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The local effects of craft beer’s #MeToo reckoning, six months later

Nov 18, 2021 | featured one, News | 0 comments

//Julie Rhodes, owner of Not Your Hobby Marketing Solutions, holds a Ladyhozen Pale Lager at Lady Justice Brewing in Aurora on Nov. 14. Not Your Hobby provides educational services company for members of the alcoholic and beverage industry. Photo by Karson Hallaway | karsonhallaway@gmail.com

In May of this year, the craft beer industry’s #MeToo movement exploded with a single Instagram post by Brienne Allan, now a former production manager at Notch Brewery in Salem, Massachusetts. 

While working at Notch’s new location, Allan received a series of condescending questions from construction workers about her brewing career. Allan turned to her personal Instagram account to air her frustrations. Her first Instagram story post reads, “I didn’t miss sexism! A man is literally talking to me like I’m a dog right now.” Then she posted another story with a question: What sexist comments have you experienced?

Allan’s notifications soon flooded with hundreds of responses. The first of many reads, “Me, standing on a ladder, a guy from behind the bar, ‘Watch out for that glass ceiling up there!’” 

Through 17 full Instagram story highlights, industry professionals described experiences ranging from microaggressions and insults to ongoing harassment and even rape. The posts raised an immediate nationwide awareness of craft beer’s issues with sexism and racism. Some prominent people in the industry no longer have the jobs they held last spring.

“It’s still pretty traumatic right now, just reliving basically all of these, not even just women, everyone’s trauma that has sent it to me,” Allan said during a panel discussion in July on an episode of Brewbound Frontlines. “I feel like I’m reliving all of mine and then everyone that’s reading their traumas is reliving their trauma, so I feel like we’re all just in a state of mourning.”

//The May 11 Instagram story posts from Brienne Allan sparked users to respond to her question with their experiences of sexist or racist comments and abuse they’ve faced while working in the craft brewing industry.

Colorado has the fourth-largest craft brewery industry per capita. According to the Brewers Association, as recently as 2019 craft beer was a $3.35 billion economy in the state. With such a large industry, these stories were bound to have a big impact. Denver business owners like Betsy Lay, co-founder of Lady Justice Brewing, quickly organized a group of those working in the area’s craft beer industry who were shaken by the posts. The safe space allowed participants to process the posts and recognize the ongoing issues. The meeting was so well-attended, it outgrew the capacity of its initial location at Lady Justice Brewing, moving to the People’s Building in Aurora. The group of women and nonbinary people still meet about every six weeks.  

While six months is a short timeframe to accomplish the kind of permanent change many would like, it’s enough time to gauge responses to the initial effects. It’s also enough time to see if some things have already changed.

“There [have] been times when there feels like there’s been a good progression [since May]” said Lay. “And there’s been other times when it feels like nothing has changed”.

In Allan’s own life, several big changes have happened since she helped bring the situation in the craft brewing industry to light. Initially, Allan prepared for an onslaught of legal battles from those who were publically named as abusers. The community rallied around her, raising $40,000 to help cover potential legal fees. 

Allan also amicably resigned from her position at Notch to pursue training in the human resources field and focus on Brave Noise, a collaborative beer project she established with Ash Eliot. 

Brave Noise advocates for safe spaces and inclusive environments within the brewing industry. The project asks participating breweries to create, post and abide by an inclusion-focused code of conduct that employees and patrons must follow. Breweries are also asked to donate the majority of the collaboration beer’s sales to an organization that supports the project’s mission. 

“I’m excited to see companies within and outside the industry working to make guests and employees feel heard and safe,” Allan said.

Since Allan’s posts brought attention to the issue, there has been a greater local awareness of the environments within both the taproom and back of house side of breweries. The Colorado Brewers Guild started a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee. Lay currently sits on the committee and said she and other members understand that developing a comprehensive training curriculum is a top priority. 

“This is a committee that probably would have happened at some point, but I think it came about more quickly because of the meeting last May,” Lay said. 

Lay said that the committee is also working on a code of conduct for the Brewers Guild that would serve as a model for breweries and apply to guild-produced festivals or events. 

Other organizations in Denver are also making a push for diversity, equity and inclusion in the wake of the great reckoning. Julie Rhodes, a veteran of the craft beer industry, said people are demanding more accountability. As the owner of Not Your Hobby Marketing Solutions, Rhodes said she’s seen an increase in interest from companies in developing a code of conduct for both employees and customers over the last several years. Although Allan’s posts certainly renewed the conversation, Rhodes believes these changes predate the social media storm in May.

“I think that this focus started with the nationwide #MeToo movement, and there was a little bit of a shift where people started talking about things more,” Rhodes said. “[The] George Floyd [protests were] a huge catalyst too. Many seem to be ready to start to talk about things they’re uncomfortable with.”

Rhodes also co-leads the Denver chapter of the Pink Boots Society, an international nonprofit that supports women in the brewing profession.  

“[The posts] affected the content we talk about,” Rhodes said. “Since May, we’ve had three different chapter meetings about DEI subjects, when I don’t think we’ve ever had chapter meetings about that in the past,” she said. “People seem to want more accountability with companies and even more so with festivals.”

One way the Pink Boots Society intends to hold industry professionals accountable at festivals is through their new online system for reporting harassment or discrimination. Rhodes said many people aren’t sure who to turn to in a festival scenario when they are witnesses to or a victim of harassment. Pink Boots members can now report such instances online through the website. Rhodes also mentioned that non-members can use the app #NotMe, which is supported by the Boulder-based Brewers Association, to report incidents anonymously. 

Rhodes and Lady Justice Brewing are both involved with the Safe Bars P.A.C.T. Initiative, a code of conduct for beverage and trade organizations. The initiative was put forth by Safe Bars, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that provides gender-based harassment prevention and bystander training. Through the program, companies connect with a local affiliate for certified training.

Denver’s affiliate training organization, The Blue Bench, has completed the Safe Bars training process for five metro Denver area breweries since May. The Blue Bench’s Director of Prevention and Education, Rebecca Kabacinski, said that part of the training includes recognizing that alcohol can be used by perpetrators as a tool for sexual assault.

Even with the renewed discussions and a fiercely brightened spotlight on the discrimination women face in the brewing industry, the change Allan’s posts may have kickstarted is limited compared to what many feel needs to ultimately happen. 

“There are some systems in place, and people are more aware of what’s happening, which is great,” Lay said. “But changing culture is less of a speedboat and more of a barge. It just takes time.”

 

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