Friday, July 13th, 2018
5pm – 9pm
3895 N Oracle Rd, Tucson, AZ 85705, located in a warehouse behind the pawnshop
This Friday the 13th I’ll be teaming up with my friends at Dillinger Brewing Co. in Tucson to host an event called The Classy Fiesta. It’ll be a “brewery takeover,” during which I’ll be rocking a Latin music playlist the whole night. We’ll have Mexican food from Doxie Hot Dogs, a local food truck, on site. There will be raffles every hour so you can win Dillinger swag and beer. And we’ll have a piñata that was designed to look like me dropping at 7:05pm.
This event is partially intended to promote my blog and to beg for votes now that I’m officially a finalist in the annual Best of Tucson awards for the Best Blog category (vote for me here). But it’s is also intended to start a conversation that I feel is necessary regarding the lack of diversity in our Arizona craft beer scene.
Let’s start with Tucson, since that’s the current focal point. This town of a million people has over twenty breweries. Ask yourselves if you can name how many of those places are owned (or co-owned) by non-white people. Then see if you can come up with some that have non-white brewers. I’m pretty sure I’ve personally been to every single brewery in Tucson by now and can only come up with five or six places off the top of my head.
Let’s take this thought exercise a little further and include white females. How many of them are owners or brewers currently? Did the number of businesses you came up with expand significantly? Because in my head I’m seeing a bit of overlap between the same five or six places.
Now, I’m not here to demean any of my beer fam or blame them for the lack of diversity in the industry. I have only great things to say about our Arizona (and specifically Tucson) beer scene. But let’s be honest with each other, all of these spaces are dominated by a bunch of samey-looking white guys with beards. If one of these bearded white guy brewers ever disappeared and I had to describe him to the cops, they’d find his ass, like, ten times.
I know our local craft beer scene produces a variety of amazing beers that could impress anyone, no matter their preferences. Arizonans are spoiled when it comes to the accessibility and quality of good beer. And I know that people in the scene, whether it’s brewery employees or just craft beer enthusiasts, are very inviting and inclusive. I know we’re all welcoming of drinkers of any race, background or nationality.
So why is the scene still so damn white?
It seems like there’s multiple layers to this issue. For one, people of color are intimidated by spaces dominated by mostly white people. I know this for a fact. And there’s also an attitude on the other end of the spectrum that I can speak to as a Mexican-American. Unfortunately, Mexicans usually don’t like to try new shit. They have brand loyalty that’s passed down through generations. And the big beer corporations know this better than anyone. They advertise to Hispanic communities because they have a market that they take for granted.
Mexican dads drank Coors or Bud Light and that’s what their kids grow up to drink because that’s all they saw in the home. Or at least that’s what I’m told. My dad’s favorite beer brand was cocaine so I’m not the best example of this. But anyway, this is also part of why beer is thought of as a “guy thing.” That’s a whole other story I’m not getting into right now. I just know there are a lot of conversations happening about sexism in macro beer’s advertisements featuring dude bros slammin’ beers while snowboarding down a mountain of titties or whatever the hell they’re doing now.
So how do Arizona craft breweries expand their customer base to include people of color?
Well first let me say that I’ve read a bunch of takes online from white people who just dismiss these entire concerns. They say shit like, “Who cares if craft beer is made up of mostly white people? Just come drink. It’s inclusive. Everybody is welcome. Get over it and join us!”
That’s some simple-minded shit and I’m sick of hearing people diminishing a pretty complicated issue with their narrow view of how, like, the fucking world works. And if you think opinions like the one above are to simplistic and not indicative of how people think then you clearly have not heard of the website Twitter dot com.
But back to the potential solutions. I already said our Tucson beer scene is very inclusive. But there’s a gap there that hasn’t been bridged in a town that is over 40% Hispanic. (That’s almost fucking HALF!) And the first steps are outreach and education.
Outreach is what I’m already trying to do by using some familiar tropes that hopefully will get people of color in the door. And if this Classy Fiesta event doesn’t do that, I’m hoping it will at least start the conversation on how to reach an untapped market that is being completely owned by these macrobrew corporate assholes.
When it comes to education, it’s gonna require an entire attitude shift that starts at the top and includes the bartenders in Tucson breweries & craft beer bars.
Most of my friends are bartenders because most of my relationships are fostered while I’m getting drunk. So I hear a lot of anecdotes about their experiences and want to address some ongoing tropes here. Don’t worry, I won’t call out anyone specifically but know that this is all based on real shit I’ve personally experienced.
So, brewery and craft beer bartender friends, have y’all had somebody walk in while you were working and ask for a Michelob Ultra (or another shitty macro beer)? I’ve heard y’all talk about this exact scenario a bunch of times. But every single time you talk about it, the potential customer who walks in asking for shit beer is always the punchline in your story. Not once have I heard any of you share that story and tell me how you explained to that person what the beer selection actually is and helped them find something that matched their admittedly garbage tastes. In fact, a lot of these stories end with the clever way you got this person to fuck off out of the bar.
Of course, I’m not talking about the clearly literal alcoholic customers who come in reeking of the meth sweats and just want another Coors after they’ve been drinking for the past forty-seven hours. I know y’all get a bunch of those and that’s not where the outreach should focus.
But here’s another scenario I’ve personally seen happen several times. Some person will walk up to a microbrewery and ask for a Michelob Ultra (or whatever). The bartender will then just say, “We don’t have that.”
And that’s it. They’ll literally say nothing else and wait in silence for the customer to figure it out on their own. No recommendations for what beer is closest to that. No effort made to describe the beers on tap to someone who might not even know what the hell “craft beer” means. Don’t tell me this doesn’t happen. I’ve seen it happen. And that bothers me the most because we all love to show off how much we know about fancy craft beers to each other. We jump at the chance to flex about some super rare beer we had years ago and describe that experience down to the fucking cellular level. We can drink a beer at a bottle share and try to impress everybody with our knowledge of exactly which farm grows the goddamn Centennial hops in this IPA we flew back from the brewery operating in the basement of a taco shop eighty miles outside of Austin…
But we can’t take the time to explain to somebody what the fuck a Gose is? Especially when these clueless people might help make the business some fuckin’ money?
It’s summer in Tucson. We all need every dollar we can get.
And there’s a huge untapped market of non-white customers who can be drawn out of their boring, Coors-drinking habits. And we can’t think of these people as a lost cause. Shit, I don’t even see a lot of places in the beer scene thinking of these people as a potential cause!
I really hope y’all don’t take this blog post as an attack on your bartending skills or your ability to run a brewery/craft beer bar. It’s not. I love my Arizona craft beer peeps. All I’m trying to do is share what you’re doing with a new audience. Because I truly respect and admire what y’all do. And I think there’s currently a big gap that we can bridge together. I’m not delusional enough to think I have ANY answers. I just want to start the conversation and learn how to do this alongside each and every one of you.