The beer industry is increasingly becoming more diverse as more entrepreneurs establish brands dedicated to cultivating space for Black people and other people of color to talk about their love of the beverage. Anheuser-Busch is the world’s largest beer company in the world compromising notable names including Budweiser and Bud Light. Now the company is making moves to diversify its workforce and making history by appointing its first Black female brewmaster.
Natalie Johnson made history recently when she became the first Black female brewmaster for the beer giant. In a Q&A with BLACK ENTERPRISE, Johnson discusses how she became interested in beer brewing, entering the market as a STEM graduate, and promoting diversity within the beer industry.
BE: How did you get your start in brewing beer?
Johnson: Being from St. Louis, the Anheuser-Busch name and its ties within the community are known by everyone! The summer prior to starting college, where I knew I would pursue a degree in the sciences, I was fortunate enough to get an internship at Anheuser-Busch through Inroads.
With this internship, I became immersed in the brewing process by working in the lab, analyzing raw materials that would be sent to the breweries, and providing data to the brewmasters that would be used to make brewing quality decisions. At the conclusion of the internship, I was invited back, and it wasn’t until the following summer that I really started envisioning myself as a part of the larger brewing process and seeing it as a potential career path.
How did you get started working with Anheuser-Busch?
Immediately after high school, I was offered a position at Anheuser-Busch as an intern. At the time, I was looking for lab experience before going to college and the internship allowed me to see the immense amount of data and detail that goes into the brewing process. After graduating from college, I was fortunate to receive an offer from Anheuser-Busch and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to re-join the team in the innovation brewery where I learned about the brewing process and how to conduct my own analysis.
What were some of your challenges entering this field as a woman and a minority? How was that experience?
The lack of diversity in brewing isn’t something new. Through the internship program, I first participated in out of high school, I was introduced to the brewing industry and shown early on that this was a potential career path. Not many students of color see this as a pathway for themselves.
Our goal with the UNCF Budweiser Natalie Johnson Scholarship is to create more opportunities for students of color, working on a degree in STEM, to not only complete their major but also provide a new career trajectory they can pursue, further leading to greater diversity within the brewing industry. With this scholarship, we aim to not only continue working on D&I practices at Anheuser-Busch but also encourage others within the industry to take action.
What is something people don’t realize when it comes to the art of brewing beer?
What many don’t expect is that the brewing process is an extremely precise balance of science and art. As a brewmaster, we ensure consistency across every brewery when executing new recipes, and make appropriate adjustments to ensure that no matter where consumers are drinking our beer, the taste is the same. My role as Brewing Director of North America allows me to touch all breweries in my zone and help them stay consistent and work through any overarching issues.
What advice do you have for other Black women who are interested in the industry?
I am honored to share my experience and continue forging a path for young Black students, showing them that a career in the brewing industry is possible. There is still much to do, and I am immensely proud to be at a company that places such a strong emphasis on D&I initiatives and continues to work with organizations, such as UNCF, to bring about change. My advice to other Black women interested in the brewing industry is to pursue it!…your contributions are needed. Look for and seize opportunities to learn and be exposed to all aspects of the industry, then follow your passion.