Greg Davenport, Anthony Jennings, and Phillip Owens want people to know there’s space in craft beer culture for more diversity.
They founded the Black Brewers Podcast, where they talk about craft beer from a Black perspective and riff on current events, music, and whatever catches their attention on any given day. The three friends assure listeners that there are a growing number of Black, Indigenous, and people of color working in the brewery industry throughout the Twin Cities metro area.
“It’s important for us to change the narrative of these spaces,” said Davenport, the events manager at Dangerous Man Brewing Company. “You don’t know until you go that there are people who look like you that are in these spaces as well.”
Davenport, Jennings, and Owens’s appreciation for the complexity of craft beer shines through as they describe the latest releases from local breweries in their podcast, explaining how the smokiness from a prickly pear agave sour ale from Modist Brewing tastes differently depending on your palate or what you ate that day. A pink pineapple imperial sour by 56 Brewing gave Owens a “tickle of tropical fusion” on his nose when he sniffed it; Jennings said it tasted like “a spiral of pineapple…with some funk at the end of it.”
“Our show is like the Black Twitter of beer,” said Jennings, who is lead production at Arbeiter Brewing. “It’s beer culture, but a subset of beer culture whereas if you know, you know. Which is what Black Twitter is…if you know, you know.”
Three seasons of the podcast are available for free on On Site Public Media on YouTube, one of the only Black-owned media outlets in Minnesota. Episodes include interviews with local brewers at Beer Dabbler festivals and advocates in the industry promoting greater diversity, equity and inclusion.
The three see an opportunity to increase the number of diverse beer drinkers. Black Americans represent four percent of craft beer drinkers compared to 13 percent of the country’s general population, according to The Brewers Association, a not-for-profit trade association that represents 6,000 U.S. brewery members and 37,000 members of The American Homebrewers Association.
“Come on down to Arbeiter or Dangerous Man. It won’t be a packed house of Black and brown folks or people of color, but you don’t know who you may meet,” Davenport said. “I met these two guys. It’s about going out and being seen. [The podcast] might encourage people to go a little bit out of their comfort zone.”
Davenport, Jennings, and Owens don’t always have the opportunity to engage customers in conversation as they work behind the counter. But they make an effort to acknowledge a Black, Indigenous, or customer of color when they can.
“We’re not seen in these places so when you see the other person who looks like you and they understand the reality that you go through daily…there’s something powerful in making that eye contact and seeing that person. It’s a beautiful feeling,” said Jennings.
Craft beer isn’t something that a Black person would necessarily think to get involved with because the industry and culture is primarily dominated by white men, Jennings said. But in reality, he noted, beer didn’t start in white culture. Historians generally date the origins of beer production date back about 5,000 years to Mesopotamia; the Egyptians were the first to document brewing techniques.
“We’ve placed it on ourselves, too, ‘Black people don’t do that,’” said Owens, the shop manager at Dangerous Man Brewing Company. “We don’t have to put ourselves in that box. We don’t have to define ourselves.”
“The older I get, the more I realize that I think my purpose is to do shit that Black people don’t normally do. I was on my high school swim team; I looked like I was photoshopped in those photos. I served and bartended. I am a yoga instructor. I’m going to lean in more when people tell me I can’t do something.”
Making the connections
The idea of the podcast came about in the spring of 2021 after Davenport and his girlfriend watched “Desus & Mero.” The late-night talk show, which aired from February 2019 to June 2022, was hosted by comedians Desus Nice and The Kid Mero. She suggested that Davenport could do the same thing, but instead talk about beer.
Davenport shared his idea with Owens, who knew Jennings. Owens had some podcast experience and had been itching to start one. The three of them, who weren’t tight knit like they are today, ended up at a Brewing Change Collaborative meeting at Arbeiter Brewing around the same time. The Collaborative, a Minnesota-based non-profit, fosters diversity, equity, and inclusion in the beverage industry.
When they met at Albeiter Brewing that day, they quickly came up with the podcast’s concept and name. Jennings also had connections to On Site Public Media for studio space.
“Then we took a step back,” Owens said. “We should get to know each other.”
Owens had worked at Insight Brewing for seven years before joining Dangerous Man about two and a half years ago.
Jennings had been a home brewer since 2014 and joined the Brewing Change Collaborative when it started in 2019. He had also worked at Inbound BrewCo and Pyres Brewing before landing at Arbeiter Brewing.
