The craft beer scene in Pittsburgh is exploding, but not for everyone. Despite numerous rallies, the space is still an industry of predominantly white men. Bloomfield’s Trace Brewing is committed to changing that, and much of it starts with Adam Soorma’s director of marketing and guest relations. Soorma, one of the main products of the Pittsburgh beer scene, helped shape Trace, which first opened in mid-2020 as a place to withdraw, into something completely unique in the city and region once it opened for lunch. Pittsburgh City Newspaper sat down to talk to Soorma about brewery marketing, inclusion and the future of the scene.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What made you craft beer for the first time?
In Pittsburgh you will have to move forward all the way to 2016-2017. I started as a guide with Porter, which was a small craft beer tour company with a bus. So we got a commercial driver’s license, rode a bus, conducted a beer tour from 2016 until COVID. I was also a beer columnist at Very Local, so I wrote about beer, which was cool because I covered the industry as a writer. And then I quit that job in January 2021 to help open Trace.
Where did the Guest Experience element come from before you came to Trace?
It was mostly my intuition. When I started, my job was such that two-thirds of me was marketing and one-third was a bartender, so I thought about how to sit at the crossroads of both. … I want to have enough know-how in front of the house to know, “Who are the guests? What events, DJs, food trucks? ” So, Guest Experience stuff most often throws us on social media with a query or question, most of which goes through me. And then all the programming in space. I don’t brew or drink coffee, so Guest Experience stuff, in my opinion, is an extension of the facade of the house.
What separated Trace in her first year of lunch was different than in Pittsburgh. Has this always been Trace’s plan?
Those were two things. One of them was our location. Since we are in Bloomfield, there was no other brewery here in the area. So we thought Bloomfield was right in the heart of the city and we were close to the Black community in Hill and part of the gay community that exists all over Pittsburgh, so the programming and approach to opening a counter for more communities was partly driven by our location and in part by our staff.
Katie, our general manager, came from Spirit, and no one in our house was from craft breweries. So when we heard them talk about what can attract different people, we realized that we are a brewery that loves our product, but we also have a lot of space and experience and it has had a big impact on how we we do maintenance.
Have you had people who are beer-oriented, told you they were surprised by the brewery’s offerings, or saw people who came to events with surprise to enjoy craft beer?
Definitely. For one thing, for people who see Trace’s brewery experience going forward, things like the need to restroom and be gender neutral, some haven’t felt this because they have switched to conventional breweries where it is very gender outlined. And they come for a beer and end up staying for the atmosphere, and that’s great. It was funny to watch. We will have an event like Drag Brunch and they will ask, “Oh, are we allowed to be here?” And I say, “Absolutely, we’re for everyone.”
On the other hand, we saw some of the people come specifically to the event, end up getting a beer and enjoying it. And if this is their first point of contact with the craft beer scene, we hope they will also be introduced to other breweries. And it was cool because people would say, “I don’t really like IPA,” and we could say, “It’s okay, try the season, try the camp, try the stout.”
You are obviously a rarity in the space of the “beardless white dude” on the beer stage. Have you seen how that has changed since you started?
Yes, I don’t know if we are the border, but it was funny when people came here for beer and saw another clientele, or a night when the whole house is colored people or all women, and it doesn’t always happen. And it was cool to see it spread. One of the leading voices of the beer community is Day Bracey. So he came to Trace and gives us feedback and it was really cool to see because he will be meeting other colored people and he chooses them in Trace and that’s great because I know how he feels yourself comfortable here.
From the guests, of course, it was very cool to accept such things [the dance party] Slappers N Bangers. And the artists we hire for Live Art Night are usually color artists because we work with BOOM Concepts and Redfishbowl to help prepare this program and work with color artists.
What needs to happen for those people who want to make this a more inclusive space to take the next step?
I would say these are two things. First, if you are the owner or management and want to staff the staff, chances are you are hiring someone you know. And that’s perfectly fine, to some extent that’s how we built Trace. But it only takes a little effort. When I book vendors, when I book food trucks, the staff really helps me say, “Hey, you’re doing a good job, but you better get in touch with this black salesman, this man of color, who’s an artist.”
If you put in the extra effort or initiative, it takes time and trust because it feels a little weird when suddenly a very white brewery is doing all these black events. But if they are involved in information activities, and you are building this relationship for a sustainable cause, you need to make an effort.
Trace Brewing. 4312 Main St., Bloomfield. tracebloomfield.com