There’s a moment in episode one of the “Black Brew Dialogues,” a YouTube series created by the Mass. Brewers Guild, where host Collin Knight and White Lion Brewing Co. founder Ray Berry discuss their early drinking experiences.
Berry admits to having his first three Heinekens at an age he probably shouldn’t have, while Knight confesses that he started out with 40-ounce bottles of Olde English and Private Stock. The pair references commercials from the late 1980s, where actor Billy Dee Williams shills for Colt 45, as being influential in the Black community.
“Now flip that,” Berry says to Knight over hazy IPAs at his Springfield brewery and tap room. “If we were exposed at the outset of craft [beer], and craft was the hip thing to our community, as it was to the majority community, where would we be right now?”
He answers his own question.
“Rewind 20 or 30 years — if Billy Dee were sitting around with a higher-end product, that perception, that visual to our community, would be totally different than it is in 2021.″
It’s a thoughtful hypothetical, but rather than look too much toward how we got here — there are only a dozen minority-owned breweries out of more than 200 in Massachusetts, and the customer base is still mostly white — “Black Brew Dialogues” is moving conversations about diversity and inclusion forward in the brewing community.
Knight, the host, was born in Roxbury and lives in Roslindale, and runs Live Like a Local Tours. He’s a craft beer fan, and he pitched the idea of the show to Katie Stinchon, the Mass Brewers Guild’s executive director, back in March. And while it might be easier to highlight recent positive steps taken by local breweries and gloss over the difficult stuff, episode one of the show tackles hard questions about racial injustice head on.
“I would say there’s a lot of untangling to do,” Waleska Lugo-DeJesús, CEO of Inclusive Strategies, a company that helps businesses with their D&I efforts, says in the episode. “As we name, explore, and learn what racism means, specifically for our community, it’s quite challenging for some people to accept.”
In one pointed moment, Knight asks Berry what his advice would be for brewery owners who want to show public support for causes like Black Lives Matter but might fear backlash from customers with different viewpoints.
“It’s unfortunate that we’re in a polarized society,” says Berry. “My advice would be to anyone, whether it’s in the brewery space or any other, you have to be true to yourself. You have to live by the principles that you believe to push your business forward.”
One subject that comes up several times in the 26-minute episode: How to make breweries more welcoming to people of color.
“I try to invite my homeboys to the brewery,” says Knight. “And they’ll come, you know I make it a special occasion, I’ll be like ‘It’s my birthday.’
“So they try it, they like it and stuff, but they’d much rather just go get a domestic beer from the liquor store and go in the backyard and grill.”
The Mass. Brewers Guild is trying to spur more honest conversations like these with additional episodes of the Black Brew Dialogues. If funding is secured (the first episode was produced pro bono by Hawk Visuals Media), future shows will explore more topics related to diversity and inclusion, including abilities, gender, the LGBTQ community, and generational gaps.
The first episode can be watched on hopforwardequality.com.