April 7 was National Beer Day and given the hardships that we are facing as a global community due to the COVID-19 crisis, our team at ScoutInsight wanted to focus on an industry that is near and dear to our hearts…craft brewing! For the entire month of April, we have celebrated our passion by sharing a new piece of content focused on women veterans and brewing. On this last leg of ScoutInsight’s exploration of the world of craft brewing, we’re diving into the culture of the craft brewing industry and how typically underrepresented groups have carved a space for themselves within the craft.
A Closer Look at the Culture Within the Craft Brewing Industry
Written by: Téa Le, ScoutInsight Intern
What’s so interesting about the craft brewing industry, and why is it being distinguished from Big Beer (think: Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors, Heineken, Pabst, etc.)? The Bureau of Labor statistics shows that the best-selling beers in the country have been on a decline in connection with generally lowering alcohol sales, while the number of brewery establishments have more than quadrupled between 2008 and 2016. In the midst of increasing monopolization of companies from tech to food, the nature of the craft beer boom has to do with the shifting perception of the craft itself and wants of the consumer — along with the increasing ease of small/local businesses to advertise themselves on social media.
Offering some explanation for the boom, Bart Watson, chief economist at the Brewers Association, said, “We’ve seen three main markers in the rise of craft beer – fuller flavor, greater variety, and more intense support for local businesses.” All factors that certainly count in a taste-driven industry that seeks to answer the call for underrepresented flavors, style and individuals to support. An example of this is the predominance of hazy India Pale Ales, or IPAs, and their ubiquitous presence in even the smallest microbrewery on the street. As the industry continues to develop, there is a growing presence of other flavors and styles with unique takes, including funky sours, and even the infusion of lactose by VA brewers.
Beyond the interest in seeking unique flavors, craft beer has also been a positive space for owners and brewmasters of all kinds. Since the culture and products are anti-monolithic, with many regional differences and room for individuality, there’s still an underlying sense of community without an excessively competitive mindset, as most serve local markets. In a collective effort against macro-beer domination, the “collaboration not competition” mindset helps with the growing awareness and availability of craft beers.
Within the community are many subgroups that support one another, including festivals like Beers With(Out) Beards, which aims to highlight and support men, women and non-binary brewers of all backgrounds in a multi day event featuring workshops about the industry, and plenty of tastings. Another festival is Fresh Fest, which highlights underrepresented communities of color, featuring black-owned and -run breweries, and spotlighting a variety of beers brewed for the event by local breweries in collaboration with black artists and entrepreneurs. Events such as these, featuring a particular community within the Brewing world, speaks to the characteristics that drew ScoutInsight’s attention to the industry.
Among the communities of brewers throughout the nation, veteran-owned breweries are doing their part to offer high-quality brews, a place for community enrichment and programs that seek to help beyond their business. Veteran-owned breweries are known for the big and little ways of honoring those who served and beyond, from a “Beer Forward Wall” where you can purchase a beer in advance for a service member to enjoy, to programs such as Arms 2 Artisans, which provide artisanal skills through education, experience and a peer support network. Ron Gamble from Veterans United Craft Brewery said in an interview, “What I found in all of my experiences in work after the military, I always came back to my leadership and what made me successful, and what made others around me successful, was the training we received in the military.” Army veteran and founder of Backward Flag Brewing Co., Torie Fisher told ScoutInsight that, in her experience, “there were some cultural similarities between the military and the brewing industry in that people work really hard and talked a lot of smack to each other during the day, but regardless of what goes on, at the end of the day everyone always gets together to drink a beer,” adding,“we move past it and come together.”
The act of coming together to eat food, sip on something refreshing and just spending time with friends and family has certainly shifted in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, but that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to do our part to support the diverse individuals who are continuing to make and distribute high-quality products.
Spotlight on the Industry:
Torie Fisher, founder of the Backward Flag Brewing told us a bit more about starting and growing the Arms 2 Artisans program. After leaving active duty and trying to find her own path she says,
“I was either overqualified for minimum wage jobs or underqualified for higher paying jobs. I really felt stuck. At one point, I even worked at Walmart. During the interview I was asked how much I expected to make and I gave the woman a ridiculous answer and lowballed myself to point that she was shocked at my answer. …After serving in the Army and having no experience in the civilian workforce, I had no idea what was even considered minimum wage. This was a terrible experience and actually is what led me to join the Army again, and then I ended up on another deployment.
All these bad experiences I had motivated me to found Arms 2 Artisans. When I founded the brewery, I would get these resumes from veterans and their resumes were just all over the place. In a lot of other companies, this would deter them from being hired, but because I understood where they were coming from I was willing to give them a chance. There was a need for a pipeline to help get these guys into artisan careers beyond that of just the brewing industry.”
In Fisher’s path to finding an industry that she’s passionate about, she’s also found a way to support those in similar situations.