Programs aim to diversify the monochromatic color of craft beer industry

(From left) Elia Smith, UCSD Extension Brewing Certificate Program Manager Kyle Wiskerchen and Chris Leguizamon.
(From left) Elia Smith, UCSD Extension Brewing Certificate Program Manager Kyle Wiskerchen and Chris Leguizamon.
(Photo courtesy of Ballast Point)

Programs like Brewing for Diversity scholarship, run and funded by Ballast Point, work to expose more people to the craft beer industry


Beer is popular from Coronado to Casablanca, from Bankers Hill to Buenos Aires. This universal beverage is enjoyed by people of all races and genders.

You wouldn’t know that, though, by looking at the people who make and consume craft beer in the U.S.

“It’s an industry that is dominated by White males between the ages of 40 and 60,” said Chris Leguizamon, 31, a San Diego Brewers Guild board member, education program manager at Pure Project and a first generation Colombian American. “You walk into a tasting room and it’s male dominant.”

Leguizamon is the current recipient of the Brewing for Diversity scholarship, a program run and funded by Ballast Point. Like Elia Smith, the 2021 scholarship winner, he is using this opportunity to complete the University of California San Diego’s brewing certificate program — and to bring new shades to the monochromatic world of craft beer.

“What an incredible industry,” said Smith, 43, a Latina who is starting an internship at Ballast Point. “I’ve just fallen in love with it.”

Craft beer may find more such impassioned converts via programs like Brewing for Diversity.

“They are becoming more and more popular, whether as internships at a brewery or as scholarships,” said Brandon Montgomery, a San Diego beer judge and creator of the Diversify Your Palate website. “A lot of people are looking to expand their clientele.”

That’s a way to strengthen the bottom line — and strengthen ties with the neighbors.

“A lot of locations where craft breweries popped up are your more dilapidated areas,” Montgomery said. “There’s an opportunity to become more involved in the neighborhoods where the breweries are located.”

While rare, the county holds several breweries run by people of color. The female-centric Mujeres Brew House holds forth in Barrio Logan. Rincon Reservation Road brewery, which has tasting rooms in Ocean Beach and Harrah’s Resort Southern California, is owned by the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians.

Efforts to broaden craft beer’s canvas have brought unexpected benefits. Smith, a member of the QUAFF homebrewing club and the Pink Boots Society, an organization for women in the brewing industry, is also active with the American Society of Brewing Chemists. Her degree in analytical chemistry equipped her to ponder brewery-specific solutions to water pollution and “spent grains,” the post-brewing leftover materials.

“I’m interested in sustainability,” she said, “all the issues we are facing right now.”

Leguizamon, whose degree is in physics, recently traveled to Denver, where he served as a judge at the nation’s most prestigious brewing competition, the Great American Beer Festival.

Gregarious by nature, he loves to introduce people to new beers, setting strangers at ease. At times, he can do this just by being himself.

One evening at a Pure Project tasting room, he was approached by a Latino customer.

“Chris,” the customer said, “I just wanted to tell you that you are really doing a great job.”