By Michael Verchot, director, Consulting and Business Development Center, Michael G. Foster School of Business, University of Washington
From “damn good beer” to wine blending traditional grapes with fruit to artisanal mezcal, diversity is growing in the world of alcohol.
But it isn’t in the types of alcohol themselves. It’s because these three products — and increasingly others — come from companies owned and run by people of color.
“Our mission is to brew damn good beer and build stronger communities to inspire bigger dreams for all,” said Rodney Hines, CEO and co-founder of Métier Brewing Co. in Woodinville, Washington.
Hines, who is African American, and other owners of color are part of a nascent trend in the alcohol industry. A 2019 Brewers Association report found the vast majority — 88% — of craft brewery owners were white. Just 1% of the owners were Black. Hispanic owners made up 2%, as did Asians. Native Americans comprised 4%.
That’s starting to change, thanks to a small but increasing group of entrepreneurs of color working across the country. They have allies spanning the industry’s spectrum — white competitors, large companies diversifying their suppliers, trade associations, banks and other support industries, along with university business schools.
Hines has found many allies since opening Métier Brewing several years ago. The company is now opening a second taproom in Seattle’s historic African American neighborhood of the Central Area. Later this year it will open a brewpub across the street from T-Mobile Park, home of the Seattle Mariners. The baseball team encouraged Métier to create the facility, which will be named after the Seattle Steelheads, the city’s 1946 Negro League baseball team.
“That’s poignant for me that we are a part of a story that should be told,” Hines said.
Hines is already bringing others into the industry. In collaboration with other Seattle-area brewers, he and his company formed the Mosaic State Brewers Collective to provide knowledge, experience and mentoring to minorities seeking brewing careers.
Across the country in Columbus, Ohio, Renard Green is finding allies of his own. He acquired Camelot Cellars a couple of years ago. Now he is refocusing the winery to blend traditional wine grapes with fruits and then pairing the wines with Southern and creole food, which aren’t known for links with wine. An example is Camelot Cellars’ cranberry malbec, paired on the menu with pork, a Southern recipe staple.The wine blends nurture an unusual niche in an industry dominated by traditional vintages, he said. Expansion is underway to market the wines beyond Ohio into 41 states. It all suits his interests and strengths as an African American whose parents live in Florida, a chemist in agricultural science and a management consultant with an MBA from Ohio State University.
“We take food we know and love and pair it with wine. We have a lot of fun with those fruit wines,” Green said. In three to five years, he said, “we want to take this from a small to a medium-size winery.”
Back in Seattle, another new company, Mocel, builds on its own regional roots. Sisters Elizabeth and Rosalinda Mendoza founded the company. They were inspired by their family’s roots in Michoacan, Mexico and its centuries-old mezcal tradition. A later influence was their parents’ background as immigrant farmworkers in Washington’s Yakima Valley, an agricultural and winemaking center.
“Our family taught us early on the value and labor of cultivating food and drinks,” Rosalinda Mendoza said.
“We want to forge a mezcal culture in the United States that honors our history, the 400 years of mezcal artisanship and the power of shared experience to bring people together,” Elizabeth Mendoza said.
That’s something to which we can all drink.
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