Shani Glapion loves the experience of drinking beer, from the first citrusy sip of a West Coast India Pale Ale down to the conversational buzz of a brewery.
Though the 35-year-old Nashville resident is now a cicerone-certified beer server — the first step to becoming a master of beer, or master cicerone — Glapion didn’t always know so much about beer. At first, it was just a way for her to spend time with her wife. The couple started using Groupon in 2013 to find tickets to brewery tours, which quickly became a hobby of theirs.
Although going to breweries was a fun activity for the couple, there was one thing they noticed immediately: a lack of diversity. After a few visits, it became a trend for Glapion and her wife to be the only people of color in the brewery.
“I was just like ‘Man, I wish there was an opportunity where there was a group of people that could come together and have beer.’”
So, Glapion created The Black Beer Experience (BBE), a group of craft beer drinkers that get together for beer-related social events and monthly meetups in the Nashville area. The group gives Black people exposure to beer, a beverage that Glapion feels has never been appropriately marketed toward the Black community.
Research confirms her sentiment. According to an analysis by the Brewers Association, from 2015 to 2018 more than 80% of new craft beer drinkers were white.
But Glapion is determined to fix this through BBE. The organization provides a space for Black beer enthusiasts to enjoy their favorite adult beverage in a safe and comfortable environment.
“Black people are looking for that community,” Glapion explains. “If you love beer, you’ve been to a brewery; all you’re missing is some people you can relate to more.”
The BBE is an extension of who Glapion is as a person. Bringing people together and allowing them to have a good time is a passion of hers, and she considers it to be a major part of her character. For Glapion, the community she’s created is all about giving Black people the space to not only learn more about beer, but to also connect with others who understand the issues surrounding the Black community.
“The Black Beer Experience introduces people to beer, but it also gives them an opportunity to have conversations that are more meaningful and not just surface level.”
For those involved, BBE has been a game changer. Justin Singleton, a member of BBE, said that Glapion created a space in Nashville that craft beer lovers needed.
“I remember coming from a work trip in East Tennessee a few years ago, and I said to myself, ‘Man, it would be nice to see more than one Black person in a brewery.’”
Less than a week later, he found BBE and said it felt as if “some beer deity” heard his cry.
“Black Beer Experience has made it cool to nerd out about beer with people that look like myself,” he says.
Although the BBE started in 2019 as a way to give Black people a place to come together to enjoy and learn more about beer, it’s quickly grown into more than that. Through a variety of events and outreach efforts, the group also serves as a bridge to connect the Black community with the brewery world, which is dominated by white people.
According to a diversity data survey published by the Brewers Association, 88% of people who own craft breweries are white. Meanwhile, Black brewery owners make up just 1%.
The BBE stresses how important it is for the craft beer community to not only increase its diversity efforts, but to also visit and collaborate with Black people in their own spaces and neighborhoods. Glapion’s organization makes it possible for breweries to create a relationship with the Black community through its beer-focused events.
“Breweries have to come out of their comfort zone and go to spaces where Black people or different communities are that aren’t typically where brewery visitors are,” Glapion says.
During its first year, BBE’s social events focused mainly on getting members together at breweries to enjoy beer and conversation. Glapion wanted to continue those meetups during 2020 as well as host some larger events, but the pandemic forced her to pivot plans. However, Glapion is resilient — she has still managed to connect the brewery world and the Black community through smaller meetups.
One event Glapion said she’s very proud of is a tap takeover she planned between two Nashville-based businesses. Various Artists Brewing brought its beer to The Local Distro, a Black-owned grocery store and restaurant. Members of BBE and the general public attended the event, which served as a way to introduce the neighborhood to a local brewery as well as introduce the brewery’s regulars to a local Black-owned business.
Events like these are just one step toward improving the relationship between the beer world and the Black community.
Although the coronavirus pandemic has made future meetups and events uncertain, Glapion is looking forward to bringing more of the connections she’s made in the beer world to Nashville during 2021.
And she has already made a big impact. As Singleton predicts, “she will end up being the face of beer in Nashville very soon.”
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