Brazilian Women in Beer Recap: What we learned
Diversity, Beer, and True Inclusion
by Kerri Brown
There’s no lack of spectacle around Brazil. Whether we are conscious of it or not, the United States has a fascination around, if not an affinity for, the second most populous country in the Americas. It’s one of the other countries in the Americas that’s nearly continental in size and whose complexity lies in its vast diversity of people and histories. The metaphor of a “melting pot” is commonly applied to Brazil’s population just as it is in the United States, but the country has a similar history of racism, sexism, and colonialism that has led to stark social inequality.
Brazil hasn’t traditionally been considered a global beer hub, but the country has an important place in the industry internationally. Brazilian Carlos Brito had been the CEO of multinational Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV for 15 years, a tenure that included the merging of InBev (already a merger of Brazilian brewer AmBev and Belgian brewer Interbrew) and American brewer Anheuser-Busch, and its later acquisition of South African brewer SABMiller. AmBev alone continues to be a regional powerhouse, with operations in 18 countries throughout the Western Hemisphere.
Brazil’s global importance in beer goes beyond its corporate deals. Although Brazil doesn’t have one of the highest per capita consumptions of beer, as a nation it consumed the third highest number of liters of beer after the United States and China in 2019, and it represents 6.6% of the global market share of the beer industry. In 2020, there were 1,383 registered breweries in Brazil (compared to just 114 in 2010), with that number steadily growing.
So when BIFE got the chance to host its first virtual international event with Brazilian women in the beer industry, we jumped on the opportunity. We wanted to go beyond the face of Brazilian beer (which is, perhaps unsurprisingly, white and male) and highlight some of the ways that women are pushing the industry and overall community forward. We also felt that it was important to highlight a country that is bustling with innovation, but overshadowed by countries and regions whose craft beer scenes receive more attention, such as the United States and Europe. After all, when we talk about diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice, we are also talking about issues of language, access, decolonization, and solidarity.
We invited a panel of three women from two regions in Brazil to share their experiences in the craft beer industry and community: Madu Victorino, beer sommelier, pharmacist, and one of the founders of the group Pretas Cervejeiras in Rio de Janeiro, a collective that focuses on creating a safe community for Black women to enjoy beer; Bruna Borges, journalist, economist, and member of the all-women brewing and tasting group Lupulindas da Amazônia in Belém; and Jessica Leitão, architect and cofounder of Cevejaria Uriboca, a brewery located in Belém.
What resulted was a lively conversation with guests from both Brazil and the United States. Madu, Bruna, and Jessica painted a radically different picture of the Brazilian beer industry than what numbers may suggest, describing a community based in education, solidarity, and Brazil’s Indigenous and African roots, and above all, led by women.
All three panelists emphasized the need to change the face of beer in Brazil, which in essence means making it look more like the majority of the country’s population. Jessica explained, “I believe that here in Belem, there’s still an elitist market and it’s majority male. In Brazil we have 1% of people that consume craft beer, and since the beginning, when I started Cervejaria Uriboca, we always wanted to win over that other 99%. We never focused on craft beer drinkers.”
Here are some of the lessons that we learned:
Lesson 1: Racism and Sexism in Beer Are Global
That racial and gender discrimination is present around the world is perhaps not shocking to any of us, but the extent of that discrimination bears repeating. Despite the multitude of organizations pushing for inclusion, despite how strong local, national, and global social movements have become, and despite how much we know about the history of beer stemming from the very people that the industry excludes today, discrimination in craft beer is devastatingly widespread and we still have a long way to go.
We heard echoes of the same discriminatory scenarios that we hear often in the United States, including hostility towards even seeing women working in craft beer spaces. As Jessica mentioned, “Sometimes I, as a female owner of a brewery, am viewed with mistrust.”
This hostility extended beyond just breweries and bars, and into spaces of professional development. Bruna recounted how Lupulindas was received by Brazil’s national professional brewing association, ABRACERVA, in a news publication: “When we started to make noise, we started to make people uncomfortable. The national cerva association said ‘who are these girls who think they can brew?’” Today, one of Lupulindas’ members is part of the leadership team of Acerva Paraense, the state of Pará’s professional craft beer organization.
This violence is of course generalized, with sexual assault and harassment being rampant towards women in bars, restaurants, and clubs across Brazil. Several Brazilian states and cities, such as Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba, and the state of Pará, have passed laws that require employees to intervene when they see or suspect situations of sexual violence.
Yet still, on-the-ground work is needed to educate bar and restaurant workers on how to identify and take appropriate steps to prevent violent situations. Jessica pointed out the need for providing consulting services for bars throughout Belém focused on creating safe spaces for women, similar to the Safe Bars initiative in the United States.
Madu explained how Black Brazilian women in particular, who make up nearly 28% of the national population, experience both racism and sexism in the industry, highlighting the need for more targeted conversations around discrimination. “We’re seeing an increase in women in the craft beer world, but the proportion of Black women is very small. Part of the problem is entering into the educational part of craft beer. Access is very limited, the costs are high, the information is expensive, and many times we just don’t have access.”
The experiences and perspectives shared by our panel remind us that these forms of discrimination and violence need to be tackled as the global issues that they are, and not in isolation. By doing so, we have the opportunity to share strategies for changing current structures that allow for such discrimination, as well as strategies for building entirely new structures.
