Brewers Association Addresses Criticism of Handling of Racist Actions by Brewery Members

The Brewers Association (BA) today addressed criticism of its handling of racist actions by breweries within its membership.

In an email to members titled “Bylaw and Governance Update,” president and CEO Bob Pease wrote that the BA has heard the criticism and its silence does not mean the calls to action have gone unheard.

“Our limited public response to date has not been sufficient for many but it does not equate to apathy,” he wrote.

Pease explained that the BA’s bylaws, as currently written, “do not include a mechanism for revoking a brewery’s membership” or a code of conduct for its member breweries. However, Pease said the BA’s staff, board of directors and governance committee have been working with the organization’s diversity committee “to correct the bylaw and governance document gaps.” Those efforts include updated bylaws, the introduction of a code of conduct and a complaint process.

The BA — a not-for-profit trade organization representing the interests of small and independent brewery owners — has faced an onslaught of criticism this month in the wake of laying off several notable employees, including craft beer program manager Julia Herz and brewers guilds manager Acacia Coast. The conversation, largely on social media, has since shifted to the BA “harboring” racist breweries in its member base and has carried on for at least a couple of months, with some attention being paid to Michigan’s Founders Brewing Company, an associate BA member, and others.


Earlier this month, Kale Johnson, the CEO of Minneapolis-based 56 Brewing, resigned from his post after allegations that he tied a rope to look like a noose and waived it at a Black employee and said, “come here boy,” according to Growler. The other owners of 56 Brewing are reportedly working to divest Johnson of his stake in the business. 56 Brewing is a BA member.

Last October, Founders and a former employee, Tracy Evans, reached a settlement in the racial discrimination lawsuit against the Grand Rapids, Michigan-based craft brewery. Evans, who is black, filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against Founders in August 2018, alleging that the craft brewery tolerated a “racist internal corporate culture.”

Founders falls outside of the BA’s definition of a small and independent craft brewery, as Spanish brewing manufacturer Mahou San Miguel owns a majority stake in the business.

In his email, Pease wrote that the BA has completed a draft of updated bylaws that would include the ability to remove a member brewery from the organization. The draft of the bylaws will be circulated to BA voting members in the next week for feedback during a 20-day comment period.

The BA is also drafting language for a member code of conduct, as well as a complaint and review process that will be reviewed by “an ad-hoc group of board and committee members.” Those documents are expected to be shared with members in the coming month, Pease wrote.

In addition to reviewing the conduct of its members, the BA is taking a look at itself and must hold itself “to a higher standard,” Pease wrote.

The organization’s diversity committee is creating an “equity scorecard” to benchmark the BA’s progress and “guide decision-making with regard to recruitment and hiring, organizational climate, communications, supplier diversity, programming, and more.” The diversity committee has also been building a mentoring program for the last year.

“This program will aim to bring a new and diverse group of people into the craft beer community by pairing them with a mentor in the industry and supporting them with a curriculum that will help prepare them for a career in craft beer,” he wrote. “Although we know that we have much more work to do, we hope these steps will promote positive change in making the Brewers Association and the craft brewing community a more inclusive and respectful environment. We deeply appreciate your membership, your support, your feedback, and your patience as we work through these steps toward positive action, together.”

In seemingly related news, Brewers Association diversity ambassador Dr. J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham noted on social media that the BA is accepting nominations for its board of directors.

“Historically, in order to run for the board, you needed to have previously served on a BA committee or been an officer in a state guild,” Jackson-Beckham wrote. “This prereq is being WAIVED and nominations are being extended by one week.

“I have written and deleted about 17 extensions of this thread. But I’m going to keep it simple. If you want to see change in the association, step up.”

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