Brewing up equity for the beer industry
MSU Denver and well-known craft brewers are partnering to diversify their profession through scholarship programs.
If you think of a “brewer,” who comes to mind? For many, that archetypal image is a burly white guy with a beard.
It’s reflective of historic underrepresentation, along with market opportunity, said Bernardo Alatorre, faculty member and head of Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Brewery Operations Program, which has partnered with well-established craft brewers to diversify the industry through scholarship programs.
Representation is no easy effort, however. A 2021 survey by the Brewers Association reported 93.5% of owners identified as white/non-Hispanic, with 2.2% Hispanic/Latino/Spanish-origin and 0.4% Black. More than 75% of respondents also self-identified as male.
And though women make up 15% of the consumer base, they consist of only 3% of the current workforce, more often relegated to roles in packaging instead of operations or brewing, Alatorre noted.
“The beer industry has been predominantly male and white since its inception,” he said. “Where is the equity when it comes to participating in an industry not only as consumers, but as creators as well?”
That’s the dynamic MSU Denver’s Flying Dog Diversity in Brewing Endowment program is seeking to change. The scholarship provides financial support to MSU Denver students pursing a degree in Brewery Operations and guarantees an employment opportunity with the Flying Dog Brewery after graduation.
As the first recipient of the program, Colleen Haynes, a senior in the University’s School of Hospitality, was drawn to the industry’s mix of art and science. She began exploring the craft while homebrewing with her father.
Haynes noted how others would make assumptions of the male-dominated field and ask her if she was studying beer “so she could find a husband.”
“That’s kind of frustrating, but it’s made me want to work twice as hard,” she said. “Women belong in all parts of the beer industry. When people feel represented, they’re more likely to apply for jobs. If you don’t see someone who looks like you, it’s harder to see yourself there.”
Haynes credited MSU Denver’s small-class environment and hands-on, comprehensive education in the program as key success differentiators from her first foray into higher education at a California university.
It’s the supportive culture, however, that has fermented a path forward for her career. During the pandemic, Haynes took “Beers of the World,” a Grand Tour of tipples adapted online by Katie Strain. One of only seven triple-TTB-certified chemists in the country, Strain runs the Beverage Analytics QA/QC Laboratory at MSU Denver, supported by the renowned Siebel Institute of Technology.
“I get really excited when I see other women excited about beer, and getting to learn from someone as successful as her is incredibly empowering,” Haynes said.
In addition to receiving the Flying Dog scholarship, Haynes joined the Pink Boots Society, a group dedicated to advancing women and nonbinary beer professionals, and she found additional support through the Breckenridge Brewery Women in Beer award.
“The brewing industry is creative and as such should integrate as many viewpoints as possible at all stages of the business,” said Kelly McElroy, president of Flying Dog who has served on MSU Denver’s Beer Industry Program advisory board for four years.
Founded 30 years ago in Aspen by George Stranahan, Flying Dog Brewery has long eschewed the status quo, she added. The partnership with MSU Denver reflects their desire to invest in individuals with diverse backgrounds.
“It’s critical from a business perspective; if you have only one type of person in a room, you’re missing something,” McElroy said. “Supporting this scholarship is an extension of our personality. When we believe in things, we act on them.”
Alatorre offered an example of a macro-brewery that can serve as an example for larger facilities looking to implement change. Mexico’s Grupo Modelo has maintained female leadership in executive positions for the past 25 years.
“That’s not an accident; it’s on purpose,” Alatorre said. “I think it brings a unique perspective on how things can and should work and provides priceless perspective on market opportunities for their brand portfolio.”
Haynes, who is profoundly grateful for the scholarship support and culture she’s discovered at MSU Denver, looks with optimism to a career in an increasingly representative field.
“The beer industry is for everyone,” she said. “I hope more people can break through and give it a shot.”