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The Craft Beer and Brewing Industry Is Reckoning With Sexual Harassment

An Instagram account is sharing stories of sexism and abuse in the brewing industry, prompting industry figures to step down

An illustration of a spilled beer mug Lorelyn Medina/Shutterstock

Last summer, amid the social justice protests following the murder of George Floyd, the restaurant industry experienced a second wave of #MeToo reckonings driven by social media. For weeks, workers anonymously shared stories of harassment and racism with Instagram accounts that made it their mission to make abuse public. And now, nearly a year later, the same arc is playing out again, this time focused on the craft brewing industry.

VinePair reports that last week, after a day in which she was particularly frustrated by the sexist comments she got at work, Brienne Allan, production manager at Notch Brewing in Salem, Massachusetts, invited women in the industry to share their stories of sexism and harassment via her Instagram account, @ratmagnet. Hundreds of accounts poured in and Allan anonymized and shared them on her Instagram stories. They included sexist comments like the ones that prompted Allan to post, but there were also direct accusations of sexual harassment and assault as well as descriptions of deeply toxic workplaces.

The accusations, now saved in Allan’s Instagram stories and summarized in a public Google doc, have reverberated across the industry. In the week since they appeared, major breweries have issued apologies and in some cases, men named in complaints have left their positions.

Jacob McKean, founder and CEO of Modern Times Beer, which has locations across California and in Portland, Oregon, resigned. In a statement, he addressed his role in a particular incident, announced that another employee named in an accusation had been let go, and promised changes to Modern Times’s harassment reporting procedures and a renewed commitment to bystander and anti-harassment training. This came after the Modern Times staff members in Oakland announced on Instagram on Tuesday that they would be stopping work until management “acts in a way that aligns with our personal values of inclusion and equality.” (The group has yet to respond to McKean’s announcement.) Other breweries across the country announced they have terminated those mentioned in accusations.

Allan’s social media posts have also had an impact internationally. Inside Hook reports that due to multiple allegations, Søren Wagner, the founder and head brewer of Copenhagen’s Dry & Bitter Brewing Company, resigned.

The craft beer world is notoriously homogenous: A 2019 report from trade publication Brewers Association showed that just 7.5 percent of brewery employees with the title of brewer were women and 88 percent of craft brewery owners were white. And the notion that it’s difficult to be a woman working in craft beer is well established. The nonprofit organization the Pink Boots Society, with which Allan is affiliated, was formed precisely to support women in the industry, and a piece published today on Good Beer Hunting describes the constant threat women face at beer festivals and the hoops they jump through to safely navigate them.

But, the social media accusations, which detail specific and harrowing incidents, have made what was vague knowledge of an issue real and difficult to ignorable. And just as the #MeToo movement has done for restaurants previously, there’s hope that these callouts will be the thing that first removes abusive men from power and then starts a wider dialogue about how to restructure craft brewing so that it’s safe for everyone.

Making the leap to deeper industry change requires awareness and action beyond a solitary Instagram account. Allan encourages those who have experienced misconduct to report it to the Brewers Association, which has a formal complaint process for violations of its code of conduct that can result in censure or membership removal. (However, it only considers complaints of incidents that occurred after August 6, 2020, when its code of conduct, and accompanying Brewers Association Member Pledge of Conduct, was approved).

And VinePair reports that other industry individuals are taking up the mantle, suggesting the public conversation is just getting started. Over the weekend, UK-based activist group Burum Collective put out a call for those in the drinks space to meet. “Social media rewards outrage but doesn’t offer solutions to change,” the Instagram post reads, before it goes on to call for not more stories, but a meeting to discuss “how we can unite and work together to make sure these stories of sexual harassment and abusive working environments do not continue happening.”

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