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Beer, Eat and Drink

Positive Change Is Brewing in Colorado’s Craft Beer Industry

WeldWerks Brewing Co. and Station 26 Brewing Co. are taking steps to bring diversity to their trade “from the inside out.”

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America’s brewing industry is not known for its diversity. In fact, “data reveals that all major demographic groups are underrepresented in the industry with the exception of men who happen to be white,” says Dr. J Jackson-Beckham, equity and inclusion partner for the Boulder-based Brewers Association and founder of Crafted For All, an equity and inclusion consultancy.

Jake Goodman, chief marketing officer for Greeley’s WeldWerks Brewing Co., is blunter: “For the longest time, the craft beer industry has been a bastion of bearded white dudes in flannels,” he says, referring to a 2018 study from the Brewers Association that found that 76.2 percent of non-manager production staff and 89 percent of brewers in the craft beer industry are white. “The lack of racial diversity is still incredibly stark.”

Now, WeldWerks and Denver’s Station 26 Brewing Co. are doing something to change the status quo. Motivated in part by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many other Black Americans, the breweries are teaming up with universities to offer scholarships to underrepresented students, an effort they hope will bring more diversity to the beer industry.

“We didn’t want to do something performative in order to tick the PR boxes. That’s clearly not what’s needed here,” Goodman says. “What’s needed here is sincere, authentic, sustained effort in the same direction for a long time.”

In that vein, WeldWerks has pledged to establish a $100,000 endowment at the University of Northern Colorado (UNC) by the end of 2022, which will support a $4,000 annual scholarship for current and prospective students of color; an additional preference is given for applicants interested in brewing science. WeldWerks has already donated $29,000 to seed the endowment and fund the fall 2021/2022 scholarship.

Meanwhile, Station 26, located in the Park Hill neighborhood of Denver, has established the For You For All Diversity in Craft Beer Scholarship, which will provide financial support to “deserving, underrepresented students” in the Applied Craft Brewing Certificate Program at Regis University. It has committed $10,000 toward the fund and is working to raise a total of $50,000, which would allow the scholarship to become endowed and live on in perpetuity. The Station 26 team also hopes the brewery will be a landing spot for post-program internships and job placement.

“We realized that there’s only so much that we can do on a national level to effect change,” says Hamlet Fort, marketing and events manager for Station 26. Instead, the team thought, “Why don’t we try and effect change exactly where we can, which is in our [craft brewing] space.”

For Jackson-Beckham—whose forthcoming book will address the issue of racial inequality in brewing—the problem is rooted in part in America’s legacy of discriminatory lending practices. “Starting up a brewery is a capital-intensive process,” she says. “If you are looking at groups of people who have a lack of generational wealth…they’re going to have a much harder time entering the industry as entrepreneurs.”

What’s needed is a “comprehensive ecosystem of solutions,” Jackson-Beckham says, highlighting mentorship, internship, and partnership programs. “All of these are attempts to remove barriers for underrepresented populations to enter and advance the industry. Access to formal education is one of those barriers, and scholarships are one strategy for removing them,” she says.

Both breweries are hopeful that their donations can help change their industry for the better, at least in Colorado. “We want to do our small part locally to make the industry that we operate in better,” says Justin Baccary, founder of Station 26.

WeldWerks’ Goodman agrees: “We want to be a part of the conversation, but also a part of changing how things are. We have to be a part of helping change things from the inside out.”

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