Davenport was managing the beer department at the retail store, Surdyk’s, when he saw Ramsey Louder, the co-founder and director of Brewing Change Collaborative, working at Dangerous Man about five years ago. Inspired by Ramsey, Davenport applied for a job at Dangerous Man and has been there for almost five years.
Outside of their love for craft beer, the men discovered that they shared several common interests and quickly became each other’s support network, sharing similar stories about the discrimination they had faced in the industry. By the time the first episode dropped in November 2021, they had become a tight-knit group.
“It’s like a brotherly bond and personally, they’re some of my closest friends. When we get together, we catch up and we check in on each other,” said Jennings.
It can be difficult to break into the craft beer industry as people of color, the three said, because there’s already an established community of mostly white men who have connections that can lead to employment. And once you’re in, they added, it can feel isolating at times and interactions with some customers can be difficult.
Jennings and Davenport have had money thrown at them for payment, and all three say some customers are shocked to see them working at breweries, presumably because of their race. Owens and Davenport described some encounters as “moments of cringe,” such as when customers mistake one for the other, and ask if they cut their hair or changed their appearance even though they don’t look similar except for their race.
What’s next for Black Brewers Podcast?
Davenport, Jennings, and Owens are now about over a year into their podcast, with two seasons featuring five episodes each. They’ve recorded at breweries around town, including Modist and 56, and at events like Beer Dabbler festivals and the Craft Brewers Conference. The first episode of season three features an extensive tour of the Beer Dabbler’s Dabbler Depot, a liquor store with a to-go coffee shop and state-of-the-art recording studio.
Subsequent episodes will be recorded at the Dabbler Depot recording studio, and the trio recently released the third season’s second episode, where they interviewed J Jackson-Beckham, PhD, the founder of Crafted For All, a consulting firm that helps craft beverage organizations become more inclusive and equitable. Jackson-Beckham also serves as the full-time equity and inclusion partner of the Brewers Association, a national not-for-profit trade association for home brewers and those in the craft beer industry.
“We’re barely out of our infancy stage,” Jennings said. “Unless you’re in the industry, you probably wouldn’t know what we’re doing. We still have plenty of ears to reach and eyes to capture.”
The Dabbler Depot is an “amazing space,” Owens said, that features state-of-the-art equipment and a 60-inch screen that will facilitate interviews with guests from out of state like Jackson-Beckham.
Matt Kenevan, owner of the Beer Dabbler and Dabbler Depot, said the Depot recording studio is an extension of the liquor store—a space to learn, educate, design, and share knowledge about beer, wine, and spirits.
“It’s been my goal for Beer Dabbler and Dabbler Depot to be welcoming to LGBTQ+, people of color, and women,” Kenevan said. “There is a lot of work to do to make the craft beer industry more inclusive, and I have been looking for opportunities to do my part. Their podcast is important to both the local and national craft beer scene. If the guys can influence people from diverse backgrounds to join the industry and show that the craft beer industry isn’t just for white people, it’s a win for all of us.”
Davenport, Jennings, and Owens are excited about refining the style and format of the podcast, growing their audience, and traveling to meet more people of color who own or work in breweries in Atlanta, Detroit, and Philadelphia, among other locations.
“When you can magnify the voices of other individuals in the same predicament as us on islands, you can create a whole web. Once you do that, it just elevates everybody,” Owens said.
They also hope to encourage younger people of color who are over 21 to look into careers in the brewing industry. Davenport said the possibility of making a life in the industry clicked for him when he saw Louder working at Dangerous Man.
Davenport said he empathized with people who feel like they have few alternatives to make money, but encouraged young people of color to expand their career options.
“They may be thinking, ‘I don’t know what I want to do and I don’t want to go work in an office,’” Davenport said. “There are other avenues that can pay your rent, live, travel, meet cool people, creatively express yourself without having to be in a corporate situation…but I don’t want to overlook people who are stuck in the trap and forced to survive by any means necessary, and sometimes that might mean doing something illegal to make ends meet.”
Davenport said he’s seen more diverse brewery staff in the past five years. At Dangerous Man, Owens notes that there are three Black employees (including himself and Davenport) out of 17, the most Black people he’s ever worked with in the industry. Jennings works with Juno Choi, who is Korean American, one of the co-founders of Arbeiter.
“We get to be creative and authentically ourselves here,” Owens said. “Be the change you wanna see. The goal is that there’s space for us.”