Beer According to Black Women, Part I: Brazil
Black Brazilian Women Claim Their Space
by Kerri Brown
I first got into beer in Brazil. And I’m not talking about craft beer. I’m talking about any kind of beer.
It’s not like I didn’t grow up around beer. I am, after all, from Texas, the state of tailgating and barbeque. My parents drank beer. My parents’ friends drank beer. My friends drank beer. In my late teens, I worked as a cashier at a specialty grocery store in Austin, where I listened to more unsolicited, impassioned lectures about craft beer than I cared to hear at that time in my life. I came of beer-drinking age in the early 2010s, as the number of breweries in the United States began to grow exponentially. I didn’t have to go far to get exposure to beer.
Yet, as so many others have pointed out, I couldn’t bring myself to get into beer, let alone craft beer, because the culture seemed antithetical to my sense of self as a Black woman. It wasn’t just that there were no other Black women, or Black people for that matter, in the spaces that most touted their beer collections. It was also the culturally-specific questions during trivia nights, what restaurants considered to be “comfort food,” music choices, neighborhood, and the competitive undertones woven into what should have been light-hearted, informative conversations.
But Brazil was different. When I arrived in Rio de Janeiro in my early 20s, I saw Black women drinking beer everywhere. Sometimes they were alone, sometimes they were dancing. Sometimes they were in groups, sitting at tables on sidewalks laughing, or having serious discussions, or simply sitting in the presence of one another. They were from a variety of backgrounds and professions. It was a love of beer without pretense.
I credit a Black physician in her 60s, whom I lived with in Rio de Janeiro, for my love of craft beer. One day she took me to Petrópolis, a historic mountain town with a strong German influence and a strong craft beer culture. We spent the next two days tasting beers and visited the Bohemia headquarters, one of the most quintessentially Brazilian breweries.
And just like that, I was hooked. I drank beer on the streets with other Black women. I drank beer in small pubs and cafés alone. I researched breweries and restaurants and became one of those obsessive beer tourists who maps out restaurants based on pairing possibilities.
But it wasn’t until the past year or so that I began to follow movements of Black women in the Brazilian craft beer community, and I quickly developed an admiration for their work. They discussed everything from mental health and literature, to professionalization and politics, treating beer as a junction of community and ideas.
It was always clear to me that there were many parallels and intersections between movements of Black women in the U.S. and in Brazil that could not be ignored, and I wanted to speak to some of the more public figures in the movement to better understand the scenario in Brazil. I reached out to two projects: Pretas Cervejeiras and Negra Cervejas Sommelier.
Pretas Cervejeiras, founded in 2018, is a collective of five Black women based in Rio de Janeiro. They organize beer outings, or rolezinhos, throughout the city with interested social media followers (who, on the collective’s Instagram, number over 7,200). Negra Cervejas Sommelier, also founded in 2018, is led by the beer sommelier Sara Araújo, a social scientist and legal advisor who lives in the state of Paraná, located in the southern region of the country. Both projects focus on beer education, politics, and Afro-Brazilian culture, all while highlighting mostly local and national breweries.
But these descriptions don’t do the women involved, or their motivations, justice. On her page, Araújo combines African Diasporic literature, social justice, food pairing, and pop culture with drinking beer. Similarly, Pretas Cervejeiras discuss social justice, entrepreneurship, and beer tourism. My conversations with them pushed me to think beyond the idea of mere “inclusion” of Black women in the craft beer community. What they advocate for is amplifying and securing the unique space that Black women already hold in the community and industry.
That’s right. We’re not actually new here.
In fact, Pretas Cervejeiras’ Madu Vitorino, a pharmacist trained in beer technology who is training to be a sommelier, explained to me that the collective organized itself after being inspired by a photo at an exhibition at the Rio de Janeiro Museum of Art of Black women samba dancers sitting at a table with dozens of beer bottles.
