Friday, September 25, 2020

Raising Voices: Amethyst Heels

Today sees the beginning of a new series of guest posts here on Fuggled, which I am calling "Raising Voices". The aim of this series is to amplify, as much as this blog can do, the voices of people in the beer world who come from communities that are under-represented in the mainstream of beer communications, such as people of colour and LGBT.

I very much believe that beer is the people's drink and as such is open to all, regardless of background. Yet, so often the voices we hear talking about beer are very much like me, white, financially middle to upper middle class, straight, and male. Being the people's drink, the beer community should be intrinsically diverse and inclusive, and such diversity reflected in the media we produce.

Today's post is by Ruvani de Silva or the Craft Beer Amethyst site, and perhaps better known by her Twitter handle "Amethyst Heels", so to avoid waffling on, I hand over to her...


When I walked into my very first Great British Beer Festival at London’s Earl’s Court back in August 2005, I (rather obviously) had no idea that fifteen years later I would be a beer writer, beer nerd, beer traveller and beer advocate. If I had known, however, I would not have been at all surprised to hear that I would be one of the only South Asian voices in the industry. 

Back in 2005 I liked beer, but was honestly a bit more of a wine gal. Walking into Earl’s Court that day, something began to change. That huge cavernous space, not a pretty events arena by anybody’s estimation, but so alive and buzzing with the hubbub of beer nerds poised over their programmes, clamouring at each of the endless progression of bars, full of questions, specifications, speaking - or so it felt – their own language. I was fascinated. I wanted to be on the inside, to learn how to navigate this enormous room full of more beer, more types of beer, more breweries than I could ever have imagined could exist in the geographical confines of Great Britain.

Unusually for a South Asian second-generation immigrant of my age, I grew up, while not exactly in the countryside, also not very far from it either. In smallish town that I hail from, cask beer was the norm, much of it brewed locally, and I’ve always enjoyed the taste of Milds and Bitters, those cheeky sips sneaked out of the top of my dad’s pint glass. Lagers were frowned upon as ‘foreign muck’ – a young person’s drink, and as a young person I was more than happy to fall into that particular stereotype, but the nuance, the variety, the excitement of cask ale, drew me back. I began to investigate cask options from pub to pub, note flavours, styles and breweries. I began to have my favourites. GBBF became a fixture in my calendar, and I began attending other CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) festivals and events around London, eventually becoming a paid-up member and volunteer. I loved the element of exploration, getting to know different styles well and becoming discerning, ie a bit of a nerd, the same way I had with wine. And yes, I liked surprising people. Bartenders, friends, colleagues, men in general and sometimes women too. No one expects the brown girl to order a pint of cask, still less do they expect her to be able to talk knowledgeably about it. Being unusual, unpredictable and informed in a world where people are constantly making assumptions about you based on how you look is fun and it’s empowering (to me at least). There’s a satisfaction, a sheer fuck-you-you-don’t-know-me at play. Yes, I do want a pint. Yes, it is for me. No, I don’t need you to steer me towards a beverage you consider more appropriate for me to drink, and please, please don’t try to tell me that I’ll find it much too bitter, or worse, too boozy. This one is a particularly fun kicker with craft beer.

So yes, craft beer. I discovered it in the corner stores of New York, chock-full of Sierra Nevada, Lagunitas and, if I was really lucky, a bit of Rogue, way back in the early 2010s. My job brought me to the US regularly, and soon every trip became a mission to try as many different beers as I could, beers that were rare, nay impossible to find in the UK but cheap as chips in the land of the free. I got into hops, the bigger, bolder, punchier the better. Boozy beer did not faze me. I dreamed of brewery selection boxes, Black IPAs, Rye IPAs, Imperial Stouts and Coffee Porters. I drank my first flights and began to seek out every American bar in London selling the stuff. Of course, as with every successful American export, we soon had our own craft beer scene in London and I jumped in head-first. As with CAMRA, I was lucky. I found a group of beer-friends where I was welcomed and accepted, and we set up beery charity events and walking tours. Yes, a few folks were a bit flummoxed to find their beer-tour guide was in fact a young-ish South Asian lady, but I considered that to be another part of their learning experience, let’s just say. Once again, knowledge can be a powerful thing. It’s much harder to reject someone’s presence when they know what they’re talking about. While I am not in any way a beer snob and I believe that everyone has the right to their own opinion and that everyone’s presence is equally valid, if you want or need to prove your worth and your place somewhere it is, undoubtedly a lot easier if you can talk the talk. I’m still very much on my own beer-education journey, and while I know a lot less than a lot of folks, I know a lot more than plenty of others too. It’s easy to believe that your opinion is worth less when folks with louder voices try to deny you your seat at the table by drowning you out, shutting you down or shaming you into thinking you don’t know enough. You don’t have to learn more, but I have found that knowledge can act like armour, can be a vital tool in pushing back, even in instances of micro-aggression. Growing up in the place and time that I did, I’m used to being the only brown girl in the room, and I’m comfortable speaking up and holding my own with a group of white men. It’s a full-time job being the person who defies social and cultural expectations on three fronts – age, gender and colour – so I’ll take and use any tools available to me.


Fast-forward to the American craft beer world of September 2020 - we’re in the middle of a pandemic but there’s another crisis affecting our industry that we’re all aware of – it’s still riddled with prejudice. Now, as a female South Asian beer writer, the divide across the industry between those pushing for change, demanding a full restructure, a revitalisation of our own, and those desperate to hold onto the keys to the kingdom feels like huge unbridgeable chasm. It’s easy to focus on the good people, the good places, the powerful voices who want to make everyone welcome. I can nestle into a space, both physically and online, where my voice is wanted and heard, where my interest and knowledge aren’t undermined and where I’m valued as a legitimate part of this industry. But the enormity of the industry space where that just isn’t the case is absolutely astonishing – the bigotry, hate, aggression and really the sheer bullshit that continues to appear on online beer forums, brewery statements, pump clips and advertising campaigns is enough to make any non white cis male shy away from the industry as a whole, never mind taking on a public, vocal role. It feels as though the ongoing pitched-battle for the heart and soul of this country taking place across our social and political landscape is being played out in miniature in our own beery backyard. We have to be prepared to argue, to fight back, to get into it even if we’re people who don’t like confrontations, even if it’s draining, depressing, potentially pointless. Because if we don’t, who will? As a British South Asian living and writing in America, I have a luxury I never had at home in that I am so unusual as to be removed from the frontlines of much of the bigoted hate and ire out there – unless, that is, I deliberately insert myself into the conversation. When I write, I try to write in a way that shows my commitment to the rights and voices of all diverse groups and the need for us to stand together with our allies, speak up for and protect one another, and fight for our place at the table. We cannot afford not to.


I love beer – writing about it, reading about it, talking about it, learning about it, sharing it, travelling for it, and most of all drinking it. I feel that, along with my identities as a woman and a South Asian, being a beer-person, a beer nerd, a beer writer is an important part of who I am, and is something worth defending and holding on to. Like most minorities, there are times when I revel in my diversity and times when I hate it. Would it be easier or different in another industry or community? Experience has shown me that that is a definite no. There are very few culturally sanctioned public spaces for women of colour, or any other minorities for that matter, so there’s no point running away looking for somewhere easier to belong. This is an incredibly crucial time for all of us to be heard, in the beer world and the world at large, and although I don’t have a huge platform, I will continue to use my skills and experience to keep pushing for equity, diversity, inclusion and visibility for women, South Asians and all diverse groups.

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Raising Voices: Amethyst Heels

Today sees the beginning of a new series of guest posts here on Fuggled, which I am calling "Raising Voices". The aim of this seri...