Eugenia Brown is tired of talking about diversity. “In recent years,” says the founder of Beer Chick, “it’s become this word that people use to make them feel good and important, as if they’re doing work.” That doesn’t mean she’s going to stop talking about it. In 2019, she launched her business to show Charlotte that Black girls enjoy beer, too—and to help breweries welcome Black folks into the craft beer community.
Brown moved to Charlotte eight years ago, after she graduated from UNC Greensboro, where she fell in love with craft beer. Compared to Atlanta, for example, “Charlotte doesn’t really have a Black beer culture,” Brown says. “If you visit any brewery in Charlotte, you may see a few people of color. But for the most part, Black people in general don’t see a brewery as a place that they will be welcomed or a place that’s very inviting.”
Brewery owners and employees flatter themselves that their doors are open to everyone. But Brown says there can be a gulf between good intentions and actually cultivating a welcoming environment. Subtle behaviors can send discouraging messages.
“I’ve walked into places where it took several minutes for my presence to be acknowledged, or someone’s order was taken before mine,” even when she arrived first, Brown says. “When it comes to how they talk to me and explain the beer, it’s as if, Oh, well, I know she doesn’t know anything about beer.” The experience is especially jarring in breweries that have co-opted Black culture and music for their beer names and branding.
Brown’s goal isn’t just to get Black people through the doors. She wants to clear the path to get them behind the bar, into the labs and backrooms and corporate offices. She’s an inaugural committee member for Town Brewing Co.’s Many Faces Initiative, an internship program launched in 2020 to help minorities and women break into the industry. Her Instagram, @blackbeerchick, features Black women and other minorities enjoying craft beer, to prove that it’s not just for “white guys with beards.”
“It made breweries realize that we have to be more intentional about having this conversation,” she says. “We have to be more intentional about where we’re posting our jobs, how we’re bringing people in our taprooms, how we’re marketing things to people and consumers.”
Not everyone welcomes the conversation. “A lot of people get mad when we start talking about diversity and craft beer,” Brown says. “Because it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s just about the beer. Don’t make it political. It’s not that serious.’ Actually, it is.”
Beer, she says, spills into headline issues like affordable housing. She points out the risks of displacement and gentrification when breweries get tax breaks to open in historically Black neighborhoods. “How are you pouring back into the community?” she says. “Are there people that live in that community that actually work in your brewery? Do they go to your brewery?”
Brown sees her mission as part of the larger fight for equity and justice, but it’s also about something simpler. Like so many in the Charlotte scene, Brown was drawn into craft beer by its strong sense of community. Going to breweries isn’t about getting drunk. It’s about having a safe public space to play games, gather with friends and family, relax, and have fun. “I love that,” Brown says. “I keep coming back because it’s where I want to be. But it’s also where I want other people to feel like they belong.”
Allison Braden is a contributing editor.