EMU professors and local entrepreneurs are teaming up to racially diversify the craft beer industry


introduction: The National Brewers Association confirms what most people already knew about the brewing industry – it is dominated by white men. The latest study found that 76 percent of brewery owners are male and 93 percent are white. But efforts are underway to diversify the market, based right here in Washtenaw County. The effort is being led by an Ann Arbor developer, an Ypsilanti entrepreneur and a pair of Eastern Michigan University scientists who are raising interest in brewing through chemistry.

Gregg Wilmes: That’s what we train students about here.

Cathy Shafran: Biochemistry and chemistry professors Cory Emal and Gregg Wilmes are eager to demonstrate what it means to have a small commercial brewery in a science building at Eastern Michigan University. When you enter their classroom on the fifth floor of the Mark Jefferson Science Complex, you are first led past a fermentation science lab filled with pots and pans for fermenting cheese and jars for pickling.

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Gregg Wilmes

Gregg Wilmes: There are some pickled vegetables left.

Cathy Shafran: Then they lead you past the kitchen set-up and down a short hall, where their tour takes you to the real showstopper: a large room equipped with a half-dozen, 7-foot-tall stainless steel cooking tanks connected by pipes. First you are passed three pans on the hot side.

Gregg Wilmes: It’s basically a huge hot water heater.

Cathy Shafran: And then, step around the corner to show you the four tanks on the cold fermentation side.

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Cory Enamel

Cory Enamel: So we can make about 100 gallons of beer at a time on this system.

Cathy Shafran: When professors organized the fermentation science program into a large program in 2017, they wanted to teach practical applications of chemistry.

Gregg Wilmes: Lactic acid fermentation, which helps in making natural pickles. There is fermentation in cheeses, alcohol fermentation.

Cathy Shafran: But what became clear as interest in their course grew was that the composition of the class was different from what they knew to be true about the nation’s brewing industry.

Cory Enamel: It’s still mostly very white and very male.

Cathy Shafran: Many of the seats in their classes are filled with women and minorities.

Cathy Shafran: Do you have influence?

Cory Enamel: It’s not completely white. It’s not just okay. We have influence.

Cathy Shafran: That’s the direction they’ve taken ever since.

Cory Enamel: Being very direct and intentional about trying to improve diversity, that’s been a big goal of ours.

Cathy Shafran: So two EMU chemistry professors were thrilled when they were contacted by a restaurateur who asked them to join a brewery school in Detroit’s rich Midtown neighborhood.

Cory Enamel: Everyone was excited from the start.

Cathy Shafran: It is planned to be among the first schools dedicated to diversifying the industry with at least 50% of applicants from the city of Detroit with a focus on training women and minorities.

Cory Enamel: We will target underrepresented groups and provide them with these opportunities. And so, we were really excited to jump in and help with that.

Jon Carlson: And we thought that the three of us together could start a program and make a difference in Michigan.

Cathy Shafran: It’s Michigan developer and restaurateur Jon Carlson. He is a partner in a number of brewpubs throughout Michigan, including Ann Arbor’s Grizzly Peak. Carlson has been looking for an opportunity to diversify into the brewing industry ever since his mixed-race daughter said she wanted to follow him into the business as a child.

Jon Carlson: And I’m like, “Hmm, I don’t think there’s anyone. And certainly not when she was little. Anyone like her in the industry.”

Cathy Shafran: And so, when Carlson began planning to move his successful Michigan brewpub business to downtown Detroit, he felt it was time to create the opportunity.

Jon Carlson: We focus on women and minorities.

Cathy Shafran: Working together with Midtown Inc. and EMU Science Fermentation professors, Carlson developed a school program at his new Nain Rouge brewery and adjacent Smith & Company restaurant. Then came the search for perspectives from underrepresented groups that could help build diversity in the industry.

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Nain Rouge Brewery

Lamont Lindsey: I noticed the ad and thought, “Geez, like, this is something I’m totally legitimately, legitimately interested in.”

Cathy Shafran: This is Lamont Lindsey. He was already active in Detroit’s redevelopment as the facilities manager for Midtown Detroit when he heard about the brewery’s training program.

Lamont Lindsey: I always knew I wanted to start a successful business. I just didn’t know what direction I really wanted to take part in.

Cathy Shafran: Industry representatives believe there are invisible barriers that may have prevented people like Lamont from getting involved in the craft beer industry.

Lamont Lindsey: As an African American, I was unfamiliar with this life.

Derrick Hudson: This is the first I’ve heard of it.

