Beer is intended to be for everyone of drinking age, but it’s not always made by everyone.
The craft beer industry has historically been dominated by white men. A 2021 survey by the Brewers Association, which represents thousands of breweries nationwide, found 93.5% of brewery owners are white and 75.6% are men. That lack of diversity is the inspiration behind a new scholarship initiative in Illinois.
The Illinois Craft Brewers Guild partnered with the Siebel Institute of Technology, a brewing school in Chicago, to provide free entry-level and intermediate-level brewing courses, valued at $985 and $4,285. The goal is to build a more inclusive industry by giving underrepresented groups access to education and technical training.
“Drinking beer together is a way to share a sensory experience, to celebrate life events, to break liquid bread together, but when we looked at the community that craft beer has nurtured, whether it’s at beer fests or in tap rooms or on our own production floors, it was pretty clear to us that there was a distinct lack of diversity,” said Emily Slayton, board president of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild.
Jay Westbrook is one of three scholarship winners. Due to his experience in brewing, he’ll be taking the Siebel Institute’s intermediate class. Westbrook has created four beers, including Harold’s ‘83 Honey Ale, which you can find at Haymarket Pub and Brewery in West Town.
“Harold’s 83 Honey is definitely a hat tip to Harold Washington, becoming the first African American mayor of the city of Chicago back in 1983. It’s also a hat tip to Harold Baines who also had a really good 1983 as I am a White Sox fan, and it’s also a hat tip to a Chicago institution in Harold’s Chicken,” said Westbrook.
It’s not just about beer for Westbrook. He also wants to inspire other beer makers of color and tell a story with each creation. That mission to educate and effect change is a big part of why the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild says they chose Westbrook.
“He had a lot to say about how he really wants to be like a beacon of diversity and equity and inclusion and that he wants to use craft beer to affect positive change in the community,” said Slayton.
Westbrook says he also wants to tell stories about Chicago through his beers, and he says the best way to get someone to listen is to put a drink in their hand. His Harold’s ‘83 Honey Ale can also be found at most Chicago-area Binny’s, as well as several liquor stores. The Illinois Craft Brewers Guild hopes to award its new diversity scholarship annually.