Sharon Ruyter and Erin McQuitty | Calgary’s Food & Hospitality Game-Changers 2024

The co-chairs and founders of Hop Forward Society are working to make Alberta’s craft beer industry more inclusive.

Erin McQuitty (left) and Sharon Ruyter. Photo by Steve Collins.

A volunteer-driven initiative started in 2021, Hop Forward Society is changing Alberta’s craft beer landscape by making it more diverse, inclusive, equitable and accessible. Founded by Sharon Ruyter and Erin McQuitty, the society was created in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement to address a desire amongst brewery owners and consumers for a more inclusive beer industry.

“I love that the industry is traditionally not stuffy,” says Ruyter. “This allows people to feel a lot less intimidated to go to breweries with friends, their kids or just themselves. That’s why it bums me out when the taprooms I visit are largely white and male, or when other Black women tell me they feel like beer isn’t for them because of things they’ve been told or the way it’s been marketed. I see the opportunity for the beer industry to attract so many more passionate and interesting people.

Ruyter’s own passion for the craft beer industry goes back a decade. “As a Black woman, it frustrates me that there are spaces that continue to be inaccessible and sometimes downright unsafe and hostile for people that look like me or have similar lived experiences,” she adds. “Being involved with Hop Forward is incredibly personal, and it’s my way of living my values out loud and declaring for myself and others that we belong in this industry.”

Every year, Hop Forward Society offers three grants to under-represented folks who identify as Black, Indigenous, racialized, 2SLGBTQIA+ and/or part of the disability community. Applicants are asked to demonstrate that their project, idea or work will have a positive impact on the industry, but there are few limits to how the funding can be used. Projects can include funding events or media to advance representation in the beer industry, or supporting upskilling and education needs. To date, the Society has funded the development and education of six individuals through its grant program.

Hop Forward also works with business owners and community members from the beer industry on events that promote education and advocacy of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility needs.

McQuitty, who’s also a co-founder of Calgary’s Born Brewing Co., has seen first-hand how Alberta breweries are willing to work to grow the industry collectively. She saw an opportunity to build on that collaborative spirit to welcome anyone wanting to partake in the beer community.

“Beer is about bringing people together and I think that the Alberta craft beer industry’s focus on collaboration lays a great foundation for change,” McQuitty says. “Our industry has the opportunity to improve representation in regard to both the consumers we are inviting into our spaces and in terms of the folks we are employing at our businesses. Hop Forward Society provides breweries with supports to get started in doing this work.”

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This article appears in the March 2024 issue of Avenue Calgary.

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