GETTING TO KNOW: REN NAVARRO
INTERVIEW BY GUEST CONTRIBUTOR JONATHON BARRABALL
REN NAVARRO, CO-FOUNDER OF THE SOCIETY OF BEER DRINKING LADIES AND ALL AROUND BEER GURU KNOWN AND LOVED BY JUST ABOUT EVERYONE WHO HAS EVER WORKED IN THE ONTARIO CRAFT BEER INDUSTRY, RECENTLY JOINED BEER AFICIONADO JONATHON BARRABALL TO DISCUSS HER LATEST PROJECT – BEER.DIVERSITY. – THE SUBJECT OF REN’S MANY RECENT PUBLIC PRESENTATIONS ON AND IN VARIOUS MEDIA, FROM RADIO AND TELEVISION TO PODCASTS AND MAGAZINES. HERE’S WHAT SHE HAD TO SAY:
JB: WHAT IS THIS UNDERTAKING YOU CALL BEER.DIVERSITY.? AND WHAT ARE WE TO MAKE OF THOSE PERIODS/DOTS IN THE TITLE YOU’VE GIVEN YOUR PROJECT? RN: Beer.Diversity. is a project I started in order to address the lack of diversity in the craft beer industry. The periods definitely serve a purpose, as they help highlight the project’s two objectives. I want to talk about beer, I want to talk about diversity. I want to talk about the diversity of beers (the rich assortment of craft beers, with different varieties that appeal to different folks), and I want to talk about diversity (a full range of actors) in the beer industry.
JB: WHAT WAS YOUR MOTIVATION FOR STARTING BEER.DIVERSITY.? RN: Over the last six or seven years I have worked for a number of craft breweries as a sales rep. At the beginning, I realized that I was the ‘unicorn’ of craft beer – a black gay female slinging beers in a predominately white male industry. I thought that things might change, but after all these years I am still one of the only black women in craft beer. Being a co-founder of the Society of Beer Drinking Ladies, and an active member of Queen of Craft, I’ve seen women take steps toward getting their deserved representation within the industry. So I’ve been thinking about a project like Beer. Diversity. for a long time. I’m hoping that Beer.Diversity. can help inspire and stimulate more representation in the craft beer world from folks of a wide range of sexual, racial, and ethnic backgrounds – and, at the same time, introduce a more diverse audience to craft beer.
JB: ARE THERE ANY BREWERIES CURRENTLY SETTING A GOOD EXAMPLE FOR SUPPORTING DIVERSITY? RN: Absolutely! There are a few places in the area that have supported diversity from the beginning. The folks at Dominion Brewing are amazing at community engagement. This year they did a collaborative brew for Pride, and an awesome spin on the ‘Buck a Beer’ campaign that supported refugees in Ottawa. For the last two years, Royal City Brewing has done a collab with The Black Heritage Society called ‘Lantern Ale.’
In both cases, the collaborations are immersive and experiential, and people are informed both about how these efforts help and where the donations go. Wellington Brewery has also always been huge on having diversity in staffing and in the charities they support. These breweries tend to fly under the radar about their contributions to diversity – and that’s kind of the point. It shouldn’t be about photo ops and grandstanding. The places that are good at promoting diversity are transparent, open, honest, and, most important of all, consistent.
JB: HOW CAN MORE CRAFT BREWERIES WORK TOWARDS FACILITATING THE SORTS OF DIVERSITY YOU’RE PROMOTING?RN: It’s all about engaging a greater range of communities. I don’t think we need to entirely re- structure the industry; we just need to create space. Imagine the brewing industry as a big family table. You’re sitting there with everyone, and it’s mainly white dudes with beards and a few women. I’m not asking anyone to get up and leave the table – there’s plenty of room. All we need to do is to open things up a little, to move over a bit so that a greater diversity of people can also pull up a chair – a greater diversity of people working in the craft, and a wider variety of folks enjoying a draft.