When Eugenia Brown walked into a training session earlier this summer for a job at Free Range Brewing in Charlotte, North Carolina, she was shocked to see another Black woman.
“I began to explore my thoughts and feelings about it, and I realized I’d gotten comfortable being a token in beer spaces,” says Brown.
She’d been the only Black person at her last two beer jobs, one at a different local brewery and the other at a grocery store. After Brown read about efforts by Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver and The Michael Jackson Foundation for Brewing & Distilling to diversify the industry, she decided to take action.
“I realized I was not okay with being the token Black girl anymore,” she says. “A mission of mine going forward is to bring people with me to the table.”
For Brown, obtaining her Level 1 Certified Beer Server credentials from the Cicerone Certification Program opened opportunities and made up for experience she lacked. So on July 22, she launched a fundraiser on her Instagram, @blackbeerchick, to pay the $69 exam fee for 50 women of color to enroll in the Level 1 course. Brown designed T-shirts for donors that read, “More bridges, less barriers.”
“I realized I was not okay with being the token Black girl anymore. A mission of mine going forward is to bring people with me to the table.” —Eugenia Brown, @blackbeerchick
In just three days, she’d exceeded her fundraising goal. The Cicerone Certification Program took notice and matched her efforts, as it waived fees for 50 more women of color.
Brown has since expanded her mission. She partnered with a Level 3, Advanced Cicerone to create a 12-week mentorship program to help study for the exam and receive additional support.
For recipients like Shani Glapion, the opportunity has been a game-changer.
“The Cicerone program is that program,” she says. “This helps me get the training I need. It just feels like something I can really accomplish, with the help.”
Glapion, a 35-year-old Nashville resident who works in project management, dreams of a career in craft beer. Like Brown, she sees certification as an opportunity to get her foot in the door.
Glapion and her wife love to visit breweries when they travel, but they say that they’re often the only Black people in the taproom. That’s why she created The Black Beer Experience, a social group that fosters community through events like monthly meetups at different breweries.
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Yesterday was so dope. Came to #Atlanta to support @leadersofthebrewschool and their #blackisbeautifulbeer release @scofflawbeer. The event was such a vibe. Can’t wait to bring a similar experience to #Nashville! 🍻🍻 Kicked it with @bourgiebeergirl @blkbrewbabes and other Black beer lovers. Good people. Good beer. Good times! #theblackbeerexperience #bbe #experiencecraftculture #RespectCraftCulture
The Black Beer Experience is part of a growing movement to carve out space for Black people in an overwhelmingly white industry and often exclusionary social setting. It’s propelled by individuals like Afro Beer Chick, Black-owned breweries like Crowns & Hops and initiatives like Black Brew Culture.
Brown’s effort, which is open to any women of color, complements this wider movement. For Glapion, it should help her to obtain a Cicerone certification, which furthers her group’s mission to build a bridge for Black people to craft beer, she says.
“There are so many areas where [Nashville] needs more diversity, and I’ve decided that craft beer is my focus, and that’s where I’m going to do my work,” says Glapion.
On August 22, Brown said that all 100 spots have been filled to take the Level 1 exam for free. The voluntary mentorship and studying program launches this month.
As money continues to roll in through her T-shirt fundraiser, Brown has also now committed to subsidize half the cost of the Level 2 certification, Certified Cicerone, for 20 women of color.
The second level, in which Brown is currently enrolled, is significantly more expensive. By covering more than $200 of the cost, Brown aims to remove financial barriers for those who are considering certification programs in beer.
“I am determined to be the first Black woman in North Carolina who is a Certified Cicerone,” says Brown.
She’s also determined not to be the last.
“I think education is powerful,” says Brown. “Most men in the beer industry, and most white guys that are brewers, don’t have that Cicerone certification. They don’t have to jump through these hoops. They learn through their friends or hanging out at brewery taprooms. But I think we’re seeing now that [becoming a cicerone] is definitely a credible certification to have, and it puts you on a different level.”