Brewing beer, breaking boundaries: People of color tap into MN’s craft business

Data nationally show the craft business remains heavily white and male

A woman holds flowers as she talks with a man holding a beer.
Barb Gettel of Witch Hunt (left) brings flowers to Ramsey Louder, center, owner of ONE Fermentary and Taproom, during social hour before a panel discussion on diversity in the craft brewing industry. The event, held on Nov. 11, 2019, was sponsored by Brewing Change Collaborative.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

Years before he thought of opening his own brewpub and taproom, Ramsey Louder knew maybe one other black person who was into craft beer.

For him, it was a passion. After honing his homebrewing skills, he landed a job at Dangerous Man Brewing in Minneapolis checking IDs, tending bar and peppering the brewers with questions about making beer. By 2014, Louder was head brewer.

Now 36, he’s taken on a new title — co-owner of ONE Fermentary and Taproom in Minneapolis, making him one of the few people of color to own a craft spirits business in Minnesota. He wants to open the taproom door wider to diversity.

“It’s one of those niche things that is not impossible to get into as an industry, but we don’t know about it,” he said of brewing and people of color.

Data nationally show the craft business remains heavily white and male. Even as taprooms and distilleries have mushroomed in Minnesota, the list of owners of color remains small. It includes Du Nord Craft Spirits in Minneapolis, La Dona Cerveceria in Minneapolis and Montgomery Brewing, located 45 miles south of Minneapolis.

Louder, who calls brewing “food for my soul,” helped start the Brewing Change Collaborative, a group of mostly people of color interested in cultivating diversity and inclusion in the state’s brewing and distilling industries.

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“A lot of people don’t know that the brewing industry is not just brewing. And it’s not just beer,” said Nasreen Sajady, a collaborative co-founder. “I work with people who don’t even drink.”

Sajady, whose family is from Afghanistan, is a microbiologist and a quality control manager at Fulton Brewing in Minneapolis. Fans of Fulton’s hard seltzers will be interested to learn that Sajady developed the flavors for those brews.

People of color don’t need to make beer to be part of the business, she said.

“There are marketing positions. There are graphic designer positions. There are accounting positions. There are supply chain positions. There are sales positions,” she said. “You don’t need brewing experience for any of that stuff.”

Sergio Manancero, owner of La Doña Cervecería in north Minneapolis, said diversity is about more than owners and workers. He’s actively reached out to draw in a more diverse customer base.

“One of the things that La Doña tried to do right when we opened was access the Latino market that was living here to come patronize the brewery, and teach them about craft beer,” he said.

Manancero is a Minnesota-born son of Uruguayan immigrants. When members of the community feel welcomed, they will become repeat customers and it may inspire them to want to work in the industry, he added. About half of the people Manancero has hired speak Spanish.

Other craft breweries are doing more to welcome women as employees and customers.

Rose Picklo is a quality control specialist at Fair State Brewing Cooperative in Minneapolis. She’s a co-founder of Witch Hunt, a group of women brewers who help teach women and nonbinary people about making beer.

Picklo, who is white, said breweries need to do more to reach women with products that go beyond light beer in a pink can, something she describes as, “What’s the laziest thing we can do to get women to drink beer?”

For Louder, hiring and retaining a staff that represents a wide range of backgrounds and experiences is not only a company value — it’s good for business.

“It’s nice to add some to diversity in the sense that we have ideas that may be different that we can contribute to this, and make it even better than it already is,” Louder said.

Correction (Dec. 5, 2019): Barb Gettel’s name was misspelled in a photo caption in an earlier version of this story.