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Effort to diversify craft beer in America comes to Minnesota

Panels discussions, a film screening and craft beer's push for diversity, inclusion and equity at the Craft Brewers Conference in Minneapolis.

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Alisa Bowens-Mercado, brewer and owner and of Rhythm Brewing Co., in New Haven, Connecticut speaks on a panel at the Craft Brewers Conference in at the Minneapolis Convention Center Monday, May 2, 2022.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin
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MINNEAPOLIS — The craft beer industry offers beers in literally hundreds of styles and colors. Most of the owners of brewing operations and much of craft beer clientele don’t reflect that kind of diversity.

It’s something industry leaders are trying to change. Some signs of progress can be seen this year at the annual Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo.

Dennis Malcolm Byron, who goes by Ale Sharpton, surveyed a crowd in a conference room Monday following the screening of “One Pint at a Time.”

“This is progress, right here,” Sharpton said to a nearly full room. “This is a communal effort and y’all recognize that.”

The film, directed and edited by Aaron Hose, features Black brewers, beer brand owners, and industry influencers. That so many people in the craft beer industry wanted to hear those stories and do their part to diversify the industry is an early step of progress, Sharpton said.

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Sharpton was in the film and part of a panel Monday after a screening of the film.

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J. Jackson-Beckham, American Brewers Association diversity ambassador listens as Jon Rnthrope, brewmaster at Cajun Fire Brewing Co., of New Orleans, Louisiana speaks. Jackson-Beckham led a panel discussion about a film featuring Black craft beer business owners and industry leaders at the Craft Brewers Conference at the Minneapolis Convention Center Monday, May 2, 2022.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

J. Jackson-Beckham, a former communications professor who shifted her academic focus to studying the American beer industry, hosted the panel. Known as Dr. J, Jackson-Beckham was hired by the Brewers Association as their first ever diversity ambassador.

Jackson-Beckham said people in the craft beer industry embrace diversity as a concept but often don’t know how to diversify or aren’t willing to diversify .

Alisa Bowens-Mercado, owner of and brewmaster at Rhythm Brewing Company, has made the brewing industry a more diverse place. Not only is she a Black woman who runs her own brewing company, but she’s also decided to create craft lagers. In Connecticut.

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“I’m dead-smack in the middle of IPA country,” she said.

Bowens-Mercado, a former professional dancer, was inspired by her grandmothers who both enjoyed cold, clear lagers. After finding herself in a solid minority in skin color, but also hearing people who wanted something without heavy hops flavors, she decided to start something herself.

“From that point, I said, if I’m going to drink it, I’m going to own it,” she said.

While more work in Minnesota needs to be done to diversify the brewing industry here, the Rochester area has its fair share of women in the industry. Dawn Finnie, co-owner of Little Thistle Brewing Co. is board president of the Minnesota Brewers Guild. Annie Henderson co-owns Forager Brewery. Jamie Mahlberg has been a staff member at Thesis Beer Project since the brewery opened in 2019 filling multiple roles there and represented Thesis at the Craft Brewers Conference. And Pine Island's South x Southeast Minnesota Brewing Company is owned and operated by Ann Fahy-Gust and Tessa Leung.

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Finnie said the industry is focused on equity, inclusion and diversity not as a trend but as an ongoing cultural change.

Anyone in Southeast Minnesota who wants to see “One Pint at a Time,” doesn’t have to attend a national brewers conference. Collider is bringing the film to Little Thistle Brewing Co. for a screening.

If you go

What: Screening of Aaron Hose’s “One Pint at a Time”

When: 6 p.m., Thursday, May 19, 2022.

Where: Little Thistle Brewing Co., 2031 14th St. NW.

John Molseed joined the Post Bulletin in 2018. He covers arts, culture, entertainment, nature and other fun stories he's surprised he gets paid to cover. When he's not writing articles about Southeast Minnesota artists and musicians, he's either picking banjo, brewing beer, biking or looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter "b." Readers can reach John at 507-285-7713 or jmolseed@postbulletin.com.
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