Garrett Oliver’s Big Plan to Diversify the Beer Industry

July 14, 2020

By Stephanie Gravalese, July 14, 2020

Last week, Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at The Brooklyn Brewery in Brooklyn, New York, announced the formation of the Michael Jackson Foundation for Brewing and Distilling. This fund, named after the late beer and whiskey writer Michael James Jackson, will offer BIPOC scholarship opportunities to further their education in the brewing and distilling industries, whether they are already in these spaces or who wish to join.

"Given that beer is all about community, I think that the beer community sees itself as socially forward-thinking. I think almost everyone in the beer industry believes in the importance of diversity and inclusion, just as we all hope that everyone will want to enjoy the beers we brew," Oliver says. "The same is true of the distilling industry, and anyone who knows me knows that I'm a cocktail and spirits geek too—many brewers and beer enthusiasts are. The Michael Jackson Foundation is intended to help our industries align our outreach and practices with our shared values."

The Michael Jackson Foundation scholarship awards will fund brewing and distilling educational opportunities to support the growth of BIPOC within the profession. The Sir Geoff Palmer Scholarship Award for Brewing and the Nathan Green Scholarship Award for Distilling will be disbursed directly to the respective accredited schools and training programs on behalf of awardees. Additionally, each recipient will receive mentorship from someone within the industry. This mentorship component is critical, according to Oliver on Instagram, "Barriers to success in these industries have never been solely financial. No one needs to walk this path alone."

The seed funding for the program comes from the American Institute of Wine and Food, which established the Michael Jackson Beer Education Scholarship almost 20 years ago under the leadership of Brooklyn Brewery founders Steve Hindi and Tom Potter. As the AIWF wound down, Potter tapped Oliver to administer and award the remainder of the scholarship funds and continue the original scholarship's legacy as a foundation. Oliver's wish, with support from the AIWF board, was to focus this fund on supporting groups that were least represented in the craft beer industry.

The work we do will make our industry stronger and actually help us organically expand our markets into communities with which we’ve barely interacted so far.”

While this funding and initiative existed before the pandemic, the timing was right for Oliver to be part of this initiative. "I had an ambition to make this an ongoing mission, but given my dozen-or-more international trips every year and other brewery work, the necessary focus was frankly hard to come by," Oliver says. "Now, the moment has clearly arrived to make this happen, and I look forward to seeing it become an unambiguously positive force in our allied industries."

When Oliver originally ideated the scholarships, he imagined education capacity would be a blend of online and hands-on or classroom instruction, such as the American Brewers Guild and the Master Brewers Association of the Americas (MBAA) courses. “At Brooklyn Brewery we have sponsored employees for these courses too,” Oliver said, however due the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, an increased emphasis will be placed on supporting courses of study that are both “safe and practical” as well as “represent the same value and education as they previously did.”

Donations to the foundation will go live on July 15, and Oliver says the foundation plans to do this work until the need to create equitable space in these industries is no longer necessary.  “The funding we’ll need to truly make an impact is considerable. And even though this moment, the COVID pandemic, is very tough for all of us, these allied industries are worth billions of dollars to our economy,” Oliver says. “The work we do will make our industry stronger and actually help us organically expand our markets into communities with which we’ve barely interacted so far.”

Oliver adds that this mission is "a marathon, not a sprint," so he's turning to the other members of the breweries industry to help him reach the finish line. Breweries can participate by contributing to the fund or offering mentorship to scholarship recipients. “Americans sometimes love to act as if they are ‘self-made,’ but the reality is that this is a community, and we all need each other,” Oliver said. “This is what makes our culture beautiful. Michael Jackson was one of my mentors and Sir Geoff Palmer is a mentor to me now. I did not get here by myself. The work of the Michael Jackson Foundation is to pay this all forward in a fashion that is truly meaningful to everyone involved.”

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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