Tyler Mithuen (3rd from R) and Mai Jakubowski (2nd from R) pose with other members of Deviant Minds during a brew day at Modist Brewing Company • Photo via Deviant Minds

Deviant Minds members pose during a brew day at Modist Brewing Company. From L-R: Top–Erin Dosh, Allyson Rolph, Sarah Lee, Cesar Fernandez, Tyler Mithuen, Bottom–Lauren Miller, Mai Jakubowski, Joshua Raye • Photo via Deviant Minds

Founded by a pair of queer-identified craft beer lovers who wanted to help their industry become a more welcoming and equitable space for people like themselves, Deviant Minds is a brand new nonprofit dedicated to supporting LGBTQIA+ service industry workers in Minnesota. Fresh off of a successful collaboration brew day and accompanying beer release event with Modist Brewing, Deviant Minds is planning for a busy summer of educational opportunities for their members, collaborations with local breweries and restaurants, and event a stop at Pride Beer Dabbler 2021.

We chatted with Deviant Minds’ co-founders Tyler Mithuen (He/They–Director of Brand Development at Modist Brewing) and Mai Jakubowski (They/Them–Volunteer Coordinator at Dangerous Man Brewing Company) about their craft beer careers, Queer Fried Chicken, and why they’re so excited for Pride Dabbler this year.

Let’s start at the beginning, when did the two of you become interested in craft beer and beer culture? Was there a significant “gateway beer” that helped bring you into this world?

Tyler Mithuen: I went to a Christian college which had a very dry campus, so on my 21st birthday, I went off-campus to our local Hyvee, which was the craft beer store in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I grabbed a bomber of Double Wide from Boulevard. To start with a double IPA for my first beer was horrible [laughs]. Back then, all IPAs were super bitter, especially when you went up to double. I choked it down, though, and then from there I went back to Blue Moon and stuck with that for a while, until eventually I found my way out of it.

Mai Jakubowski: I grew up in Detroit, and I went to grad school over in Kalamazoo, home of Bell’s Brewery. Growing up in Detroit, everyone is drinking Two Hearted all of the time and Oberon Day is like a national holiday, so craft beer has always been a part of my life, but I’d always enjoyed it in the abstract until I was in grad school. There’s a brewery called One Well Brewing in Kalamazoo, and they have this jalapeño golden ale, and that changed it all for me. I was like, “Oh my gosh, craft beer is what works best with my palate, this is my favorite way to drink.” Then, I moved out to the Twin Cities, and I actually didn’t end up in craft beer until two years after moving here.

What has your career arc in craft beer been like? 

T: I moved up here to the Cities from Sioux Falls 10 years ago now, and I obviously needed a job, so I got a job at the liquor store, just a part-time thing working there and then working at Target, living with my dad and just trying to make ends meet. While working at the liquor store, I just kind of started learning things here and there. I also got discounts, which always helped to purchase stuff. I started falling in love with craft beer mainly because of the labels. They were very unique and art-focused, where wine and hard liquor are more standard, until recently. All the local breweries that were bringing beer, I got to meet all the reps. I was working at the liquor store for a long time, ended up going back to school for graphic design and worked my way through that, and then after I graduated, I started doing all of the marketing for the liquor store, doing the event posters and doing social media. Eventually, I felt like I was stuck there, so I applied for a job here at Modist. It was a sales position after I had been doing marketing for four years, so it was definitely not a good fit for me, mainly because I hate talking to people, especially cold-talking [laughs]. After my interview, one of the owners at Modist called me and said, “Hey, we’re not going to offer you the sales position, but would you be interested in doing some marketing or label work?” So I started doing that for a while, and eventually came here full time to move into this marketing role. I design the majority of the labels, and I manage any artist that we use outside of here to help with labels. I run the social media, website, email, any forward-facing marketing.

M: I applied for a job at Dangerous Man, kind of on a whim, because I really wanted to get back into the service industry. They took a chance on me, and I never looked back. This is an amazing industry, and I love being a part of it.

