Shep Jenkins and Jamaal Lemon, Pt I
Shep Jenkins, high school teacher, Alexandria, VA
Jamaal Lemon, Atlas Brew Works Tap Room Beer Guide, Silver Spring, MD
Help the Pour podcasters, World of Beer 2016 interns, and bloggers at The Wayfarer Study
How did you get into beer?
Shep: Jamaal and I went on a trip a few years ago and we decided we wanted to create a travel blog. We had two full-time jobs, so we were thinking about how we could still talk about travel. Jamaal came up with the idea to do One Beer, where we take one beer from one country and pair it up with an album. We just sit down on our couch and talk about beer and talk about music. Then we moved on and got the World of Beer Internship and started the Help the Pour podcast, it just kinda kept going. Jamaal was the one that dragged me into it. He really saw that the industry was growing and we could really make a lane for ourselves in it.
Jamaal: At the root of it, Shep and I just both want to create something. We’ve been doing this for six or seven years and still trying to find our lane, and it was in our face the entire time. Beer and music, that’s been constant since we were 16. We are trying to lead a wave around diversity and bring more people in.
Do you remember the first beer you ever had?
S: It was probably a Bud Lite.
J: Socially, the first beer I remember drinking was at a house party in high school and they had the Olde English, like the forties, I remember drinking one of those and spitting it out and pouring it out on the side to make it look like I drank a whole bunch of it.
What was the first beer that turned you on to craft beer?
S: I really don’t think it was until we started doing One Beer before I started to really dig in. There was an episode we did where we bought a beer from Japan that was brewed with red rice. That’s when I started to pay attention.
J: I really love saisons and farmhouse ales, so I would say Ommegang as a whole.
Can you share more about your experiences as black men in a mostly white dominated industry?
J: Very ironic. I work for Atlas, so I’m always doing tastings and going to festivals, and I’m probably always the only black guy there. I say ironic because – and I can only speak for myself – but never have I felt like, “oh my gosh, they are putting me to the side.” I really think it’s the culture. It’s very progressive and trying to include everybody. Sometimes I can be the only black guy there, but I’m always going to feel comfortable regardless.
S: It’s a very interesting industry because from the outside looking in, it looks very traditional white male, but there really is a movement to change that. And there is some diversity in the industry, it’s just not well known. We want to try to find a way to bring awareness of that.
J: Maybe people are a little hesitant to touch race issues, and that makes a lot of sense. At Atlas, I run the social media account, and these things can be very subtle. You don’t need to beat anybody over the head about it. Just take a picture of some black people! Take a picture of some women! As much as it is an issue in America, I really do hate having to talk about. Titles like “Black Lives Matter” really mean something, but I hate that things like that have to be said.
Are there ways that you as men try to challenge the sexism and misogyny in the industry?
J: Shameless plug, with our podcast, Help the Pour. We came up with this idea for the podcast because through the internship, we went to all these different famous breweries. Every place we went, the tours were led by women, the directors of marketing were women, all these positions of leadership were women. You have all these women in positions of leadership in the beer industry, but casually you don’t hear women say how much they love beer.
We thought it’d be pretty obvious to have a podcast about beer and only talk to black people. Us being black dispels the myth that black people don’t like beer. We know probably all we can know about being black – we need to learn something as well, so let’s talk about women. Just giving a platform for women to talk about beer and what they like and why. What are some crazy dumb shit that men say that’s just not cool?
What do you think made it possible for you to be attuned to women’s experiences in an industry that usually dismisses them?
J: Personally, Shep and I have very similar backgrounds. Being raised in single parent homes, being raised by my mom, I have like 90 million aunts. I’ve always been surrounded by all these women with very big personalities.
S: That’s a good point. We were raised by women in a community where women are prominent and respected, and they taught me all my values.
Are there other ways you think the industry could be more inclusive?
S: We talk about this a lot in our podcast, but in marketing, that’s where they need to do a better job. One of our mottos is that everywhere people are people. No matter where you go in the world, they are rooted in things they all enjoy, like music, beer -
J: And high fives. Everybody likes a high five.
S: And everybody enjoys beer, so the marketing should reflect that.
Are there beers y’all don’t drink because of the labels or the names?
J: I have noticed some sketchy sexist beer, but I drank them, I do apologize. You just see things all the time and you’re conditioned and you don’t really think about it, and then somebody who that’s offensive to is like, “yo, what the hell are you doing? You really going to support that?”
Even with the inclusion thing, as much as we want craft beer to be more diverse, we don’t want to push out the white bearded guy. We want to keep the white bearded guy, we just want to bring everyone else to the party as well. It’s a fine line you have to walk because you don’t want anybody to feel like they aren’t welcome. Everybody is pointing fingers, like, “oh these white bearded men,” and then the cool white bearded guys are like, “what the fuck?! I’m cool too, don’t do me like that!”
I feel like there is some degree in which in order for white supremacy to end and patriarchy to end, my people – white people, the white bearded guy – can’t all be in charge and be the image of the industry. I feel like it’s okay that we are pushed aside a little. No?
J: When it’s all said and done, we want everybody. I get it because historically it’s been one image. I get that, but we don’t want to kick that image in the back of the head. We also want to add to that everybody else. It’s a very difficult conversation to have, because whether you are the white bearded guy or whether you are the person of color, everyone has to be open and honest.
S: I kinda struggle with that in terms of your original question, like if there is something where I think, “nah, I’m not going to drink that.” If there was a choice where they said, “end white supremacy now: give up Chick-fil-A,” I would be like, “Oh, man, really!?” It would be difficult for me! No, honestly, even thinking about boycotting things like Chick-fil-A and the NFL, it comes down to your values, things you truly, truly believe in. Things like Colin Kaepernick, that is amazing. He’s given up everything for a greater cause. I haven’t reached that point yet, but I feel like I can get there. Our work in general, we are helping ease people into changing their views about things.