As a way to support more opportunities for underrepresented populations in brewing, Ardmore, Pennsylvania’s Tired Hands Brewing Co. has launched a Diversity Brewing Internship Program for “women and racial/ethnic minorities” trying to break into the industry. The three-month, part-time position—which includes a stipend of $2,500—will provide the recipient with experience across a variety of jobs, from production to packaging, barrel-aging, quality control, and more. To be considered, applicants must be near completion or have recently completed a brewing education program or related degree or certificate program.
Like other industries, internships are common in beer, though this particular example, explicitly for women and people of color, stands out from the rest. There are no clear cut stats on the demographic breakdown of professionals in U.S. breweries, but staff have typically skewed white, from brewers to taproom and administrative employees.
That’s the exact reason for the new program, says Tired Hands co-owner Julie Foster, who admits that her brewery has “struggled with getting women and brewers of color” in the past, and wants this summer’s internship to act as a pipeline—for her business and potentially others. It’s the company’s first-ever internship program, and focusing on creating an opportunity for underrepresented groups was purposeful.
“When we look at guests coming through the door, we see different ages and races and all kinds of people,” Foster says. “We don’t want brewing to get pigeonholed as just young, white men.”
Of the 14 people currently working on Tired Hands’ production operation, there is one woman. Foster notes that she's unsure if any other staff members self-identify as a person of color.
“Big picture: there is not enough diversity in the brew house despite efforts to seeks out diverse candidates,” she says.
The internship program is part of broader efforts by Tired Hands to be progressive in their hiring practices. Foster says that the company has instituted its own version of the “Rooney Rule,” an HR policy in the NFL that requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching or front-office jobs. Tired Hands will always try to interview at least one qualified applicant who identifies as female or a person of color, Foster says.
The company also actively works to promote from within and offers a cash bonus for employees who successfully refer new hires as a way to encourage staff to suggest candidates from all walks of life.
“I don’t know the folks at Tired Hands and have never met anyone there, but as someone who is an LGBT female in the beer industry, I want to get to know them now,” says Julie Verratti, co-owner of Silver Spring, Maryland's Denizens Brewing and chair of the Brewers Association’s Diversity Committee. “It sends a really strong message that they are trying to push their brewery and the industry forward.”
Verratti calls the program a “moral compass” for its focus on inclusivity as well as identifying the value of connecting with people that weren’t as actively courted by beer in the past. The impact, she notes, is cultural and economic at a time when craft beer in particular is working to expand its drinker base.
“This is the type of effort we need to make,” Verratti says. “You can say ‘we want diverse people’ and sit back and think about it, or you can proactively make an effort. I’m proud to call [Tired Hands] a colleague in the industry.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the announcement of the program was met with a small amount of backlash on social media, mostly confined to Instagram, where some users claimed reverse discrimination against white people. (A similar discussion appeared on Reddit.) There were arguments for literal equal opportunity in which all applicants should get a chance to apply for the internship, noting that gender and race shouldn’t matter.
Most vocal was “beardedbybeer,” Patrick Bustos in real life, who says he works as a part-time brewer at REV Winery and Brewing Co. in Covina, California.
"Would African Americans call them self [sic] African American if they didn't consider themselves Americans?” he asked on Instagram. “Why would it be said? They would be African or Mexican or Italian, yet American comes after each one of those. Being an American grants them all the rights and liberties, especially in today's America. Believing that people can't become more because of their race or gender is ignorance."
Bustos tells GBH that Tired Hands' program is an "amazing thing" and completely supports them providing opportunities for diverse men and women. He says his back-and-forth interactions on social media misrepresented his intention to highlight that fact that labeling individuals can be problematic because identifying racial background and gender isn't as important as a person's ability to do a job well.
"A label given to me based on skin color does not merit my abilities or passions in life, or the desire to gain knowledge and diversity," he tells GBH.
On Instagram, he wrote that his family's background of Spanish, Salvadorian, Cherokee, and German heritage are part of the what makes America "awesome" because everyone can have such historical and cultural diversity. That background “has made my life unique and created opportunities,” he tells GBH, so long as he put in the work and effort, which can be applicable to everyone.
“We need to break the labels that create stereotypes by not using them,” Bustos says. “Without a label, I can be anything. By giving me a general label, you’re labeling me and automatically judging me, which isn’t fair. And doesn’t create change. My skin color or sex doesn’t show you who I am inside or what I am capable of.”
Kevin Blodger, founder and director of brewing operations at Baltimore’s Union Craft Brewing, says that sorting through some of the “really disgusting replies” on social media shows how much diversity is needed in the industry to promote greater inclusivity.
“I always think the beer scene is so progressive until shit like this happens and then you realize we are no different than everything else,” says Blodger, who serves on the Brewers Association’s Diversity Committee.
"If craft beer wants to grow and prosper," he adds, “we need to get out of our comfort zone and court new audiences. The Tired Hands internship is a great start that the industry can copy and adapt so people of color, women, and LGBTQ people become as ubiquitous as Hazy IPAs."
Along with Bustos, there were a variety of comments on the Instagram announcement claiming discriminatory hiring practices, asking whether the diversity internship was patronizing toward minorities, and a collection of posts that could easily be considered racist or sexist.
“People are always disappointed when there’s something they can’t get,” Foster says, “but I also think there’s a fundamental lack of understanding about why actions like this are important.”
In American workplaces, just like society at large, greater awareness of gender and racial disparities is needed, she adds. Decades of research and reporting supports this, whether it’s polling that shows complacency with efforts to hire more women or groundbreaking research showing that black males earn less and have different opportunities than white counterparts, regardless of upbringing.
“Unless we stand up and take action, these problems aren’t going to go away by themselves,” Foster says. “I agree that everyone should be treated equally, but when you start off on an unequal playing field, you have to do something to allow people to compete.”
Still, there’s a reason “don’t read the comments” is a pop-culture idiom. Vitriolic messages are reflective of the opinions of few, and in this case, miss the point entirely. Tired Hands is taking a proactive approach to addressing a problem their peers and industry leaders—including the Brewers Association—not only admit is pervasive, but needs to be solved.
“Taking on an intern is a big responsibility,” Foster says. “It’s about providing a thoughtful and useful training experience so they can leave with the skills to grow. Our goal is to launch somebody into a great career.”