Ohio’s first black woman named a professional brewer sees need for beer culture inclusion

Hannah Ferguson believes the craft beer industry is struggling to market to various communities. In order to bridge the gap between minority communities and the craft beer industry, she was instrumental in developing Black and Brew Youngstown.

[EDITOR’S NOTE — Each week, this feature section, “Movers and Makers,” will feature the stories of the movers, launchers, entrepreneurs and makers who contribute to the vitality of the Mahoning Valley. This section is supported by our first community partner, Farmers National Bank.]

YOUNGSTOWN – Hannah Ferguson, 38, was born and raised on the South Side of Youngstown. She got her first entry into the craft beer industry three years ago.

She is now the Brewing Assistant at Modern Methods Brewing Co. and the first black woman to be named a professional brewer in Ohio.

Ferguson is a self-described “house wine and winemaker”, which initially sparked her interest in beer production. When Modern Methods Brewing Co. started in 2018, founder Adam Keck invited Ferguson to help out at the brewery a few times. Little did Ferguson know that their curiosity would lead to a career.

The former Modern Methods brewing assistant reached out to her with a job offer and she accepted with no professional brewing background, Ferguson said.

“I just said ‘yes’. I was working elsewhere at the time and just thought, ‘I definitely want to do this,’ ”she said.

“My plan for the past four or five years has been to open my own cider house and winery,” she added. “Then beer just fell in.”

While using the skills she learned from making cider and wine, Ferguson said that brewing beer “takes more science and math” and calculates the process “minute by minute.”

The process begins by mashing a combination of grain and water. The mash is transferred to a boiling kettle and cooked to 210 degrees. Ferguson said the type of beer determines how long the cooking process takes. After that, she fills the mixture into fermenters and adds yeast so that the fermentation process can begin.

In total, the brewing process can take six to eight hours. Although brewing beer is a fixed process, the amount of beer brewed depends on supply and demand, according to Ferguson.

“We usually try to brew between two and three days a week. Then we also have our production days where we can and draw beer, and some days we have a cleaning day where we take all the beer out of the fermenters, ”she said.

Ferguson said while she didn’t expect to be the first black woman to be named a professional brewer in Ohio, the lack of diversity in the industry was “not surprising,” she said.

“There aren’t as many women brewers in general as there are in the whole country,” she said. “If you then only take these numbers for women and narrow them down to women with color, it’s even less.”

Ferguson told Mahoning Matters that she asked the executive director of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association if there were any other black women in Ohio who are professional brewers. The club couldn’t find anyone, which Ferguson made the first.

“This is an industry that generally does not have many minorities in or work. But it’s cool to be the first, and I’ve already said I definitely don’t want to be the last. I just hope people can see that this is something they can do. If I can do it at 38, anyone can, ”she said.

Ferguson speculates that the shortage of black female brewers might be because it is a labor-intensive job. “We tend to get this stereotype that, you know, just leaves the heavy lifting to the men,” she said.

“But this is an industry that has grown and developed over the years. So you see more and more women playing different roles and things in the industry, which is definitely a plus for us. But even here there is still room for women to grow as brewers and in other positions in craft beer, ”she added.

Last year, the New York Times reported that blacks “make up less than 1 percent of brewers,” according to a survey by the Brewers Association. Ferguson said in her experience, craft beer is typically inaccessible to communities with a high black population.

Additionally, Ferguson believes the craft beer industry is struggling to market to various communities.

“When you look at things like alcohol and wine, it’s easier [to market to minorities]. It is [easier to have]like a rapper promoting your alcohol or something. But it seems to be more difficult in the beer industry, ”she said.

“I grew up thinking that beer was bad and it’s just based on what we saw or even tried when we grew up. But guess what? Even today, if you go to a grocery store on the south side of Youngstown, those stores don’t have any craft beers, ”she added.

To bridge the gap between minority communities and the craft beer industry, Ferguson was instrumental in developing Black and Brew Youngstown, an organization dedicated to promoting the diversity of craft beer culture.

“The whole intent is to promote craft beer diversity and to educate the colored and the breweries we visit,” she said.

“You never go into a brewery and see more than a handful of colored people at the same time. It’s very rare, ”added Ferguson. “When people see 20 or 30 men and women, colored people in a brewery, enjoying craft beer and having a good time, that helps.”

Although the COVID-19 pandemic stopped the Black and Brew events in 2020, Ferguson encourages readers to check out the Facebook page for future events in 2021.

On Friday, Modern Methods Brewing Co. served Black is Beautiful, an imperial stout from Weather Souled Brewing in Texas. Ferguson said she saw the brew on social media and had unwavering support from Modern Methods to run it at her brewery.

Modern Methods personalizes the imperial stout by adding strawberry and cocoa nibs, she said.

“All of our earnings [from sales of the stout] will go to a nonprofit called United Returning Citizens. Her goal is to bring ex-criminals back into society, “she said. “We definitely wanted to show our support in the movement.”

“It feels great to be part of something that I thought was very important, and it feels good to know that it wasn’t just important to me – it was important to the Modern Methods family in general” , added her.

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