“If you notice our profile picture, it’s precisely a photo of the Ala das Baianas da Cidade Alta, that later became [the samba school] Império Serrano. The project is basically about continuity. I think what’s actually innovative is taking it to social media, and how we tell this history.”
Speaking about the act of Black women sitting together at a table and drinking, Vitorino says, “[It was] noticing that this was something very natural, seeing that it’s something that our elders already did and at the same time, [it’s] very innovative, since narratives involving Black women are always in a place of battle, of pain, in a place of lacking.”
Inclusion is still a concern however, especially in terms of who produces beer in Brazil. In fact, it is perhaps more evident of a concern in Brazil than in the United States, as the craft beer scene is very much white and male, but 56% of the population in Brazil self-identifies as Black. Black women are, in fact, the largest demographic group in Brazil.
Vitorino explains, “The beer industry as a whole is still quite elitist, white and masculine. Initiatives like ours seek to change this scenario, giving visibility and opening paths for black women who, with access to beer knowledge, begin to be part of the beer scene as more qualified consumers or even deepening [their] knowledge and becoming professionals in the beer market.”
Sara Araújo’s experiences shed light on Vitorino’s position. She told me that when she first began to drink craft beer, she did not see many Black women in the spaces that she frequented. She also recounted a negative experience at a beer festival that points to how English language-centrism in the beer industry can add an extra layer of discrimination.
She says, “In 2018, when participating in a beer festival, I was very mistreated during a customer service interaction when asking for a ‘pint’ of a beer. I said the name ‘wrong.’ I asked for an ‘IPA’ (India Pale Ale).”
“I did not know and was not even obligated to know that it was pronounced [I-P-A]. I was scolded by the guy who attended me, [and I] left there wanting to start anew, to be the first Black sommelier who would talk about beer from a racialized perspective, who would question this place of absence. [That] was how in May 2018 I created the page @negracervejassommelier and in December of the same year I graduated as sommelier of beer. My mission is to bring more plural women into this universe.”
2020 was a year of reckoning for the beer movement in Brazil and for, well, all of us. Conversations around racism in the beer industry and in society as a whole that shook the United States were both exported to and mirrored in Brazil.
Araújo found herself in the middle of one such national conversation in August of 2020 when a group of white brewery owners exchanged racist, sexist, and homophobic messages about her in a WhatsApp group called “Cervejeiros Illuminati.” They also questioned the legitimacy of Implicantes, a Black-owned brewery in Porto Alegre that had launched a crowdfunding campaign a month prior in order to stay in business.
In response, Araújo, took various steps to publicly expose and fight against racism in the industry. In December of 2020 Araújo organized a discussion around Black-owned breweries at Feira Preta, the largest annual event and fair highlighting Black small business owners in Latin America. Araújo, alongside Diego Dias of the brewery Implicantes, also opened the 2020 edition of the annual Beer Summit, hosted in Brazil but streamed virtually, which also featured several sessions focused on racial diversity in the industry. (Some of which are available on YouTube.)
Ultimately, several individuals and organizations in the Brazilian craft beer community denounced the attack, including the Science of Beer Institute and the Brazilian Federation of ACervAs, a national coalition of state beer associations.
However, even before the attacks on WhatsApp, Black women such as Araújo and the women of Pretas Cervejeiras had already been planning collective action around the question of racial equality in the industry.
Beginning in July 2020, Araújo, Vitorino, and other Black Brazilian professionals in the industry have taken part in the collective Afrocerva. The collective has already made an impact in the industry. It supported Araújo after the incident that she faced. Earlier this year, a few of the members served as the evaluation committee for a scholarship in support of one Black individual’s studies at the Escola Mineira de Sommelier, one of the oldest beer sommelier training programs in the country.
