Ballast Point's Community Engagement Manager, Misha Collins
White dude with beards. That’s the impression most have about who works within the craft beer business, and it’s often accurate. Within San Diego and the industry at large. Statistics offered by the Brewers Association estimate some 92 percent of brewers are male, while 89 percent of brewers and 88 percent of brewery owners identify as white.
A new scholarship created by Ballast Point Brewing seeks to put a dent in at least some of those figures. The newly announced Brewing for Diversity Scholarship will cover the roughly $6200 costs of completing UC San Diego Extension Brewing Program. Over 12-18 months of night and weekend instruction, students of the program learn both the science behind brewing quality beer, and the best practices of the pro brewers who’ve mastered the craft.
A few of those same pro brewers make up much of the faculty of the program, including Ballast Point’s former brewmaster, Yuseff Cherney, who was instrumental in developing the program when it started in 2013, and remains lead instructor. In fact, despite two highly publicized changes in ownership, Ballast Point has been closely involved with the program from its outset, bringing in students for brewery tours and internships, and occasionally offering jobs.
Kyle Wiskerchen, who oversees the extension program, says that the idea for Ballast Point to create a general scholarship first came up a couple of years ago, while the brewery was still owned by multinational Constellation Brands. However, the idea ultimately fizzled out until after the beer company was purchased by Chicago area microbrewery Kings & Convicts Brewing Co., in late 2019.
When the concept re-surfaced late last spring, Wiskerchen says, it was introduced by Ballast Point employees. And they were intent that it should be a diversity scholarship, partly in response to the social justice protests that took place across the U.S.
“They definitely were persistent about reconnecting with the community,” says Wiskerchen, adding that the employees' approach to building diversity within the brewing industry was, “We need to do something, not just talk about it.”
Spearheading the action was a part-time bartender, Misha Collins, who has since been appointed the company’s full time community engagement manager. “I felt compelled to do something,” says Collins, who approached Kings and Convicts co-founder and Ballast CEO Brendon Watters. “As a woman of color, my conversation with Brendan delved deeper into the topic of how to make an impact in the areas of diversity and inclusion,” she continues, “We talked honestly about racial tension the world was experiencing in that moment and how Ballast Point could help.”
Collins adds the diversity scholarship is just a first step, and that more inclusion-oriented projects are in the works at Ballast Point.
Wiskerchen notes that the vast majority of the UC brewing program have been hired by breweries, or gone on to found their own. While the extension program has, like the industry it supports, seen majority white and male cohorts, it’s gradually become more popular among women, commuters from Mexico, and vets attending on the G.I. Bill.