Chantel Columna is a co-owner of Novel Strand Brewing Company in Denver, Colorado. She owns it with her husband, Tamir. Ayana Coker, a third partner, serves as the proprietor and comptroller.
When asked if Columna has seen many other women of color in the beer industry, her answer says it all.
“No, not at all,” Columna said.
According to a 2018 study done by the Brewers Association, Black people make up 1% of craft brewery owners. Only a small portion of those are women. Columna’s husband is the one who introduced her to craft beer in college.
“There was this place called the Rock that was kind of a dive-y bar but had some of the best craft beer selection in the area," Columna said. "And we would find ourselves there often on weekends just kind of trying different styles and talking about it.”
If it hadn’t been for her husband, Columna says she isn’t sure she would have discovered her love for craft beer. Eugenia Brown is trying to change that.
“In all my previous craft beer jobs, I was typically the only Black girl, so I had gotten used to being that token Black girl in the space,” Brown said.
Brown is a beertender and the founder of a platform called Beer Chick LLC. She says she wants to bring other women of color into the beer industry. So, she started the Road to 100 initiative to get 100 women of color across the country certified to serve beer.
“We know that historically it’s very much a white-male dominated industry," Brown said. "And so for these women of color who may not look like or what you think looks like your average beer drinker, this certification will give them an opportunity to open the doors of a brewery and say, ‘Hey, I want to get a job here. I bring with me this certain level of education, this certain beer knowledge.' And so really, the goal is that it serves as a foundation for these women to help propel them into careers in craft beer.”
Both Brown and Columna said it’s not that people of color don’t like craft beer — they believe it’s an exposure issue.
“You can look even to other industries," Columna said. "Not necessarily just the craft beer industry but let’s say the outdoors — skiing or climbing, hiking — all these different things that we don’t perhaps see ourselves in because there’s a lack of representation, perhaps there’s a lack of access simply because you don’t know that that’s something that people do or how you can even get started.”
“You can have the desire to open this craft brewery, but if you don’t have the capital, if you don’t have the resources, if you don’t have the business relationships or the tools that you need to grow it into a successful business, then it’s really hard to make it happen,” Brown said.
Columna says it’s those business relationships that helped Novel Strand Brewing Company get on its feet.
“We had an opportunity," Columna said. "We had four different beers out in the market just from different people and different breweries that were willing to collaborate with us, play with us and help us raise some brand awareness before we even got started.”
Columna said she’s witnessed a shift with more women of color getting into the industry, but Brown says there’s still a ways to go in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion.
“I would love to see more Black and minority-owned breweries across the country," Brown said. "I would love to see breweries in the neighborhoods owned by people who actually look like individuals in the neighborhoods.”