The Quest for Inclusion in Beer Isn’t Over

Inclusion is quite the buzzword these days and rightfully so. The world is a different place now and much of it wants equality between everyone more than ever. Much has been written and filmed in the last few years on the topic with pieces on shooting at LBGTQ+ clubs, threats on the Asian community, and more and the beer industry has not escaped this. More attention is still needed.

South Texas’ already diverse population gives at least a greater likelihood of its beer industry being more diverse than other regions of the United States. The beer industry here offers a lot of valuable opportunities to many people in the community, like connections with local breweries and potential jobs. Though despite these opportunities not everyone has equal access to them.

Beer has long been marketed as a man’s thing. The lack of diversity within the beer industry nationwide is a systemic problem created by this long-held white male-dominated industry. Odd when considering that women were the original brewers, with the shift toward male domination during the 16 th and 17 th centuries.

“I think the biggest mistake is not seeing a global community, not seeing that we are all people, and not seeing that we all need to work together,” says Claire Altree, co-president of the San Antonio Chapter of the Pink Boots Society, who nationally assist, inspire, and encourage women and/or non-binary individuals involved in the brewing industry to advance their careers through education. Altree herself identifies as a pansexual, genderqueer person.

Courtesy of Claire Altree

“If you don’t present the way you’re supposed to for the task you’re given, you’re treated differently. Your servers have to be female; bartenders have to be male, and brewers have to be boys with beards and plaid shirts. It just doesn’t make sense. Why is there a physical representation for what this role is and why are other people not good enough?” says Altree.

Altree says it’s important to realize that one’s experience in the beer industry and its workplaces are quite different depending on your background. The experience for many white males in the industry is going to be very different than it would be for someone in an underrepresented demographic.

Altree states that simply being hired does not mean an underrepresented category is treated well. Many who identify as LGBTQ+ are subtly passed over for advancement for who they are. Though South Texas’ diverse nature does a fair job of embracing the LBGTQ+ community, “We still have a long way to go,” says Altree.

Despite the region’s diversity and inclusiveness, particularly within the beer culture, those in the industry feel the opportunities aren’t always equal and many underrepresented groups are relegated to supporting roles. The next step is creating opportunities for growth into management
roles or even ownership.

“Women in our industry are still predominantly servers, beer tenders, hostesses, coffee makers, sales managers, and are responsible for things like social media accounts, inventory, and sales.” Says Mara Young co-owner of Community Cultures Yeast Labs in San Antonio, who also serves on the San Antonio Beer Week board of directors.

Young went on to say that there is nothing wrong with supporting roles or with those careers. Though it is very different from the roles of most men in our San Antonio industry, who still tend to be the lead brewer, assistant brewer, restaurant manager, owner, and co-owners of breweries, bars, and distributors. “None of that takes into account our BIPOC and LGBTQ community, so again, there’s still a lot of work to be done,” says Young.

Cactus Land Brewing, located just outside Bexar County in nearby Adkins, Texas, is owned and operated by Erica and Dustin Teague. Though they started with Dustin handling the brewing duties, Erica soon developed a bug for brewing and began helping out. Now she handles the bulk of the brewing duties, as Dustin splits time between the brewing and his day job.

Teague isn’t the South Texas area’s only female brewer. Kunstler Brewing’s Vera Deckard, who owns the Southtown brewpub with her husband Brent, was the reason they opened the now popular San Antonio spot. Deckard had picked up homebrewing years ago while Brent was deployed and acts as both co-owner and brewster, though she will be the first to tell you that she does not want to be known as a woman brewer. “I’m a brewer,” says Deckard. “I just happen to be a woman.”

What is encouraging, is that some men in these positions have intentionally fostered an environment that supports whoever can do the job.

Longtab Brewing recently saw Sarah Lewis promoted to taproom manager, something that owners David and Natalie Holland have encouraged since the beginning. “We have been asking her for some time,” says Holland. “She finally agreed, and we are better for it.”

Mad Pecker Brewing’s Jason Gonzales feels that for the industry to be strong, we need all types of people. “I don’t look at anyone other than whether than can do the job or not,” says Gonzales, who owns and operates the Northwest San Antonio brewpub with his wife Erika.

Freetail Brewing, which kicked off San Antonio’s second brewing renaissance in 2008, gives opportunities to those able to work, regardless of who they are. “When you get to an industry like beer, which is dominated by men, we need to be more open about the opportunities that exist for everyone.” Says Bill Sisoinan, Freetail’s President. “I think by definition, just based on the makeup of the population of San Antonio we’re going to be diverse, though I think we have a long way to go.”

Despite San Antonio’s diverse population, embracing all types of diversity is not as widespread as one might think “We can also talk about how there’s been the lack of support for some diversity. So you look at Islla Streat Brewing instance, and how some people had pushed back to the cultural styles of beers that they were making.” Says Marcus Baskerville, co-owner and brewer at Weathered Souls Brewing, one of only a few black-owned breweries in Texas.

Courtesy of Marcus Baskerville

“It was something that was within their right of creativity because that was driven by how they grew up and was driven by their culture that was driven by who they are at their core.”

Baskerville and Weathered Souls launched the ‘Black is Beautiful’ initiative in 2020 after the death of George Floyd and aims to bridge the gap black community, people of color, and breweries that are not historically seen as inclusive. To date, the initiative has garnered support
from over 1600 breweries globally.

“The ultimate goal is to create equal opportunities for everybody,” says Paige Martin, who handles sales and quality control at Second Pitch Beer Co in San Antonio.

“However, whenever you have groups that are starting at a disadvantage, how are you making up for that? That’s one of the approaches of inclusion,” says Martin, who is also a Certified Cicerone, a founding member of the San Antonio chapter of the Pink Books Society, as well as serving on the board of directors for San Antonio Beer Week.

Courtesy of Paige Martin

Urban areas of Texas, largely progressive cities in an overall conservative state, will have to lead the way in making strides for more accommodating work environments, says Evelyn Kelly, a former bartender in California and Texas and an area trivia host at beer bars and breweries. She says San Antonio’s growing reputation in the U.S. beer scene is a plus but wants to see that come with a reputation of an improving beer industry culture.

“I know there are people who support inclusion and there are allies in the community, but one of the biggest areas to improve I can see is being more vocal.” Says Kelley.

Courtesy of Evelyn Kelley

The craft beer industry, and the larger food and beverage industry, need to continue to make an impact locally, as well impacting the culture of the beer industry globally.

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