A local beer advocate wants more room at the proverbial bar for underrepresented people in the beer industry. Ren Navarro is the Kitchener-based founder of Beer Diversity, where she aims to bring more diversity and inclusion to the craft beer business.
She spent years in finance until a passion for beer spurred her to pursue a career in the burgeoning world of craft beer. It all started with a part-time job in the storefront at Great Lakes Brewery in Toronto.
“It just hooked me in and I’ve been in it ever since,” Navarro said. “I tried to leave once or twice and keep running back to it. It’s one of those things where it’s like: ‘I think I’m stuck in this.’”
After working for three years in beer in Toronto, Navarro and her wife moved to Kitchener. She spent another three years in beer sales until she all but abandoned the beer industry. Navarro was ready to move on and lined up a job at Canada Post, but as she mentioned, she came running back to beer, and that's how Beer Diversity was born.
After joining a few beer talks for Queen of Craft in Guelph, Navarro headlined her first beer talk in June 2018, which to her great surprise, drew over 100 people. She knew she tapped into something special.
“I think that was the moment of: ‘Oh, people are interested,’” Navarro said. “And people don’t really know who I am, and it was that moment of: ‘I think I can keep this going.’ It just ended up being this thing that was the right time, right place, and there was a need for it and it’s been going ever since.”
Over the last two years, Navarro consulted with over 20 breweries and held countless sessions for restaurants, bars, awards shows and various businesses in the hospitality industry. She specializes in speaking about diversity and inclusion in beer, but during her sessions, Navarro emphasizes keeping people accountable, but also making the conversation approachable.
“I think people are scared about it,” Navarro said. “Talking about diversity is so heavy, and it’s always like: ‘You did this wrong, why didn’t you do it this way?’ I want to come in and be like: ‘Hey, let’s have some uncomfortable laughs about it and get people to look at things differently and create safe spaces where people can talk about it.’”
With an increased focus on diversity and inclusion, Navarro found many breweries that said “thanks, but no thanks” to her services last year were the first ones to ask for her help this year.
Navarro remarked with the increased focus on social media, breweries are becoming more cognizant of their messaging; what they’re saying and how they’re saying it. What those breweries aren’t saying or doing can also speak volumes.
“There are no real checkpoints,” Navarro said. “If a brewery is predominantly white and they’re trying to make a change, they don’t have somebody within the company to be like: ‘Hey, maybe we shouldn’t have done that. Or we should’ve researched it a bit more.’
“They come at it with the best intentions, but it’s really hard to self-regulate yourself. It’s really eye-opening for a lot of places because they also think of diversity in terms of just people of colour and black people.”
Countless breweries threw their weight behind Black Lives Matter and other anti-racism movements this year, but Navarro believes that’s the first step towards fostering an atmosphere where everyone is welcome.
She wants to see breweries not only back these initiatives from a financial standpoint, but to use their platforms to promote worthwhile causes.
“Signal boosting is great because breweries forget they have these massive platforms,” Navarro said. “And talking about those people in the community that get forgotten. Everyone’s on Instagram or Twitter, but if an important community group only has 300 followers, think of what their stretch is.
“Breweries have over 10,000 followers, so it’s like; you just talk about them. This is our favourite charity, or this is our favourite place, or these people are making great food. Use your words, use your platform.”
One big initiative in the wake of Black Lives Matter was the genesis of “Black is Beautiful”: a collaborative brewing effort stretching across 21 countries. Over 1,000 breweries committed to brew and sell the beer internationally.
Locally, Block Three Brewing, Short Finger Brewing, TWB Co-Operative Brewing and Counterpoint Brewing collaborated with Navarro to brew their own version of the stout recipe. All proceeds from the sale of Black is Beautiful in Waterloo Region support the ACB Network.
It wasn’t just a one-off for those brewers, they recently brewed a second batch and they’re barrel-aging the beer to sell next year.
Aside from brewing beer collaborations, doing beer talks, and consulting with breweries, bars and restaurants, Navarro also teamed up with two Canadian post-secondary institutions to offer scholarships for underrepresented individuals in the beer industry.
Both scholarships include money towards tuition, plus a paid internship at either Dominion City Brewing in Ottawa, or North Brewing in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Navarro finds it gratifying to impact the next generation of brewers.“Being able to partner with breweries to try to make some changes. I did the Dominion City Beer Diversity scholarship with Niagara College, and that was for underrepresented people in beer,” Navarro said. “Seeing that and seeing that it’s helped make a change in someone’s life. I’m lucky enough to be doing this again with North Brewing out of Nova Scotia. Same thing; being able to show people that we can do good things in beer.”