A few things you should know about Eugenia Brown - first, she loves craft beer, so much so that she can convert anyone who claims to hate it. Second, she says she’s not very good at studying, but with a degree in sociology and African American studies as well a level one Cicerone certification, Ugie is modest about her many accomplishments. Last, her passion for craft beer goes beyond the pint: She loves the culture and its power to bring people together. But when Ugie realized that the industry is dominated by white men, while women of color were few and far between, she decided it was time for a new narrative.
Ugie started Beer Chick LLC with the aim to “build more bridges and less barriers.” At first, she just wanted to create a space for beer-loving women everywhere, but today, it’s evolved into so much more. For Ugie, it’s time for women, especially women of color, to stop asking for a seat at the table, so she set out to create more opportunities for them to enter the craft beer industry. We sat down with her to chat about her work, her inspirations, and her aspirations for the world of craft beer.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
TI: How did you get into beer and when did it turn into a full-on side gig?
UB: My introduction to beer was through [stuff] like malt liquor and Natty Ice. It wasn’t until college at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, which has tons of breweries, that I really got into craft beer. Post-graduation, I relocated to Charlotte and explored the city through its breweries. After a long, stressful day I would find myself at one, trying out their beers and talking to people who worked there. It kicked off my obsession: All I wanted to do was to keep learning about this world, and the Cicerone certification program felt like a great way to do that.
TI: That’s probably something not a lot of people are familiar with. Could you tell us what being a Certified Cicerone means and what that process looks like?
UB: It’s the beer equivalent of a Sommelier. People often don’t realize that such a thing exists, because we think of beer as a fun, social, and approachable thing. We don’t usually think about the craftsmanship and science involved. You have to learn how to put different elements together to get a certain style of beer or the right level of hops. Before I fully committed to the certification program, I took some classes at local breweries to understand what I was getting myself into.
I eventually registered for the level one Cicerone certification program. It’s the first of four levels and it basically makes you a certified beer server. The process took me about six months because I came with no base knowledge of beer: I didn’t understand the different styles, or the basic makeup of beer, which is your hops, malt, yeast, and water. I definitely didn’t understand any of the science and knew very little beer history. After six months of classes and studying on my own, I got my level one certification. And I’m currently preparing for my level two certification, which will probably take a bit longer because there’s just so much information. I always joke that I’m better at drinking beer than studying and memorizing texts, but thankfully, there’s a good amount of tasting involved so I get to drink a lot of beer in the name of research and development.
TI: So, what inspired you to become a Certified Cicerone?
UB: It definitely started off with me just really liking beer and wanting to learn more about it. But then the more I became aware of the craft beer industry as a whole, the more I realized that there weren’t many people that looked like me. I never really saw many people of color and definitely not a lot of women of color. I knew I wanted to change the narrative, so I became even more passionate about pursuing Cicerone.
It’s important to help people realize that white guys aren’t the only ones that drink [craft] beer. Black women drink beer, women of color drink beer. So, being a Cicerone is very personal to me: I want people to rethink what a beer drinker looks like.
Black women have been removed from the craft beer narrative altogether, even though we've been brewing beer for centuries.
TI: You mentioned that people don’t think of Black women when they think of craft beer. Why do you think that is?
UB: We’ve been removed from the [craft beer] narrative altogether. Although Black women have been brewing beer for centuries in African countries, in America we’re never part of the conversation. And I don’t think people realize that we need and want to be. I also don’t think anyone has ever asked the question “why aren’t there more women of color that work in the beer industry?” until recently, but it’s not yet there on a national level. I believe in being a part of the narrative. That’s why I do the work that I do with Beer Chick LLC.
TI: Speaking of, tell us a little bit about Beer Chick LLC.
UB: I created this persona [on Instagram] called Black Beer Chick as a way to connect with people who also like beer. I used to just post pictures for fun. But I realized that the more I engaged with the community, the more passionate I got about changing the narrative and creating a space for women, primarily women of color, in the craft beer industry.
As my community grew, I decided to launch Beer Chick LLC in April 2019 with the mission to highlight women, especially women of color in the craft beer industry. I like to separate the two because it’s really important for me to be inclusive of all people. So I tell people that I’m Black Beer Chick, but my business is Beer Chick LLC. I’m going into my second year of Beer Chick LLC and I’ve met so many incredible people. I’ve been able to use my platform to highlight so many different issues that affect women and women of color. I created #BlackGirlsDrinkBeerToo so people can see us and know that we exist. And, you know, we often call ourselves the unicorns, but we actually are.
