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First Coast Brews: Racial diversity in beer

A local group is trying to promote, educate and celebrate all beer drinkers. "We are diverse people supporting the diversity of Beer."
Credit: Pixstar
There is more than one flavor of beer and more than one flavor of beer drinker

At the Riverside Craft Beer Festival in February, Bell's Brewery had a really cool sticker promoting the diversity of beer. The Brewery says to embrace diversity in all aspects of your life. I adored the sticker and proudly put it on my beer fridge.

Locally, a group called Shades of Hopz is embracing this very idea. Janel Bacote, Mal Baker, and Jon Russell started the group to embrace minorities and non-minorities in beer.

Anyone in the Jacksonville beer scene has probably seen or spoken with Janel and knows she's a passionate advocate for beer and for beer drinkers. My first meeting with her was at the Aardwolf bottle release + bottle share and I recently spoke to her about Shades of Hopz and their goals.

"There's a lot that makes beer unique," Janel says

"Color, style, flavor and all of that in little subtle ways makes beer unique. Well, so does the beer community whether you're black or white, we want to support industries that are doing things to promote diversity through their brand, we want to be a conduit to that." 

It's about making a comfortable environment for any minorities to step into the craft beer industry or simply as a beer drinker. Janel notes that she knows many people here, but out of town things are different.

"People look at you funny, talk to you funny, talk down to you. I never see anyone that looks like me. We're never going to be the biggest part of the market, but we're not trying to be the biggest part of the market.  But you still want to feel the community and hobby that you love is reflective of the community at large." 

Shades of Hopz is holding their first event Friday, April 5 at 9 Zero Pour. The event is a social gathering for everyone, no matter your race. They will have activities like Beer Bingo and a Blind Beer Tasting, as well as a Diversity Spotlight.

Janel has a minority friend in Texas who's a head brewer and she wants to highlight what he does and his experience. They've been reaching out to all breweries that welcome minorities for future events as well. They want to know the companies that are embracing diversity.

"We're not trying to make money, we're not trying to do anything, we're simply trying to be a conduit and help get education out to everybody," she says.

She recently reached out to Founders Brewing regarding the lawsuit by a former employee over racial discrimination and retaliation. She invited comment from the Brewery regarding this.

"This is a good opportunity to come out to an event, talk about what you are doing because we don't know until we hear something positive or negative in an article," Janel says. 

Ultimately, her desire is to open the lines of conversation.

"People assume you promote one group, you exclude another," she says. "And you can do both. I want people to have conversations. Some of them might be fun, some of them might be sharp. But that's how we all learn from each other."

Inclusion, not exclusion, is the goal here. Originally, the discussion was to be a minority based group, but that quickly changed. For Janel, it was about making sure everyone has a voice. 

Including those in the craft brewery industry. She reached out to distributors at Hunapu in Tampa.

"They want to reach out to some of these markets, but they don't know how. They don't know how to start that conversation without feeling like they are targeting from a race perspective. The biggest way is to ask in a respectful manner!"

Janel says she hopes this becomes a way for people to interact, she encourages those with questions to reach out to them. Let them know what companies and information they are curious about. 

The most important thing is to start a dialogue.