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DC Beer speaks with Beth Demmon, NAGBW Award Winner

The North American Guild of Beer Writers promotes “Beer Writing for and by Beer Writers”.

The Guild, with support from craftbeer.com, issues Diversity in Beer Writing Grants. They issued two awards this year to Cynthia R. Greenlee, Ph.D., and Beth Demmon. Demmon’s work “will report on the cross-section of enthusiasm for beer and parenthood” and given the countless hot takes available on beer twitter we figured we’d better reach out to her.

We asked Beth Demmon, who grew up in northern Virginia, about her path to beer journalism and her interest in families and breweries.

Here’s our conversation.

DCBeer: You grew up in NoVa. What was the political and beer climate like? Was your family full of beer drinkers? Wine drinkers? Southern Baptist teetotalers?

BD: I grew up in Sterling in Loudoun County, which has since re-branded itself to the much fancier-sounding “Potomac Falls.” I was raised Evangelical Christian by a mom who doesn’t drink at all and a dad who might pop a bottle of red wine or bottle of beer during Christmas dinner. Needless to say, there wasn’t much alcohol in the house growing up. As for the Evangelical upbringing, let’s just say I strongly prefer pints to pews any day of the week. (Ed. Note: Sterling now has six breweries. Beltway, Crooked Run, Rocket Frog, Sweetwater, Solace, Twinpanzee.)

The rest of my family lived, and still lives, in Southern California, and while my mom’s entire family doesn’t drink, my dad’s family is a bunch of semi-Catholics that love a good bottle of Sutter Creek white zinfandel over ice at 10 am. They’re pretty much opposites of one another, so I guess I can say that I got to see both sides of drinking culture from an early age.

I wasn’t super politically aware as a child or early teen, but my town was definitely conservative-leaning upper-middle class white suburbia with the same run-of-the-mill strip mall restaurants and generic Irish-themed bars as anywhere else. I got out of there as quickly as I could after high school and never looked back.

DCBeer: Why have the Chucky Cheeses in Fairfax and Alexandria not yet opened a brewery?

BD: Ha! I really couldn’t say. They’d probably kill it with the exhausted parents-hosting-birthday-parties crowd.

Beth Demmon and her baby…at a brewery!

DCBeer: What is your favorite “kids in breweries” hot take?

BD: There is no good “hot take” about kids in breweries. You’re either a decent human being who understands that living in society means interacting with people of all ages, behaviors, upbringings, beliefs, etc., and sometimes that means tolerating something outside your unrealistic cookie-cutter fantasy or you’re an insufferable, selfish person who should live in a bubble rather than try to curate every experience to their own ideal taste.

DCBeer: In your experience, how do breweries and parents handle older children?

BD: Breweries, or any business for that matter, are well within their rights as private institutions to set forth any rules they see fit. If you want to bar anyone under the age of 21, great! If you want to find a middle ground along the lines of “Children under the age of 13 accompanied by an adult are welcome,” superb! It’s asking a lot for beertenders and brewery employees to serve customers, ensure responsible consumption, handle money, keep things clean, and worry about if some dumb adult is sharing their pint with their “very mature” 19-year old. It seems much harder to regulate that age between obviously too young to drink and that strange older teen time, so frankly, I feel like every brewery is going to have to figure out what works best for them based on their clientele.  

DCBeer: Do you think babies and toddlers have an easier time in taprooms or that it’s more complicated to bring 8- to 12-year old kids comparatively?

BD: I guess I touched on this a little in the previous question. It’s a toss-up. Babies are generally just little blobs sleeping in a car seat, bothering no one. Toddlers want to run around and aren’t as easily distracted by toys, coloring books, or iPads as older kids. Every kid is different, too. This is where parental responsibility and awareness comes in. I think that far too many people who tout anti-kids-in-adult-spaces rhetoric have observed one, maybe two instances of bad behavior while ignoring the countless times when children are well-behaved and quiet. Kids are going to have their moments. That’s life. A little patience and empathy go a long way.

DCBeer: In your travels abroad, have you found kids in beery place to be not as big an issue?

BD: Definitely not as much as here. Think about the history of German biergartens or laxer attitudes about drinking abroad. When we treat alcohol as this precious forbidden fruit and hide it away, of course, it’s going to generate interest. Americans tend to want to have everything their specific way and no compromise will do. Obviously, I’m not advocating for people to bring their toddlers into a dive bar, but bringing a child into a brewpub for lunch? Get over it.

DCBeer: One writer on our team believes that “in the Netherlands or Germany or Spain, or anywhere else I’ve either lived in or traveled to” it was not “as big an issue.” Do you agree? Think it’s more nuanced?