Women are always competing for space in industries across the board. So we autopilot to that defense mechanism, even though deep down inside women do want to empower other women.
TI: Another one of your initiatives, the Road to 50, which has now evolved to the Road to 100, has received quite a lot of praise. Could you give us some background on what that is and how that came to be?
UB: I remember reading this article on tokenism and how in a lot of spaces people in power will allow that one token person in. The next day, I remember walking into work at a new job and being shocked. There was another black woman in the room with me, and up until that point, I was always used to being the only black person at that brewery, or really any bar or brewery I’ve ever worked at. I thought to myself, “Wow, this is so neat - to not be the only Black person in the room.” I went home that night and couldn’t stop thinking about that article, and how I could’ve subconsciously contributed to tokenism because I never questioned why I was the only Black person in the space, until that day.
I accepted how things were because, in a way, I was protecting my space. It was “good” that I was the only one because I didn’t have to, I guess, share the attention with someone else. But I realized very quickly that wasn’t the best way to pursue things. So I told myself that from this point on I don’t want to be the only person at the table. I want to bring other women of color to the table with me. So I dreamt up this big idea to help 50 women break into the beer industry by helping them get their level one Cicerone certification. The plan was to create and sell t-shirts, using that money to fund these certifications. The organization that runs the Cicerone program found out about my initiative and they loved it so much that they offered to match my 50 with 50 more. And so it turned into Road to 100.
TI: That’s really cool. But it’s also unfortunate that you had to feel somewhat protective of what you achieved as if your success couldn’t coexist with another Black woman’s success in the same space. It takes a second to realize that all women of color start at least 10 ft behind the starting line and it’s often even worse for Black women.
UB: Yes absolutely. That’s why I say we need to build more bridges and less barriers. We have to be willing to share our resources and information instead of being hoarders. The truth is, as women we’re always competing for space in industries across the board. So we autopilot to that defense mechanism, even though deep down women do want to empower other women.
TI: So, your love for beer is obvious and almost contagious - it feels like you could turn any beer hater into a beer lover. What do you say to people who don’t like beer?
UB: There’s a beer for everyone. People don’t realize that there are so many styles, like how there are different types of wines. It’s a matter of finding what you like. My sister did not like beer until I started dragging her around with me to breweries. Eventually, she realized that she loves sours.
So if you think you don’t like beer but you like wine, start off with sours, especially if you like ones that are a little bit fruity. And if you like things that are big and bold, maybe try a bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout. They tend to have the same boldness that you get from a cabernet. Not all beers are hop bombs, and it’s so much more than a bunch of haze bros who only drink hazy IPAs and can’t get enough of all the bitterness.
TL: Well, you’ve convinced us. What are some of your favorite Black-owned breweries?
UB: I have a handful of favorites, but I’ll give you my top three because I think all of these breweries are very intentional with their beers. They make easy to drink and approachable beers that make it accessible for Black communities to enter the world of craft beer.
Pirate Jenny DIPA From Spaceway Brewing
Spaceway is a Black women-owned brewery in North Carolina. All their beers are incredible, and their work gives me so much hope for the future of women of color in the craft beer industry. Most of their beers are influenced by Afrofuturism which imagines a future in which minorities are leading characters in pop culture. The “Pirate Jenny” DIPA, in particular, is one of my favorites because it’s super juicy, and you get tons of citrus and tropical flavors. It’s brewed with 4 different hop varieties which makes it perfect for those who love the bitterness in beer.
Harlem Renaissance Wit From Harlem Brewing
Harlem Brewing is another Black women-owned brewery started by Celeste Beatty, one of my beer idols. This one is great for those just starting to get into craft beers because it’s super easy to drink with a pretty decent ABV – 5.8%. It’s brewed with spices, lightly hopped with rich coriander, cumin, and some orange peel.
BPLB From Crown And Hops
I love their beer and their brand because they do a great job with connecting Black people in the craft beer industry. They’re kind of the new kids on the block, currently in the process of opening their new brewery in Inglewood, CA. They’ve released a few beers now and one of my favorites is their “BPLB” Black People Love Beer Hazy Double IPA. If you’re a part of the “haze craze” or just like juicy but hoppy beers, this one’s for you
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