“This has to be a broader-based effort, and it’s got to be made more permanent,” Kenary said. “Not enough attention has been paid to diverse communities. ... I’m not 100 percent sure of the reason. Maybe we’re too insular of an industry at times, more focused on what each other were doing, instead of how we could reach out to underserved and underrepresented communities.”

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Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.