Queer in Beer – a Q&A with Carissa Sweigart, Leader of DE&I at Boston Beer Company

Pride Month is upon us, and as we prepare for Queer in Beer – our 3rd panel in the Crafting Conversations series – we wanted to sit down with the Moderator, and our Leader of DE&I, Carissa Sweigart to discuss the significance of the month, her take on Pride, and a sneak peak into the theme of of the Queer in Beer panel, airing live during our Out at Angel City celebration on Saturday June 26th.

What does Pride month mean to you and what are some of your favorite Pride Month moments and memories? 

To me, Pride month is about commemorating and celebrating LGBTQA+ activism and culture through the years. It is about teaching our daughter the importance of the trials and tribulations the community has gone through, and understanding that there is still work to be done. This year, we plan to participate in COVID-safe events like Pride Night at the Boston Red Sox, as well as the Pride Nature walk with Plymouth Pride and Mass Audubon Society. 

Wow, thinking about Pride is so different for me now as a parent.  I would have to say 2015 pride in St Louis with our daughter Gwendolyn.  This was my wife and I’s first pride celebration as parents, and it was very emotional to see how we came full circle as a couple, and how our daughter would grow up and have this wonderful space to see other families like hers all celebrating together. 

What most excites you about the third panel in the “Crafting Conversations” series? 

First and foremost, I want to recognize the Angel City team and all of the wonderful panelists who have created this wonderful safe and inclusive space.  These conversations are instrumental in helping to create positive change within our communities and industry.  Now more than ever, we need visibility and vocalization. The most exciting thing about this panel is learning how others like me have gotten into the craft beer space, and sharing advice on how we can continue to grow LGBTQ+ presence within our industry, and not just as servers or bartenders, but as brewer owners, brewers, drinkers, etc.  

Tell us about your exciting new role as Leader of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Boston Beer Company.

This role has really brought me full circle to the amazing 16-year career I have had in this industry.  It is hard to articulate the emotion and gratitude I have for our organization and our coworkers to see value and a need for such a focus, and to have faith in my ability to help guide our organization and make an impact on our retailers, wholesalers and industry.   

DE&I cannot be something that an organization puts to the side, or makes optional and my priority is to ensure it is embedded in everything we do. What is so exciting about this is that I literally touch every aspect of our business and get to work with coworkers, retailer, wholesaler, non-profits and others daily.  My day is never specific to one area or one audience which is what I thrive on. 

Why is it important to engage in dialogue around DE&I with our coworkers and community? 

A core component of our values is embracing a culture that allows our coworkers to actively participate in difficult discourse. Allowing these dialogues to exist ensures that our coworkers hold each other accountable and that we work together to provide actionable solutions that affect all of us. 

What is the significance of creating safe spaces for discussion for specific communities within craft beer? How might our community benefit from tuning into panels that each focus on different perspectives and experiences? 

The significance of creating safe spaces for specific communities within craft is that it provides a break from judgement and having to explain yourself.  We are seeing some of the vitriol that is directed at underrepresented groups within the craft community, and it is sad. We need to continue to provide these focused discussions as in my opinion it allows allies to fully understand the weight of certain communities and gives them a deeper sense of purpose to assist. 

What’s one thing you’d like to see change within our industry? 

I would like to see more collaboration between breweries, trade associations and wholesalers to develop actionable programming and policies to make our industry equitable, inclusive and diverse. It benefits all of us when we collectively harness our creativity and resources to ensure the continued existence of our drinkers and our businesses.   

How do you self-care after addressing difficult situations within your role? What keeps you encouraged and your heart full? 

This work is heavy, and most often you feel like you are not making a difference.  I saw a wonderful quote from a DE&I leader that said “to be a practitioner of DE&I is to be in service of marginalized communities.” It is important to recognize that you need space to reflect and unload the weight you carry at the end of each day and allow yourself the time needed to do so. Early morning workouts, meditation, consistent connection with my peers and time with my family are core pieces of my self-care.   

The number of allies within our organization that continue to come together to challenge the status quo and knock down doors. We have always been a company that has had the ability to overcome obstacles and defy odds and this is no different. It is our people which has always been our most important ingredient. 

What are some best practices you can pass on for those wanting to engage in allyship? 

A common phrase for those of us in the DE&I space is allyship is not a noun, it is a verb. It requires intentional and consistent action. Some of the best practices we have seen from allies is the ability to first and foremost be willing to listen, ask questions, get educated, get involved, show up, and be ok being uncomfortable.