By Day Bracey
Pittsburgh Current Craft Beer Writer
Aug 30, 330 p.m.: I’m in Warren, Ohio. I only come to this state for booze and sometimes to buy cheap cars. The cop pulled me over for doing 30mph in a 20mph zone. He apparently didn’t see the large truck I was driving behind, or else he would be writing two tickets. I just hope they use this speed trap money to fix the roads. In reality, it’ll likely be spent on disproportionately policing people of color.
Aug 30, 4 p.m.: After a few U turns and couple trips to a Burger King parking lot, I find Modern Methods tucked away in an artsy, dead-end alley dedicated to Dave Grohl. I’m here to meet with brewer Hannah Ferguson, one of only three employed black female brewers I’ve ever met, a real unicorn in this industry. I order a flight and hit record.
Me: How did you get into brewing?
HF: It’s only been about a year. My background is in home winemaking. I’ve been making wine for six years now. My stepmom has some cousins and they’ve been doing it for 30 years. So, once I started drinking wine and tried theirs, I was like, “This is way better than store bought!” After living in Orlando for a little bit, I moved back home and asked them to teach me how to do it, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Me: How did you go from wine to beer?
HF: I started drinking beer in college. It was college beer, so not really the same. The first craft beer, if you can call it craft, was Blue Moon. Then someone introduced me to Great Lakes and I was like, “Ok, let me try it.” A couple of them were like eh, I wasn’t too impressed. Then I tried their Christmas ale and was like, “What is this? This is great!” After that I started following different craft beers.
Me: So, How’d you get into brewing here?
HF: So, we’ve only been open here for a little over a year. This was a vacant warehouse. While they were doing construction in here, I was in a leadership program with the owner’s wife. When we did retreats, I would bring wine and she would bring beer. I was like, “This is really good!” So, one day I met her husband and he talked about beer, I talked about wine, and he was like, “If you ever want to come down for a brew day and just hang out, you’re more than welcome to come.” So, I came a couple of times and brewed with them when they did double batches. And I was like, “This is actually cool.” There are some similarities to wine, but you’re actually cooking this. It’s like a giant stove. Wine just sits there. I just have to make sure it doesn’t get above 70 degrees and nothing gets in there.
Me: So, how do we get more Black people involved in the industry?
HF: I think with me being from Youngstown, people are seeing me brew beer via social media and asking questions. And when I go to places, I would bring my own wine and now I bring beer. I’m like, “Try this. Get over what you think beer is. Try this and tell me what you think.” And now people are asking for it. I had a woman stop me one time and say, “I want to try Hannah beer!” I told her I just brew here. It’s none of my own recipes. She said, “I don’t care. I just want what you’ve made.” I think as people start seeing more of us doing it they will become more interested. We as an industry need to go out of our comfort zone to reach people. When events are posted, I need to be there with a jockey box.
Aug 30, 8 p.m.: I stopped in Mercer, PA to get gas. As I pull out, the police officer parked in the lot pulls out as well. As soon as I hit the highway he turns his lights on. Apparently, my tints are cause enough to warrant the stop. After 30 minutes, a background check, and three sobriety tests later, I’m free to go with a warning, and a reminder of why Blacks rarely venture outside of their comfort zones for craft beer.