His book is called This Ain’t The Beer That You’re Used To, but Dom “Doochie” Cook is also not the beer writer that you’re used to. I’ve read a lot of beer books, and I’ve never seen proper beer and food pairing described as “like Jadakiss and Styles P going back and forth on a Swizz track in the early 2000s.” Cook and his Beer Kulture collective have set out to change the way urban black America thinks about beer, and vice versa. They’re out to deliver a wake-up call.
Growing up in the Soundview neighborhood of the Bronx, Cook writes that and his friends thought beer meant 40s of Colt 45, Olde English, and 211—and skunky Heinekens once he got older. Then, in 2011, Cook had his first Guinness stout. He describes the experience in his book with the earnestness of a religious convert, and details how a single beer revelation encouraged him to reconsider the beverage as a whole. If you remember the first time you heard your favorite album, Cook’s experience will ring true. It’s what I enjoyed most reading his book: the familiar jolt of discovery, the possibility of a once-foreign world unfolding before you. It’s infectious. It makes you want a beer.
Now, Cook is a certified Cicerone and beer judge, and he’s out to spread the good news. He wants to share the message of “good beer for all” with black drinkers who have been ignored by craft breweries, even as the industry tries to go mainstream. While some within the craft beer establishment have embraced Cook and Beer Kulture’s message—I saw him speak on a panel with New Belgium cofounder Kim Jordan last year, about as close to craft beer royalty as you can get—he says there’s so much that needs to change.
I reached Cook by phone to discuss his book, his message, and how diversity in beer can be do more than pay lip service.
[This Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.]
The Takeout: What is Beer Kulture?
DC: It’s basically a movement. An easy way to look at it is as a lifestyle brand, but it’s just the movement of the culture, of our culture and beer intertwining.
TO: Let’s start off with a big question. What are the barriers to entry for black people getting into beer?
I would probably say the biggest barriers are prejudice and stereotypes. Those are the main ones for me because everything else stems out of those.
From the consumer aspect, it’s definitely stereotypes [about beer] and lack of knowledge, lack of information. The stereotypes are not true to beer overall but it’s true to what we know about beer, what’s put into our areas, what we’re exposed to, what we see. Don’t nobody know nothing else. Most of the beer we have access to is not good. It’s made well, from a technical standpoint, but it’s not good flavor-wise so the stereotype is that that’s what beer is.
TO: Then from the beer side, what do you see as putting up those barriers?
DC: Prejudices and stereotypes, definitely. Most of your craft—and I hate using that word—but craft beer companies aren’t thinking about reaching out to minorities, and it’s not just black people. We’re from New York where whether you’re black or Latino, we’re one; the culture is bigger than just black people. But breweries, they’re not thinking about reaching out to new demographics of people. I’ve had endless debates because I hear comments like “They wont like the beer, they can’t afford the beer.” Those all stem from prejudice and stereotypes.
Even when you have black people who are into beer, however they came across it, when they make a concerted effort to work in the industry, they’ve got to go through a lot because of prejudices and stereotypes. Everything all stems from those.
TO: What made you want to write a book, rather than say, hosting a podcast or some other form of getting the information out there?
DC: Writing comes natural to me. I could tell people, if I’m doing an event where I’m exposing people to beer, I could say “Hey, I have a podcast.” But it’s a totally different feeling to say “Hey, I’ve got a book right here that you can read, that you can hold.” Podcasts is cool but that’s nothing like somebody having an actual book as they’re starting on their journey, that they can carry with them, they can go back to, pass along to someone else.
TO: You’ve been marketing your book differently than the usual beer-book press circuit with book signings and brewery events. Why?
Cook: I can’t, you know? A lot of other people, especially in the beer world who put books out, they’re not putting books out independently. They have machines behind them to be able to do it. I just have to do everything makeshift. It’s crazy because that in and of itself is just something that people within our culture just have grew up having to rely on. We just have to do shit makeshift, get out in the mud and hustle for it.
It shouldn’t be like that but sadly that’s just a part of normal life to us. So we just get it how we live, so to say. Whether that’s going into mom-and-pop stores and asking them to selling it or standing on the side of the street and talking to everybody that walks by. So it’s just the hustle.
TO: How has the mainstream beer world reacted to your book and your voice?
Cook: 98, 99% of everything that I’ve seen or read or been told has been positive. I would assume that if people are being 100 then they do enjoy it. I haven’t heard much negativity about it.
TO: It seems like the beer world has taken some steps recently to at least admitting diversity is something it could improve on and saying it will be a priority. Do you feel like those efforts—from the Brewers Association, from the media—are working?
Cook: No. Because we can say anything is a priority. I see that there are certain efforts that people are beginning to engage in, but sometimes it’s too little too late. Not to say that it won’t affect change but when I say too little too late, it should have been going on before now.
Acknowledging it is one thing, actually putting your feet on the ground and making it a priority is another thing. Like I said, people are engaging in stuff but overall it’s still not a priority, it’s just a little side project.
A lot of times with things whether it’s politics or whatever, we’ve got new laws in place that are very fucking detrimental, people don’t got time to sit and wait for that shit to be reversed or change. Action needs to be swift and immediate, that’s the thing.
TO: Where do you draw inspiration from, in terms of what you’re doing?
Cook: It’s sad to say that most of it doesn’t come from the beer industry.
I know that there are people in the beer industry, I know people personally, who have beer-industry heroes. But it’s telling that we could come into this industry and we can’t have someone that we look up to, whether they look like us or not. Representation does matter, so it is important to have people that look like you so you can aspire to follow in their footsteps in some kind of way. It sucks that’s not the case in the beer industry.
TO: There are a few black individuals in the beer industry and I’m curious to hear how you feel about like your relationship with them or how they’ve responded to what you’re doing.
Cook: When you say black people in the beer industry, like who?
TO: Like [Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster] Garrett Oliver, [Brewers Association diversity ambassador] Dr. J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham…
Cook: First and foremost when it comes to both of them, I definitely respect their wealth of knowledge. That’s totally respected. I don’t know Garrett. I know Dr. J and Dr. J is cool people. As far as the work that she’s doing with the B.A., it’s different than what we’re doing with Beer Kulture.
When it comes to looking up to people, like Garrett Oliver, I respect his knowledge. But when I look at someone who looks like me, I want to see, what have you did for other people that look like you, right? Your brew chain, what does it look like, is it a bunch of white dudes? You’re part owner of a brewery, you know? What have you done in the community as far as, with the position you had?
I can respect the person’s body of work highly, you know what I’m saying? But that’s not going to just make me aspire to be like them. These are the things that I look for, especially when I’m looking at people who look like me, who have positions, who have power, who have authority.
TO: What would you like to see change?
Cook: Everything. Lots of things I’d like to see change. I’d like to see more diversity, and I’m talking about all ethnicities and genders or non-genders, talking about seeing real diversity behind the bar, in the brewhouse, on the consumer side of the bar, at the grocery store buying beer, as [brewery] sales reps. That’s one huge thing I want to see change.
Coupled with that because they go hand-in-hand, I want to see the way that the industry reaches out to people of different ethnicities and backgrounds change. I want to see that.
As far as beer itself, I want to see the fucked-up view on education change. I know there’s a low barrier for certain people to get into this industry but it’s not that way for all. I want to see people who have got education, whether that’s though technical brewing schools or Cicerone or whatever, I want to see people take that more serious.
This Ain’t The Beer That You’re Used To is available via Beer Kulture’s website.