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Out for a (craft) beer

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A NYCCBL Spring meet-up

If you’ve ever gone to a craft beer event, you’ve surely noticed the partygoers are predominantly male. A certain group of beer geeks likes that just fine: Meet the New York City Gay Craft Beer Lovers.

The story of the New York City Gay Craft Beer Lovers begins with Bill Thomas, who was hanging with friends one night at Therapy, a gay lounge in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen. The crowd was attractive, the music was upbeat, and the alcohol was flowing, but Bill wasn’t having a good time. As with many gay bars, Therapy’s main imbibing options seemed to be neon green cocktails like the ones Bill’s friends were ordering, some wine, and a few mundane bottles. Bill prefers craft beer, though. Tired of his complaining, his friends told him to do something about it. So he did.

The next morning, Bill went on Meetup.com and created the New York City Gay Craft Beer Lovers, figuring that if gay bars refused to have a good beer selection, then he would start bringing a good selection of gays to beer bars. At the time, Bill didn’t have any gay friends who liked craft beer, but he was certain there were other men just like him.

Bill scheduled the group’s first event at Buschenschank, a German-inspired rathskeller in Brooklyn, opting for the location because it was just down the street from his Carroll Gardens apartment. He figured, If no one shows up, I can just have one drink and head home. He shouldn’t have worried; five men came to that meet-up. One week later, seven men showed up to the group’s second event at New York Beer Company in midtown Manhattan. Two years and more than 100 events later, on March 29, several hundred gay craft beer lovers showed up to the group’s anniversary party at Draught 55.

Ed Mangis was one of them. Ed had always found himself a bit of an outlier in the gay community. He watches NFL games on Sundays, plays in a flag football league, and prefers craft beer; he was thrilled to discover this crew.

Bill Thomas

Chris Haines is another group regular who had long grown tired of loud bars and having to resort to meeting other gay men through apps like Grindr and Scruff. Now in his fifties, he much prefers pleasant conversation over a few IPAs. “I love craft beer, but none of my gay friends do; only the straight guys I’m friends with,” he says. “It never occurred to me there would be enough guys like me to start a club.”

What club members like Ed, Chris and the other 543 gay men (and counting!) like about the group is how laid-back it is. Bill makes it clear this is not a dating group, but a place where craft beer lovers who just so happen to be gay can interact with each other.

Still, some gay men didn’t quite understand why I was so interested in writing about them. As we sipped on pints of Bear Republic Racer 5, I explained the premise of my assignment to Jonathan Davis. He was incredulous anyone would care to read such a thing, dismissively waving his arm toward the rest of the group. “Why would you want to write about us? Look around… it’s boring.”

He was kind of right. It was boring; just your typical group of beer lovers sipping on high-hopped ales and one-upping each other with tasting notes. But that was exactly why I had become intrigued with this group in the first place after inadvertently stumbling on one of their events months back.

There, at Top Hops on the Lower East Side, I found myself sharing a pricey bottle of Founders Mango Magnifico with some new friends as we excitedly discussed upcoming releases from Firestone Walker and Goose Island, and boasted about our ever-growing beer cellars. I wouldn’t have known I was drinking with a gay beer club if I hadn’t casually mentioned my girlfriend.

After being introduced around, it dawned on me that gay men are simply not part of the conversation in the craft beer community. Are there gay brewery owners? I assume so. Gay brewmasters? Of course. What about gay craft beer drinkers? I honestly hadn’t thought about it until I found myself at that Top Hops meet-up.

You might say it’s refreshing how little the craft beer community thinks about the sexuality of its participants. In another way, though, it’s a little sad that craft beer events are often male-dominated, and they’re usually a certain kind of male. You can picture him, or you might be him: white, bearded, a little extra belly fat crammed into an obscure brewery T-shirt. Everyone recognizes the craft beer community appears to sorely lack in both women and minorities (though that’s changing), but I’m not sure we’ve dug deep enough to know and even welcome a more diverse beer-curious community into the fray. It would be to everyone’s benefit—especially those who make beer.

Bill knows in the grand scheme of things, the gay community faces bigger issues than not having a robust saison selection at its bars. But he notes with a smile, “If any marketing person looked at the demographics of my group”—professional men in their 30s and 40s, the majority with no children, most with a large discretionary income—“they’d be crawling all over themselves to sell beer to us.” •

PLUS: Hillcrest: Brewing proud

On the opposite coast, located next door to the iconic Pride Flag in San Diego’s gay-friendly Hillcrest neighborhood, Hillcrest Brewing is a hub for SoCal’s LGBT craft beer community. While its tagline, “The World’s First Gay Brewery,” carries the weight of a cultural milestone, its beer names—Banana Hammock Scotch ale, Perle Necklace pale ale—are playfully provocative. “As soon as we opened, the LGBT and straight communities embraced [our] concept and made it a place of their own,” says general manager Joey Arruda. “It’s become a gathering place where you can meet your life-long friends, or make new ones.”

 

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