Calgary writer asks Alberta breweries to back up their Black Lives Matter commitments

Sharon Ruyter asked breweries that had posted about Black Lives Matter what specific actions they were taking to support the movement and address anti-black racism.

Sharon Ruyter asked 17 companies to share actions beyond social media

Calgary writer Sharon Ruyter asked more than a dozen Alberta breweries that had posted about the Black Lives Matter movement for their anti-racism action plans. (Sharon Ruyter and Shutterstock)

Thousands of brands around the world have released statements supporting the Black Lives Matter movement in recent weeks, but are those messages indicative of corporate efforts to address systemic racism or are they just empty words?

One Calgary writer decided to find out by taking a closer look at one of her favourite industries: craft beer.

Last month, Sharon Ruyter contacted 17 Alberta craft breweries that had either posted about Black Lives Matter or shared a black square on their social media feeds during #BlackOutTuesday, a campaign on June 2 to disrupt the work week and protest against police brutality. One of her friends contacted another brewery, bringing the total number to 18.

Ruyter asked the breweries what specific actions they were taking to support the Black Lives Matter movement and address anti-black racism.

The 16 responses she received and published in a Google Doc reveal uncertainty in the industry about how best to respond to the movement.

"What's interesting was a lot of them were being really vulnerable," Ruyter said Friday in an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.

Some brewery staff admitted they did not know what to do to support the causes they had posted about.

Haydon Dewes, a co-owner of Cabin Brewing Company in Calgary, said in his response that staff felt "somewhat weird" posting when the brewery had "never taken any specific steps as a company to address racial inequality or discrimination, when we've had plenty of opportunity to do so." 

Dewes said he was looking at charities to support but was still thinking about actions the brewery could take and welcomed Ruyter's input.

Responses like his were common. Many people said they were still thinking about what to do but thanked Ruyter for holding them accountable.

Increasing diversity and inclusion is one of Ruyter's hopes for the future of Alberta's beer industry.

"I really hope that a lot of breweries take this as an opportunity to think about what actions they can take to make their spaces more inclusive," she said.

According to the responses, some seem to be moving in that direction and supporting organizations that help Black communities.

A group of breweries in Calgary got together to hire a consultant for advice on diversifying their industry, which is dominated by white men.

Some breweries have donated hand sanitizer to local Black Lives Matter events and donated money to non-profits.

Outcast Brewing told Ruyter the company's monthly donation for June was going to a bail fund to help release Black Lives Matter protesters in the U.S. 

The Calgary brewery also signed up for the Black is Beautiful initiative, which asks breweries to develop a stout using a provided base recipe and donate 100 per cent of the beer's proceeds to local organizations that combat police brutality.

Edmonton's Alley Kat Brewing Company is also participating in the collaborative brew initiative, donating all proceeds from the beer to the University of Alberta Black Students' Association and the non-profit Action Dignity.

Ruyter said she will not be boycotting the two companies that did not respond to her messages — Legend 7 Brewing and Railyard Brewing, both in Calgary — anytime soon, but she likes to support local businesses that share her values.

"I'm definitely more motivated to go and support breweries that I believe are doing incredible work in communities because I believe in community organizations and community efforts and making whatever community you're in better," she said.