By Jim Cyphert
WARREN – The craft beer industry has always been centered on inclusion and new experiences. Now, a movement is well under way to strengthen diversity within the industry.
As the first Black female professional brewer in Ohio, Youngstown’s Hannah Ferguson is front and center in this movement, becoming a leader in the Mahoning Valley.
Ferguson is assistant brewer at Modern Methods Brewing, downtown Warren’s first brewery since the 1880s. The brewery opened in April 2018 and Ferguson was hired that August.
She has visions of making a mark on the craft brewing industry as well as within the Black community.
“Many people of color haven’t been exposed to beer that actually tastes good,” Ferguson says. “I want to help change that. And not many people of color work in the brewing industry. I hope to expose people to things that are a little different than what they expect.”
According to the Brewers Association, a trade group that represents the nation’s independent breweries, Black people make up less than one 1% of brewers in the United States. They comprise about 13% of the population.
Ferguson checked with Mary MacDonald, executive director of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association, about whether there are any other Black female professional brewers in Ohio. The association, which represents Ohio’s independent craft breweries, had no record of any.
Breweries large and small, including Modern Methods, are not only encouraging diversity but also helping to make it happen.
Ferguson’s interest in fermentation was piqued as she watched – and helped – her stepmother’s cousins make wine at home. Her interest in beer grew when she learned about, and toured, the new brewery coming to Warren – Modern Methods.
She began to help out on Modern Methods’ brew days. Then, a great opportunity presented itself when the brewery’s previous assistant brewer left the area.
Ferguson’s hard work and determination made her a natural fit.
Brew days can begin as early as 6:30 a.m. Ferguson handles the grueling work of cleaning, hauling bags of malt, shoveling spent grain – and whatever else might be needed.
Ferguson grew up in Youngstown and graduated from Chaney High School. She earned a baccalaureate in sports management from Kent State University and an MBA from Keller Graduate School of Management in Orlando, Fla.
Although Ferguson got her professional start in craft beer, she has an ambition to open her own small craft cidery and winery in Youngstown.
Pictured: Hannah Ferguson is the assistant brewer at Modern Methods Brewing in downtown Warren.