At GABF in Denver this year, we teamed up with the folks at New Belgium to host a conversation called Within Reach to talk about exploring new markets and winning new fans for craft beer. Hosted at the Source Hotel, where New Belgium has a new, small brewery, a diverse panel of industry professionals gathered to talk about diversity and inclusion, which are central to this effort.
With an industry that’s largely still white and male, it’s become increasingly clear there’s a need to invite more people to participate. We wanted to look at this effort, which is both old and new, from a variety of perspectives.
We sat down with Kim Jordan, co-founder of New Belgium Brewing, which was founded in 1991 when most marketing in beer was from macro brewers, and most of it was marketed to men using women as props. Over more than 25 years, Kim has been a seminal voice in an industry that’s starving for women in leadership positions. Her experience in the beer industry sets the foundation for how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go.
Alongside her is Kimberly Clements, whose career led her into a leadership position with her family-owned Budweiser distributor in Arizona. She now runs a consulting firm called Pints that works with distributors and brewers of all sizes as they look to grow audiences and reach. Her perspective on how these companies are thinking about the diversity of markets, or not, is a compelling peek behind the scenes on the narrow way craft beer is still defining a customer base with implicit and sometimes explicit bias.
Vansana Nolintha is the co-founder of Brewery Bhavana in Raleigh, North Carolina, an immigrant restauranteur alongside his sister Vanvisa and his friend Patrick Woodson, who uses hospitably to create a dialog about inclusion and belonging. How this plays out in the craft beer niche in North Carolina is fascinating: it involves hiring, training, and vision-setting for a staff that’s doing more than serving pints in a taproom, but using exceptional beer as a catalyst for change.
And Dominic Cook, founder of Beer Kulture, which looks at the world of beer through the lens of a community that’s been neglected - and in some ways explicitly alienated - from the promise of craft beer. He has worked as a wholesaler rep, but also as a social influencer to bring beers to occasions and communities that either believe they don’t like beer, or for whom access to craft beer is limited. In doing so, he’s instigated a stark dialog around exclusion in craft beer, and how ignoring the problem will be at the industry’s peril. He also has some advice for craft brewers that cuts through the noise and posturing that’s so common on the topic, and which usually results in brewers explaining why they can’t really do anything about the issue.
Together, this group did a phenomenal job of covering a lot of ground. And the way in which they built on each other’s experiences made this one of the most rewarding conversations we’ve been lucky enough to lead.
Thanks to New Belgium for helping shape the conversation, and bringing us all together. Thanks to the Source hotel for hosting. And thanks to the audience, which engaged in a genuine, thoughtful exchange of ideas on a topic that’s in everyone’s best interest. A more inclusive craft beer industry is a better industry across the board.