When I applied for a job at Dangerous Man, they weren’t actively hiring. I come from a fundraising and nonprofit background where I’ve done a little bit of everything in that world, and I’ve worked service industry jobs all throughout college, it was kind of my favorite way to connect with people. When I was in between jobs, I sent my resume over to DM because I was living right by there. I said, “I have no craft beer experience but here’s what I can do, do you guys have a need?” This was right before the pandemic, they were getting ready to open up an events space. So I was brought on to do that, knowing absolutely nothing about craft beer, beyond drinking it, and I really tried to dive headfirst. I was spending days with the brewers beyond the regular training days you get, I would spend time hanging out with the guys in packaging and jumping in and helping. It kind of just kept going from there, and then when the pandemic hit, obviously events went away, and we decided that we wouldn’t pursue that, it didn’t really make a lot of sense, so my role kind of shifted. I was really grateful that I was able to easily transition into doing packaging and communications, and then also around this time, Hilari Ziamiehr, who was running the Dangerous Man volunteer program, was getting ready to step down because she and her partner are getting ready to open up The Briar this fall. As she was transitioning into doing that full-time, she asked me if I wanted to take over the volunteer program, which I did in January of this year, and it’s been an absolute dream come true. It’s really my favorite part of the craft beer industry, it’s not even the beer itself necessarily, but the environment that it fosters, the community that it creates.

How has your LGBTQ+ identity shaped your career in craft beer? Have you faced any challenges in the workplace related to your identity? Or any moments of connection?

T: For me, when I was working at the liquor store, I wasn’t out at all. The liquor store that I was working at was in the Blaine/Anoka area, and I had always felt uncomfortable and didn’t want to ruffle feathers. I had good relationships with my coworkers, and I didn’t really want to harm that in any way. But, once I moved into the marketing role, I opened up a little more with some of my coworkers, and then like, stopped caring what people thought at that point [laughs].

When I came here [to Modist], I was met with nothing but love and support. At Pride Beer Dabbler [2019], Modist worked with queer people to make sure that the marketing for their Pride beer was on point and was as inclusive as it could be. When I was here, it was never an issue, it was like, “Okay, yeah, you’re marrying a man, great. Can we come to your wedding? Why didn’t I get an invitation?” [laughs]. With Pride stuff too, they let me take the reins on that and make the decisions. Right now we’re trying really hard to specifically hire more queer people, more BIPOC, more non-white men. So to be in a place where we’re specifically trying our best to switch the narrative, to provide the inclusivity that the beer industry fosters outside of the actual brewing industry, and try to bring that into the brewing industry. I think Dangerous Man is trying to do the exact same thing. We got lucky in finding breweries that align with who we are and our beliefs.

M: It’s so wild, most of my public-facing career has been as a lesbian. So in the nonprofit world, I’ve done a ton of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work, nonprofit organizing, this kind of stuff, always with Queer organizations. I came out at 21 and I have to do everything at 110%, it may be my biggest flaw, so it wasn’t enough to just come out, I also had to ingratiate myself into that community, to support that community, and to understand who my ancestors are, and how I can lift them up, and how I can make things better for people that come after me.

That’s part of our goal with Deviant Minds: To hold the industry accountable and also to keep our community safe, and not just safe, but thriving. – Mai Jakubowski, co-founder of Deviant Minds

Tyler’s right, we are both so lucky, Dangerous Man has always been a really supportive place. Over the pandemic, which I’m sure is similar to a lot of folks’ experiences, I have come out as trans and begun using they/them pronouns. I’m still very much at the beginning of that journey and what that looks like, so who knows, that might change the next time we talk, or it might not, but I didn’t even think twice about coming out to my coworkers. I was just talking about it at a shift, like, “I think I want to change my name,” and then immediately it was changed, on emails and on everything moving forward. Folks have been great about pronouns. Obviously, we all come from different points in our social justice journey, and I don’t want to say that people don’t mess up, people definitely do, but I think that could include ourselves too. I like to make the joke that when I first came out, I was misgendering myself all of the time. It’s nice to be in a place where, when those mistakes happen, I feel safe enough to have grace and know that the intention is not to cause harm. Not everyone can say that, not everyone has that experience. I think we’re both very unique and maybe the exceptions that prove the rule. Places that are supportive like this are few and far between in the industry, and that’s part of our goal with Deviant Minds: To hold the industry accountable and also to keep our community safe, and not just safe, but thriving. It’s not enough for us to just survive anymore. We’ve been surviving for so many fucking years, I’d like to see us thrive in this industry.

