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'I’ve been asked to prove that I owned a brewery': Green Bench's Khris Johnson talks importance of inclusivity

More and more breweries owned by people of color are popping up in cities across the country. In Florida, one of the most notable is Green Bench Brewing.
Credit: Green Bench Brewing

It's no secret that the craft beer industry has long been plagued by issues involving a lack of inclusivity towards people of color.

Look around you next time you step into your local brewery. I'm not just talking about the taproom but inside the actual brewery. Who do you see making the beer you've come to know and love? 

Odds are his name is Chad, he has tattoos and most definitely has a beard. Oh and he's also probably white. 

No disrespect to the Chads of the world, but intentional or not, the rise of the craft beer movement within the past decade has largely attracted both a white following and workforce. 

But in the words of Bob Dylan, the times they are a-changin'. 

More and more breweries owned by people of color (and women) are popping up in cities across the country. Here in Florida, one of the most notable is Green Bench Brewing.

Known for their delicious IPAs, refreshing ciders and funky foeder creations, Green Bench was the first microbrewery to open up shop in St. Petersburg. 

Khris Johnson, head brewer and co-owner, has been an active member of the Tampa Bay beer scene for years, working for Cigar City Brewing and Southern Brewing and Winemaking before developing and pursuing opportunities to open and run his own brewery.

He sat down with First Coast Brews to talk about what first got him into craft beer and some of his experiences as a person of color within the industry


What first got you into craft beer? 

I think I was on the cusp of the craft beer movement in that when I turned 21 I was aware of craft beer. It was by no means popular and most of my friends had not heard of or drank it but I benefitted from my father who was a home brewer when I was growing up. So by the time I was of legal drinking age I knew there were styles like PA, IPA, Brown, Porter, Stout, Lager, etc.

If you were stuck on a deserted island and you had a six-pack with you, what would be in it? 

Probably Allagash White, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Bierstadt Slow Pour Pils, Tegernseer Helles, Tecate, Feel the Love (one of my beers).

Favorite style of beer to brew? These days, lagers.

Why is it important to have people of color in the craft beer industry? 

Because craft beer (and beer in general, for that matter) is not color exclusive, and by broadening our industry we have the opportunity to incorporate cultures and ideas that ultimately make the segment far more sustainable, intelligent, accessible, and enjoyable.

Have you ever felt personally marginalized within the industry and if so, are there any experiences that you'd be willing to share? 

Yes, but not in ways that were different than the everyday life of a person of color. For example, I’ve been asked to close out my tab when my white friends were allowed to keep theirs open; I’ve been followed around homebrew shops and bottle shops while shopping; I’ve been asked to prove that I owned a brewery before. The marginalization that I usually encounter is far more systematic than people realize.

What are your thoughts on the recent social unrest sweeping our country in relation to issues of racial injustice? 

I’m glad to see that so many people appear to be interested in this issue - some for the first time in their life. I think that myself and many of my brothers and sisters in the black community remain a bit skeptical on the larger community’s appetite to follow through on real change in the country. I’m very hopeful, though. And I encourage everyone new to the conversation to continue to educate themselves and become prepared for long journey that is change.

Any advice you would give to craft breweries/taprooms/bottle shops looking to foster a more inclusive environment?

 I would suggest being aware of how your space, products, branding, attitude, actions, and personalities make your consumers feel. If you want new people in the door you have to provide an experience to them that feels safe and enjoyable.

Any advice for craft beer drinkers looking to educate themselves about these issues? 

Luckily almost every community in the country has infrastructure in place to educate and enact lasting change. I suggest looking internally first. Money, time, or even just listening can assist greatly in making your community more accessible for its citizens.

Help us settle this. Hard seltzer: Hell yes or hell no? 

Why not? 

Credit: Green Bench Brewing

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