Cathy Shafran: This is Derrick Hudson. Like Lamont, he was never exposed to the craft beer industry growing up in Detroit. Derrick and Lamont became part of the first cohort at the Nain Rouge Brewery School. Its membership consisted of at least 50 percent from Detroit and minority communities. Over the course of 12 weeks, they took a deep, practical dive into the brewing industry. They studied the process together with the Nain Rouge brewmaster and the fermentation process with EMU professors. They experimented with the brewing process with different product blends and experienced unusual blends during tasting tours of other breweries in the area.

Lamont Lindsey: Once I understood the dynamics of beer, I kind of opened the floodgates.

Derrick Hudson: I appreciate it much more. And now we know how to pick out the different notes by taste testing and actually find out what makes the flavor in everything.

Cathy Shafran: Now they laugh a little when asked to think back to their old Budweiser Light and Corona beers, with lime of course.

Derrick Hudson: Yes, yes, yes. It’s a completely different experience.

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Lamontt Lindsey and Derrick Hudson study craft brewing as part of the Nain Rouge Brewery School in Midtown Detroit.

Cathy Shafran: And they began to appreciate the possibilities for expanding the brewery business in their city and neighborhood.

Derrick Hudson: Maybe opening a brewery one day might be something I actually, ah, want to invest in.

Lamont Lindsey: Detroit is the perfect place. Not only do we have, like, the best water system, but, you know, we have real Detroiters who know, who are really empathetic about, you know, things that are done locally.

Cathy Shafran: Meanwhile, an Ypsilanti entrepreneur with similar goals has embarked on a project with a different approach: taking breweries directly into historically black neighborhoods. EMU biochemistry and chemistry professors Cory Emal and Gregg Wilmes were thrilled when they were contacted by a local restaurateur who asked them to join a brewery school in Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood.

Cory Enamel: Everyone was excited from the start.

Cathy Shafran: It strives to be one of the first schools dedicated to diversifying the industry with at least 50% of applicants coming from the city of Detroit with a focus on training women and minorities.

Cory Enamel: We will target underrepresented groups and provide them with these opportunities. And so, we were really excited to jump in and help with that.

Cathy Shafran: They believe their efforts to introduce fermentation education to the first graduating cohort class at Nain Rouge Brewery in Midtown are already showing progress.

Derrick Hudson: Maybe opening a brewery one day might be something I actually, ah, want to invest in.

Cathy Shafran: It’s Derrick Hudson, again. He is convinced that building a foundation, along with a good education, gives him an advantage in a job he never considered before.

Derrick Hudson: I believe that the program will definitely raise a lot of minorities through it who would not have the opportunity to get to know the different brewery owners or management in the breweries that are in the area.

Cathy Shafran: While he supports any efforts to expand the brewer’s base, Brian Jones-Chance believes there may be a more direct route to market diversification. Jones Chance is the co-owner of 734 Brewery Company in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town. He says bringing the taproom experience to historically black, non-gentrified neighborhoods will help increase interest in the craft brewing industry on the other side of the bar.

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A developer and partner at 734 Brewing in Ypsilanti, Brian Jones-Chance intends to open Detroit’s first black-owned brewery near Livernois and McNichols later this year.

Brian Jones-Chance: We want to create a space that is clearly aimed at our target demographic with the hope that if we bring in more customers, they will become interested in the brewing industry. And, you know, we pick up a lot of our staff. That way people will start learning to distill or learn to cook. Once they are interested as a customer.

Cathy Shafran: Jones-Chance and his partners will put that theory to the test later this year when they launch Detroit’s first black-owned brewpub. It will be located in the Bagley neighborhood, near Livernois and McNichols.

Brian Jones-Chance: Creating a space that caters more directly to black people and other people of color, so that when they walk in, even if they don’t see anyone who looks like them, they feel like it’s a space for them.

Cathy Shafran: While they look at it from different angles, EMU professors and an Ypsilanti entrepreneur agree: Education will spark new, minority interest in craft beer, and ultimately the growth of breweries in non-traditional groups. Hudson and his fellow students agree.

Derrick Hudson: I believe that the program will definitely raise a lot of minorities through it who would not have the opportunity to get to know the different brewery owners or management in the breweries that are in the area.

Cathy Shafran: Because beer, as they say, knows no color.

Lamont Lindsey: The only color line is the color of the beer. There is something I think we can all appreciate. We can all come together. And really take advantage of the movement of the beer.

Cathy Shafran: Everyone agrees that there is a lot of work ahead of us to achieve significant diversification in the craft brewing industry. For his part, Jones-Chance hopes his plan will begin to come to fruition when his brewery opens in Detroit’s Bagley neighborhood later this year. Meanwhile, the Nain Rouge Brewing School will begin accepting applications for its second cohort of brewing students in July. EMU’s fermentation science professors say they hope to see some of the future graduates in their Ypsilanti classroom as they seek a future in the industry. Cathy Shafran, WEMU News.

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Nain Rouge Brewery in Detroit

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