Deviant Minds brew day at Modist Brewing Company in Minneapolis • Photo via Deviant Minds

Deviant Minds brew day at Modist Brewing Company in Minneapolis • Photo via Deviant Minds

Where did the idea to create Deviant Minds come from? What are the origins of your nonprofit and what kind of work went into setting it up? 

T: The initial broad conception happened two summers ago, before COVID took over everything. Back in February 2020 I met with Nasreen Sajady of [BIPOC-focused service-industry collective] Brewing Change Collaborative because I wanted to create a Pride beer and so I wanted to try to collect a big group of queer people from the industry to come and have a brew day, similar to how Witch Hunt [Women and LGBTQ-focused craft beer nonprofit] runs theirs. So I told her my idea, maybe if it works out we’d do a collaboration thing, but just to kind of have fun and build a community of queer people in the industry because at the time, I knew of no one else who was queer in the brewing industry. So immediately she was like, “Oh, so you want to make a nonprofit!” and I was like, “Ahhh, I don’t know yet! Maybe? Let’s see if it has legs first!” Then obviously COVID came and shut that whole idea down, and so it was just sitting in the back of my brain for the past year and a half. Finally, things were starting to open up again, I met a few more people in the industry during COVID. After what happened to George Floyd and all of the protests, all of the activism that happened over the past year, I kind of fed off it, and said, “Let’s just do it.”

So I reached out to Brewing Change Collaborative [BCC] and Witch Hunt, about three months ago now. Like, “Hey, I’m trying to set up this brew day,” because at that point I was still just talking about a brew day, maybe nonprofit, but asked them to reach out to their people to put out a call for the brew day. They were both super helpful; BCC and Witch Hunt have been very supportive of this entire thing, which is great, especially while I was figuring out what I wanted to do with this whole thing. In the beginning, it was just, “let’s do a queer version of Witch Hunt.” Then I was talking to Barb at Witch Hunt and she said, “Well, that’s kind of what we’re doing already,” and I wanted it to be more than just that, so when I was talking with her, I kind of discovered that I really wanted to make it more about the full service industry and not just the beer industry. I think that could be much more impactful, because I know a lot of queer people in the current times are not necessarily fully into craft beer, or they are completely sober. So in order to really create a bustling community, I didn’t want to just push other people out, which is when I learned from Brewing Change Collaborative’s founders Nasreen and Ramsey [Louder] and Elle [Rhodes], a lot of their members aren’t part of the craft beer industry. A lot of them don’t like beer, some of them drink, some of them don’t, so I wanted to have that sort of community, because what they’ve built is a true community, a very collaborative thing, and I wanted to make that as well for the queer people in the industry. So they sent out emails to their people, and Mai was the first person who replied and wanted to be part of it!

M: Yeah, that’s kind of how I got connected, I heard about it through Brewing Change Collaborative, I’m part of that group, and immediately was like “Yes!” I share a similar sentiment with Tyler in that I knew other queer folks who worked at DM, but not really knowing a lot of folks in the industry. Also, just starting in the industry right before COVID was super difficult. So it was like, “Absolutely, please, oh my gosh, I would love to hang out with more queer people!” Tyler and I got to chatting during the brew day about building out Deviant Minds. He really wanted to hit the ground running, and I just can’t stay away from the nonprofit world, so I was like, “Please, I’m inviting myself, whatever you need.” Now I would describe us as maybe co-conspirators. I think it really is just about building a true community, and I think we’re very much at the beginning of building out this nonprofit, and what it’s going to look like. Right now, we’re two kids with big dreams.

What are your goals for the organization? Do you want Deviant Minds to be a more outwardly focused organization that advocates and raises awareness, or more inwardly focused on supporting members?

M: I totally see it as twofold. I think we have to be really intentional about fostering a sense of community where we are taking care of our own. I think that if we have a strong community, then that provides access to learning opportunities, or new jobs, that comes from building connections with other people. I don’t think you can have one without the other. I also like that we’re working together with Brewing Change and with Witch Hunt and that it’s not just necessarily all of these like, different siloed identity groups. We are all taking care of our communities in different ways, and we can work together on that, providing this holistic…I dunno, maybe utopia is too optimistic, but that is the goal! We as queer folks or folks from marginalized communities, we deserve a community within this industry.

