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“We all belong here”: New scholarship program supports BIPOC brewers and distillers

Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery and board chair for the new Michael Jackson Foundation for Brewing & Distilling.
Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery and board chair for the new Michael Jackson Foundation for Brewing & Distilling.
Photo: Sam Tsang/South China Morning Post (Getty Images)

Few booze writers have achieved the fame or recognition of Michael James Jackson, whose name appears on more than a dozen books, in 18 languages, sold all over the world. Jackson died in 2007, but now the newly created Michael Jackson Foundation for Brewing & Distilling is honoring his famously progressive legacy by creating two scholarships specifically designed to promote and support BIPOC brewers and distillers in the United States.

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The foundation’s inaugural board chair is Brooklyn Brewery’s brewmaster, Garrett Oliver, author of The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food and editor of the 2011 volume of The Oxford Companion to Beer. In a Twitter thread announcing the formation of the foundation, Oliver, who is Black, notes that he was personally impacted by Jackson’s anti-racist legacy, writing, “Michael personally championed me; I did not get here all by myself. When people questioned my credentials, Michael personally stood them all down. Michael was not a person of color, and he was English, but he was also actively and profoundly anti-racist.”

While the foundation itself is named for Jackson, its two scholarships—one for brewing and one for distilling—are respectively named for Sir Godfrey “Geoff” Henry Oliver Palmer, a Jamaican-born author, teacher, and brewing expert who became the first Black professor in the history of Scotland, and for Nathan “Nearest” Green, an enslaved Black man now credited as being the first master distiller of the Jack Daniel’s Distillery. The scholarships will provide financial awards to their recipients and will also pair them with “an industry-specific mentor, who will provide hands-on coaching on professional development and career advancement.”

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Funds for the scholarships are currently being raised via GoFundMe, with the current total of $13,000+ accumulating in just three days. It’s a worthy cause named for three historically important people, and hopefully it will help to foster greater representation and equity within the world of beer and spirits—because as Oliver notes, “It has been estimated that 0.6% of people working in American craft beer production are black; if we look at all BIPOC, the number remains tiny.”

Jacob Dean is a food and travel writer and psychologist based in New York. He likes beer, less traveled airports, and is allergic to grasshoppers (the insect, not the mixed drink.)

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Rainbucket

Has Root covered Weathered Souls’ Black Is Beautiful beer project? Over a thousand craft breweries are making a Black-owned recipe nationwide to raise money for BLM and local organizations. And it’s really good. You can look up who’s making it near you or get the recipe yourself.