BD: I agree. It’s a mix of alcohol culture in the United States and cultural shifts that have left us, as a society, much less empathetic as a nation. We’re such a litigious culture as well that industries like the medical industry literally cannot recommend realistic, common sense guidelines for things like breastfeeding women and responsible alcohol consumption for fear of getting sued. The ends up feeding into this “all or nothing” mentality that either shames women for deigning to responsibly imbibe or guilt-trips them into complete (often unnecessary) abstinence. I could spiral out of control with my criticisms of the American medical industry as it relates to its treatment of women and women of color in particular, but I’ll resist the urge.  

DCBeer: Also per one of our writers, “when I lived in Utrecht [Netherlands], folks would bring their kids to the annual Bock Festival or wherever else, and there was never much raucous or problems… In Bilbao [Spain], I’d routinely see kids in strollers just zonked out while parents were pouring cider and eating till like midnight or 1 AM. No one seemed to really have problems with this arrangement.”

BD: Parenting in the United States means accepting the fact that you are never going to “win”. You’re never going to find the perfect culturally acceptable balance between proactively watching/engaging with your child and letting them live their own lives/make their own decisions. It’s best just to do what you think is right and be secure in the fact that 99% of people who are willing to criticize you on the Internet would never dare say anything to your face. I’m sure being anonymously judgemental about someone else’s parenting sparks joy for some people, so enjoy that slice of happiness, friend. It means nothing to me; I’m pretty confident in my decision-making.

DCBeer: Another writer wrote: “When we first moved here [DC] from Texas, back in 2002, my wife and I were shocked by how often we were told we couldn’t bring our 2-yr-old into events that had alcohol. Back in Austin, we were at live events with beer/booze every weekend, with kids running around and having fun. Point being, it’s not just USA v Europe. It’s different in different parts of the US.”

BD: There’s a difference between certain segments in the alcohol space. It’s not appropriate to demand that your child be allowed in a 21+ space as specified by the business. On the flip side, it’s totally appropriate to bring your child to an all-ages brewpub with a full menu and extensive draft list. Beer festivals are specifically designed for beer drinkers and of-age designated drivers. It’s a different situation than a privately-owned and controlled taproom, and often these festivals rely on less-trained beer pourers in a uniquely fast-paced environment. Removing any liability issue by making it a 21+ space is responsible and a totally legitimate decision. Anyone who thinks their kid(s) should be allowed absolutely anywhere, anytime, anyplace is clearly delusional and way too entitled. Parents and businesses need to compromise with common sense.

DCBeer: Can you tell the readership a bit more about your work and what you hope to accomplish with the NAGBW award? I realize the DC Beer lens is pretty narrow here so maybe we can broaden it or you can speak more comprehensively to your subject and content?

BD: I’m a San Diego-based freelance journalist and writer that specializes in covering the craft beer industry. A lot of my work tends to shine through an intersectionally feminist lens.or so I hope! I feel it’s my responsibility as a journalist to use my position to promote marginalized voices in the craft beer community by openly discussing problematic, systemic behavior in everything from gender/racial inequality to illegal/unethical business practices that have real-life ramifications. Silence is complicity and being an ally means calling out bad behavior to at least give people the opportunity to make purchasing decisions with as much context as possible.

I started writing about food and drink for fun in 2008 with my blog The Delighted Bite, but worked in restaurants and bars before that in Richmond, Virginia throughout college. (Yeahhh VCU!) I got my first regular paying gig writing about beer with San Diego CityBeat in the summer of 2015 and I’m still the weekly craft beer columnist there. I ditched my career in content marketing in March 2016 to pursue full-time freelance writing and have been doing that ever since. I have a monthly column in West Coaster Magazine that spotlights a different woman in San Diego craft beer and have contributed to BeerAdvocate, Playboy, Tales of the Cocktail, VICE Munchies (I was the first to write about glitter beer, ha!), Edible San Diego, and a bunch more. I’m currently a Recognized BJCP judge, but I just need two more experience points for my bump to Certified. Maybe in a few years, I’ll take the exam to try for National, but I’m just focusing on getting more judging experience right now (and having a freaking blast doing it).

The NAGBW grant is awarded to amplify voices in the beer community that don’t get a lot of attention, and while my topic of discussing the intersection between parenting and the alcohol industry isn’t the typical “diversity” definition that tends to come to mind, I absolutely plan to incorporate the discrepancies faced by different communities outside of my own in the piece. You’ll have to read it to find out more!

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