[Businesses] might say that they’re queer-friendly, but when you’re in the space, it’s not necessarily set up that way. So we also want to help them both be queer-friendly in the physical space and in the interpersonal space. – Tyler Mithuen, co-founder of Deviant Minds

T: So the way it looks right now, just starting out, it’s brew days, it’s holding events, it’s working with restaurants to have an industry or educational night of cooking or prep work.

Right now we’re working with a Japanese restaurant to set up a sushi class, where we’ll learn how to make and roll sushi rolls, then whichever of those rolls that we all like best will go on the menu for a few months. We’ll do a little launch party for that point, and maybe do a sake pairing or something like that. So there’s still an educational aspect to that, but it will also help raise awareness.

We’re working with a few other breweries to host brew days. Like with BCC or Witch Hunt, when we work with someone, we’re vetting them. So we want to make sure that when we go into these places and partner with these companies…they might say that they’re queer-friendly, but when you’re in the space, it’s not necessarily set up that way. So we also want to help them both be queer-friendly in the physical space and in the interpersonal space.

M: A critical part of what I see for Deviant Minds is to hold the industry accountable. This is a very radical act of care, to come into these spaces and say, “You’re not gonna work with us if your environment isn’t matching up with our mission and vision, and what we see as keeping queer folks safe, or what your queer employees are telling us. We want to be able to use our privilege and education and knowledge to say, “Hey, you’re messing up, let’s get you to a place where you’re not.” Doing that work to make sure that it’s not just a brew day here or there, and that it’s really creating lasting change for folks who come after us.

Given all of the examples of trauma shared by folks from marginalized communities that have recently come to light, what does “Holding the Industry Accountable” look like for Deviant Minds?

T: That’s not an easy answer, if it was, it would be fixed by now. But it can be as simple as making a bathroom genderless and removing that stigma of someone not feeling that they belong in that space, and it can help the employees who are there.

M: We want to be proactive about it. Not specifically in craft beer, but in any service industry jobs, I’ve felt like I’ve needed to advocate for myself as a queer person. It’s really frustrating, because it brings up all of these feelings of “I don’t want to be the only queer person” or “I’m not the authority but I know that this is making me uncomfortable.” To be able to have a community behind you as you talk through microaggressions, especially in this like…it feels reductive to call it a “Me Too” moment in craft beer, but this really big shift. I’m thinking about it as a worker’s rights issue, and workers have power through narrative sharing, and through being able to have the reins on what accountability looks like in our industry. I can only speak for myself and potentially for Deviant Minds, but I think we want to make sure that queer folks are a part of this conversation…it’s almost like capitalizing on this moment of power that we as workers often don’t get to have. To be able to say, “We love this industry more than anything, and we want to be here, here’s how we’re going to make it better, and you’re going to listen to us, because we are the authorities in this situation, to an extent.” We can’t claim to speak for the whole queer community, but we can collectively say this is what’s wrong in our day-to-day work culture. Maybe it’s something that folks haven’t thought hard about, but we have to think about it. It’s all about impact versus intent, at the end of the day.

T: The industry isn’t new to sexism and misogyny, I think that has been seen and unsaid forever. In the service industry, it’s incredibly difficult to move up if you’re a woman or if you’re queer, or if you’re a person of color. Getting to be a chef in a kitchen is super difficult if you’re not a CIS straight white man. It’s about not letting this conversation die and trying to continue it. I think that’s the goal in keeping people accountable and vetting these businesses that we work with, that the conversation continues. Part of the partnership is having the conversation, as uncomfortable as it might be.

M: We’re both very much in the ideation stage still. I’m not sure if that looks like an evaluation form that we fill out or that employees fill out, or it’s more anecdotal. All TBD, but I think the core of this ultimately is that we both have so much privilege being in such great work environments that we have more capacity to be able to advocate for folks in our community who maybe don’t and to do that education work without it taking the same level of risk that you take when you don’t have a safe place to come back to in the industry.

A Crowler of Deviant Mind's first beer collaboration, Paloma Style Gose • Photo via Deviant Minds, art by Ry Makes

A Crowler of Deviant Mind’s first beer, Paloma Style Gose, made in collaboration with Modist Brewing Co. and Brewing Change Collaborative • Photo via Deviant Minds, art by Ry Macarayan

Your first event with Modist appeared to be a huge success! Can you tell us a little bit about the genesis of QFC and how that event went down? 

T: The entire thing was built on collaboration.

M: There were folks from Vikre [Distilling in Duluth], folks from Modist, all across the industry.

T: Yeah, breweries and distilleries, which was really cool to have, because that’s what we want to do, we want to move into not just beer. The beer happened with the help of Modist’s brewing team. It was all, from start to finish, queer-run and brewed, fermented, transferred, and whatnot.

The beer was based on a Paloma cocktail.

M: It’s fun, it’s summery, I think it brings together both industries that we’re comfortable with, distilling and craft beer, and we got to just be really creative. What does a salted rim look like with beer? Oh, obviously a gose!

T: I think we ended up using about 400 pounds of pink grapefruit, 50 pounds of key lime, and about 3 pounds of salt. We fermented it on 100% blue agave. We tasted the base beer after it was done fermenting and it truly had tequila notes to it, which was super crazy, and so then as soon as we added the fruit, it kind of all came together. I think it turned out great.

We had a queer artist design the label, their name is Ry Macarayan and they did an absolutely phenomenal job. We gave them the concept of heavy metal, but to flip it on its head so it’s more cute as opposed to grunge.

We’re going to be bringing that beer to Pride Beer Dabbler [on July 16], it will probably be at Modist’s tent, but we’re still figuring out details on that.

For the event itself, I didn’t know what exactly I wanted to do. I met with Julian from Blue Collar Supper Club to reach out to them to say, “Hey, you make great food, do you want to cater our event?” and they said, “Yeah, that sounds great!” So when I was talking to them, they said, “We used a burlesque show for our last Queer Soup Night, do you want us to reach out to them?” Queer Soup was fun, burlesque is cool, and I feel like it’s one of the queerest expressions of shows right now, so they put me in touch with people. I talked to them, and they kind of put the show together, which was super great. Because we were doing fried chicken, the idea was brought up to play off of KFC, so QFC was right there, why not?

M: That’s some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever had too. It was dusted with Cool Ranch Dorito dust? Oh my god!

The burlesque performers were all absolutely incredible and came together as a team. Being at that event felt very pre-pandemic, almost. It was weird in a great way [laughs].

T: It was the first event that I had been to since the things started opening again, and it was the first event that Modist had done since things had opened back up. It was the first time where masks weren’t required, so it was all wading into strange water. I wanted the event to be about giving back to the community as well.

Nasreen [Sajady’s] partner works at Oasis for Youth and previously I’d worked with Avenues for Homeless Youth in other ventures, so I’d wanted to include them, [both organizations] are helping homeless youth from finding shelter to education to transportation, and kind of whatever they need, so I wanted to build that into it because I also want Deviant Minds to be giving back to the community when it can. For all of our events, we’re going to try to have some focus on giving back to other organizations.

M: I mean, why not? It’s the right thing to do.

T: So the event went really great, everyone seemed to have a great time, and the performers loved it. Modist is talking about trying to do more burlesque shows over the summer, with BCC and Deviant minds being the benefactors of that.

M: So talk about sustained access for queer performers or performers in a queer art form. That leads to tangible change because these performers have more money in their pockets, which leads to increased access to resources, and it just snowballs. How cool that that was our first event!

T: And it kicked off Pride Month too!

What other programming and activities does Deviant Minds have in-store for the Twin Cities this summer?

M: We do have a mailing list on our website! We currently have 3 followers, and two of them are us!

T: As of right now, I think we’re going to try to keep it to one big event every month, whether it’s a brew day or beer release or restaurant night. All of those will have an educational aspect to them. We’re also going to try to get some happy-hour-type things or other social events.

M: I also want to prioritize sober hangs too, I feel like that’s a new term that I’ve been noticing. Again, there are plenty of sober people in the industry, and I would like us to be very clear that we’re here for the queer community, not necessarily just the alcohol. Alcohol can be a foundation, but we just want to make friends! [laughs].

T: Within the queer community, alcoholism is pretty difficult. A lot of people have grown out of [drinking] or realized how damaging it can be. We’re trying to make it as inclusive for people as we can be, so a lot of that means staying away from alcohol as well.

Learn more about Deviants Minds and how to get involved by visiting deviantminds.org.