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Araújo, along with Black sommeliers Sulamita Theodoro and Glauco Ribeiro (who are also members of Afrocerva), formed a partnership with Cervejaria Dogma in response to the brewery’s selling of an Imperial India Black Ale called “Cafuza,” a racial term used by Spanish and Portuguese colonists to describe someone of both Indigenous and African descent. The term was often used to sexually objectify women specifically, and the beer was no different.
Dogma stated that the beer “reflect[ed] Brazilian mixing in its recipe. Just as cafuzos resulted from the mixture of Indians and blacks, our beer comes from the mixture between an Imperial India Pale Ale with dark malts from a Stout, resulting in a mixture of
aromas and flavors that feature coffee, chocolate, caramel and citrus aromas.”
The website Revista da Cerveja described the beer as an “almost legend.” It was first produced in 2012, and after much anticipation, arrived in the craft beer market in 2014. In other words, the beer went eight years without any major backlash.
About her partnership with Dogma, Araújo states, “It is a project that comes to deconstruct a whole colonialist logic that permeated the Cafuza beer label. There was a legitimate denunciation of a label that stamped the image of a woman who probably was/used to be enslaved and there was no critical information on the can. There was no reflection on the process of violence that was the enslavement of black people for almost 400 years. And right there, it is important to get dark.”
The three sommeliers worked with Cervejaria Dogma to develop a series of beers called Griot, whose labels, names, and recipes pay homage to Black intellectuals and Black thought in Brazil. The first beer in the series, Hantu, a Saison made with cajá, cashew fruit, and molasses, “pays tribute to the writer Conceição Evaristo, through the character Ponciá Vicêncio, who, courageously, breaks the myth of immobility and indolence attributed to black people. Ponciá summons us to look to the past, think about the present and fight for a future, [and] reveals all the complexity and specificities of her being, warn[ing] us that we, black people, are plural and heterogeneous and carry the strength of our ancestors.”
Araújo says that Afrocerva “aims to bring Black professionals together in the form of aquilombamento and with a main focus of promoting the training of future professionals in the beer industry.” The term aquilombamento is essential here, and both Araújo and the women of Pretas Cervejeiras used it. Throughout Brazilian history, quilombos were Black communities who fled slavery and formed networks of autonomous societies. Their descendants still exist today and by Brazilian law, are able to gain territorial rights (although in practice, structural racism often prevents this). Aquilombamento is the process of seeking and creating safe, autonomous Black spaces.
The strength of the movement of Black Brazilian women in the beer industry is exactly that, it is profoundly political, cultural, affective, and diverse. Vitorino states, “We aim to promote microrevolutions and give visibility to the stories and experiences of plural black women,” and that Pretas Cervejeiras is about “freedom, endurance, capacity, and continuity.”
Strategic networking and community-building is also crucial. “[we] have a specific policy: We choose places that are preferentially managed by Black people, are easily accessible (close to the metro), and we check to see if the place has some kind of history of violence or prejudice against minorities,” Vitorino told me.
Araújo also emphasized the importance of strategic partnerships. Referring to her partnership with Dogma, Araújo explains, “having four critical race-literate Black people leading this project was paramount. It broke with the racist logic of ‘Let’s talk about black people, without Black people.’ In this project, Black hands built a history of great power. It should be noted that throughout the process, the owners of the brewery were present at all meetings, [and] not only listened, but studied. We brought many Afrocentric references to the table.”
Something that Araújo repeatedly said has stuck with me. We have to “get dark.” The phrase could be interpreted in a variety of ways, but I see it as a kind of unapologetic delving into the realities of Blackness in a culture that would love to ignore us. For some in the industry, this is deeply uncomfortable. For others of us, it is freedom.
In the second part of this piece I’ll explore what “getting dark” might mean in the U.S. context. What kinds of spaces are Black women in the craft beer world in the States creating for themselves? And what kinds of conversations can we open across borders?
(See the complete interviews in English and Portuguese below.)
Follow Pretas Cervejeiras, Negra Cervejas Sommelier, and Afrocerva on Instagram: