Kevin Blodger, Co-Founder and Head Brewer, Union Craft Brewing

Last Call by | Apr 2014 | Issue #87

“Are you Garrett Oliver’s son?” someone once asked Kevin Blodger. He’d just started a job at Frederick Brewing in Maryland, and this question came at one of his first beer festivals. “Like, because I’m black, I must be related to Garrett, is kinda how I took it,” says Blodger, who’s since co-founded Union Craft in Baltimore. “Thinking about it, as sloppy as I dressed, I think that Garrett Oliver probably would have slapped him.” Blodger laughs, and changes the subject back to his real concern—bringing more people into the craft beer community. “I just want our industry to keep growing,” he says. “It’s happening slowly. But I think there’s so much left to do.”

How would you characterize the representation of minorities in the craft beer industry?
My rap on this is always, craft beer is pretty colorblind. And so by that what I mean is that Garrett Oliver … nobody refers to him as “the black brewer Garrett Oliver,” as they might in another industry where there are so few minorities. He’s just Garrett Oliver. But that being said, the bad thing about colorblindness in craft beer is that … craft beer, it’s kind of a word of mouth thing, it’s something your friends get into. And since the majority of brewers are white, I think that that leads to bringing mostly white people into the industry. … [Black brewers] are out there, but I think for the most part that craft beer has focused its efforts on bringing in kind of middle-class, affluent people, and I think that as nonwhites kind of raise their standing in America and become more of a part of the middle class, that it’s going to take a concerted effort to bring those people into the fold of brewing.

Can you speculate on why minorities are underrepresented?
I just think that first of all, when craft beer started, when breweries started opening, you had to have money to get into it. … And that’s not to say there’s not minorities who haven’t been out there since the ’60s who haven’t had extra money, but I just think the appeal took off with middle- to upper-class white people, and it kind of stayed in those circles. … Craft beer’s growing at an enormous rate, but I think it’s going to stagnate unless we start to bring in people of color and other minorities.

Are you saying that at the heart of the matter is income inequality?
Well, I think income has something to do with it, but I think that even less it’s just that there’s no concerted effort to bring people in. … Here in Baltimore … I feel like I have this unique advantage where maybe I can bring some people of color in, so how do I take advantage of that? I think number one was we first started being very visible in the press. … I also try and get involved with events, like for example, the University of Maryland, Baltimore, their black law student association is having a silent auction, so we made sure to donate something for that. I just want to kind of get involved in efforts that maybe traditional craft brewers aren’t really looking at.

What should white brewers do to make it a more diverse community?
You need to look outside of your comfort zone. … If you don’t have any minorities coming by or working for you, maybe you go seek out some opportunities to do a tasting with groups that you wouldn’t normally think about.

What’s your experience as a minority in craft beer been like?
I’ve never really experienced any kind of real outright racism. … Sometimes I’ll be in the brewery and someone’ll come in and say, “Can you tell me where the brewmaster is?” or they think I’m just the help here. But for the most part, I’ve been welcomed to this community with really open arms. Craft beer is a very accepting community. So I’m not trying to say that I think there’s active racism in craft beer. I just think that it’s not thought about. Like, “let’s get more people to buy our beer, let’s increase our market share”—I think we can do that a lot easier by bringing in blacks, Latinos, Asians, lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender—you know, all kinds of people—into the fold.