Our panelists discussed various programs and projects in Brazil that have been established to combat discrimination in the beer industry, many of which rely on a national network of women in beer. Chiara Barros, beer sommelier and owner of the beer educational institute and consulting firm Instituto Ceres, has worked with both Pretas Cervejeiras and Lupulindas to provide scholarships and education specifically to women. Madu has also been an advocate of making beer education more public through Pretas Cervejeiras, as well as through her most recent contribution in the Guide to Beer Sommelieria (Guia da Sommelieria de Cervejas), the first book published in Portuguese to focus on the topic.
The combination of legal advocacy, expanding educational opportunities, strengthening grassroots organizations, and participation in professional organizations makes these networks of women in the industry particularly powerful and pertinent.
Lesson 2: We Need to Discuss Cultural Imperialism
Ah, the huge red, white, and blue elephant in the room. The Brazilian craft beer market has, over the past decade or so, largely followed North American marketing and production trends, as Madu says “because they’re in fashion.” IPAs are the most popular craft beer style in Brazil and have become increasingly ubiquitous throughout the county.
That’s not to say that styles from other regions aren’t popular. Berliner weisses, goses, and stouts are also popular and continue to gain more attention in the country. However in general, Brazil’s relationship with the United States’ beer industry is notably unbalanced. Until 2017 Brazil imported 100% of its hops, 58% of which was grown in the United States by 2020.
Our panelists argued that, despite the current attention given to styles from other countries, Brazil, and more specifically Brazilian women, have much to offer the global craft beer industry. Bruna stated: “Brazil truly has biodiversity. Our culture, our creativity, I believe, has a lot to add to the craft beer market. Principally women. I believe that women are much stronger, much braver, resistant, more organized, to do this in a way that’s lighter and more interesting.”
It was also clear from our panelists’ comments that a true history of beer, starting with Indigenous peoples whose ancestral lands are what is now considered “Brazil,” has yet to be truly explored in the country.
Madu explained that “Brazil has a very large tradition of fermented drinks of Indigenous origin. [We could] also look at what we make traditionally here, take that knowledge that Indigenous peoples have already been producing for a long time, [and] integrate this into our beers.”
The Amazon region, where Belém is located, has become a center for this diversity of styles and amplification of Indigenous and African traditions and knowledges. Bruna mentioned trying a gose made from tucupi, a boiled and fermented cassava juice common in the state of Pará. Other breweries in the same state, including Jessica’s Uriboca, have used regional fruits such as cupuaçu, açaí, and mango as ingredients in their brews.
The Brazilian craft beer industry is rapidly changing and beginning to invest more in local styles and raw materials. The national production of hops increased 110% in 2021, with production concentrated in the south and southeast regions of Brazil. The Catharina Sour, which originated in the southern region of Brazil, has received international attention as a uniquely Brazilian style that prioritizes using ripe, local fruits. In the coming years, the valorization of styles from other regions can open the door to a more diversified market and the inclusion of various social groups throughout the country.
Lesson 3: The Devil is in the Logistics
That brings us to our last lesson from our Brazilian Women in Beer event. Underlying many of the issues and concerns discussed by our panelists are grossly unequal market conditions that favor producers and distributors in certain regions. Related to the issue of heavy importation of raw materials, a lack of logistical and transportation infrastructure prevents smaller producers and collectives from participating fully in the national and international industry and can weaken local innovation.
Madu reminded us that “Brazil is a country of continental proportions,” and that logistics are a very real concern for brewers who want to distribute their beers safely and consistently, as well as for distributors and bars who want to be able to sell a variety of beers. To give an idea of Brazil’s size, Bruna and Jessica, who live in Belém, are just over 2,000 miles (nearly 48 hours by car) away from Madu, who lives in Rio de Janeiro.
The southeast region of Brazil (which includes Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo) and its southern region are the country’s economic centers. They also have the highest concentration of registered craft breweries. The northern region of the country (which includes Belém and Manaus) has the lowest concentration of registered craft breweries, having been economically and socially marginalized historically and often excluded from a national economic narrative of growth. It is stereotyped as being less urban and less “developed” than other parts of the country: a place to extract raw materials from, but not a place for long-term investment.
A common phrase used by online retailers is “Free shipping to all of Brazil, except the North,” Bruna mentioned. In other words, many companies find that it is too expensive and logistically complicated to send products to the North. The result is a difficulty in craft breweries obtaining basic ingredients, supplies, and equipment for craft beer production, including glass bottles, cans, and tanks.
Particularly popular throughout Brazil, and especially common in the North, are cervejarias ciganas, commercial breweries that don’t have their own production spaces, but instead use the equipment and production spaces of larger, more established breweries. There are currently over 2,000 cervejarias ciganas in Brazil (in addition to the country’s more than 1,300 registered breweries), a number that has grown more than 30% over the past few years. Cervejarias ciganas are important because they are spaces of innovation with relatively low overhead costs, and they allow local breweries to sell at local bars and restaurants without the limits of complicated logistics.
This represents a break in an industry that is characterized globally by large-scale mergers and a historical control on the production and movement of beer. On a national level, it represents an opening for groups that have been excluded to produce beer and share knowledge more horizontally.
The role of women in the craft beer industry’s growth and reorganization in Brazil cannot be understated. Our panelists are rebuilding not just the industry, but the community in a way that is collective and challenges many of the familiar hierarchies that marginalized peoples experience worldwide. There has never been a better time to learn, listen, support one another, and collaborate across borders. As Madu said: “Craft beer’s table is affective.”