1. Craft Beer's Future, What We Need It to Be, and the Work It Will Take to Get There

Processing and reflecting on the prolonged gut punch that has been this past week in craft beer, in which years of sexism and abuse have come to light.

Last Call for Beer’s Sexist, Unsafe, Predatory Atmosphere

CW: Sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexism.

I’ve been wanting to launch this newsletter since last year, and several weeks ago, wrote what I thought would be its inaugural issue. It was optimistic and basically the text equivalent of that smiley face emoji surrounded by hearts in regard to craft beer.

Plans change.

Many in the craft beer world, including myself, have felt devastated reading all nine of Brienne Allan’s pinned Instagram stories, titled Sexism parts one through nine, as well as the subsequent stories about how we got here by Beth Demmon for VinePair and Kate Bernot for Good Beer Hunting.

If you’ve yet to catch up, Brienne Allan is the production manager at Notch Brewing in Salem, MA and past leader of Boston’s Pink Boots Society chapter. After experiencing two incidents of sexism directed toward her immediately upon returning to work post-quarantine, Brienne took to Instagram to ask other women in beer about the kinds of sexism they face in the workplace. Brienne was presumably not prepared for the absolutely crushing tidal wave of devastating responses—who possibly could be? It’s Wednesday, May 19 today and it’s up to over 1,000 stories. They range from the kind of bullshit many women have unfortunately almost become desensitized to, like men laughing off the possibility of a woman knowing anything about beer, to horrific accounts of abuse and assault.

It’s not that anyone is shocked by the presence of sexism in beer (or any industry), which may be the most depressing part. But the sheer volume of unacceptable, frankly monstrous behavior hitting like this feels like a seismic shift has happened in this industry. Especially because “golden boys” worshipped in beer for so long like Shaun Hill are among the accused—that might be why some beer bros with prolific social media followings haven’t reacted with any sort of empathy, trust, or satisfying level of support. While there are absolutely men out there dropping what they’re doing to listen and start figuring out how they’re going to contribute to making this industry safer for women, there are unfortunately also men actually choosing to cling to some fabricated legend of a brewer on a pedestal even if he’s a legitimate sexual predator.

I’ve felt nauseated since I started reading the anonymous reports Brienne’s been sharing over this past weekend, and I truly can’t think about much else. Honestly, I can’t imagine the gut-wrenching trauma so many are grappling with right now, and have been since they started experiencing this kind of disgusting treatment.

Something I keep coming back to is how abuse like this changes a person, as well as the reasons, from necessity to passion, we stay in the industry or scene where we experienced it. Having only worked as a writer in beer, the worst I’ve gotten is condescending comments. But in the past, I experienced abuse in the metal scene that I’m honestly not ready to talk about—point being that the things that happened all those years ago still shape who I am today. If I’m honest with myself, I’m probably still struggling with creating stronger boundaries around parts of that scene, but I continue to go to shows and listen to the music and maintain a few relationships with people in that world because I truly love it. 

I struggle with the thought that after all that some men took away from me, I’d have to be the one to walk away from something I care about and that’s long been a big part of my life. That said, I hope I would feel just as supported by whoever knew about my experiences if I did decide to walk away, which is to say that I hope all the victims of this behavior feel completely empowered (that support being our job in the community) to either continue their journeys in beer or leave it in the dust. The key is that is must be up to the women. It is just debilitatingly exhausting that men can be predators, and women have to adjust their routines, practice some list of precautions that places all the burden on them, and even have to leave their careers and passions behind because they have been the victims of those predators, predators who get to keep living their lives, unchanged, and who often even go on to enjoy promotions, accolades, and adoration.

This earth-shattering reckoning hasn’t exactly wrecked a picture-perfect scene, either. It is a monumental straw threatening to break our collective camel’s back after a slow and steady burn of craft beer falling so inexcusably short in improving diversity, inequity, representation, and inclusion. It’s prompted the question from some: is craft beer even worth saving? (There are Twitter links to back up that question and I’m going to go ahead and not add them because guess what! It’s Twitter and things get real toxic real fast.)

I love the beer industry very much. It’s why I’m writing this newsletter. I think, or at least I aspire to if I can shake my current state, I will release that would-be first, optimistic newsletter next week. It speaks to my affection for the good people in beer, especially those in my local New York City scene, and how they’ve helped this past hellfire year seem manageable through the power of community. I’ve also planned to cover topics like how it’s helped with grief in future issues.

But I’m a bit wobbly on whether I can offer a resounding, “Of COURSE craft beer is worth saving!” because I don’t understand how this is not up to the people who have unjustly been victimized, excluded, abused, and made to feel unwelcome in this industry. Do they want to save it? Then that’s what we do. Do they want to burn it to the ground? Then that’s what we do. What we don’t do is listen to one more cishet white dude who has not done the listening, the reflecting, and the work. I’m just a writer covering this space, but I really don’t want this industry saved for the sake of the kind of men commenting, “why r u trying to ruin beer with more WOKEness Ugh” on Instagram posts.

I want craft beer to stick around, yes, but only as a completely overhauled space. I mean digging into the dirt and ripping up the roots and planting new seeds for, uh, not-racist and not-sexist plants (this metaphor got away from me). I think, so far, one of the most important things we can be doing is asking questions, and of course, that includes listening to the answers. Ask questions, ask questions, ask questions. Literally never stop asking questions. Sure, we can enjoy our beer. But only if we’re all asking questions and listening to the answers and applying that to a real plan of action.

By questions, I don’t mean asking women how to fix this or what they want. FFS, white people need to stop asking people of color what they can do and cishet men need to stop asking women the same thing. This is obviously not an exact correlation, but this keeps bringing me back to when my mom died, and people, as they often so do for those grieving, kept asking me what they could do, and when I said, “nothing, I’m fine, thanks,” rambling about how they just felt so helpless. Listen, I completely understand that there are no words that feel sufficient when someone you know is in mourning, and it can be hella awkward! But omidearsweetgod, please don’t make them care for you and comfort you and give you a plan to make yourself feel better when their only current hobby is scream-crying into a towel on the bathroom floor until they throw up.

Asking questions means never, ever getting complacent about this scene (or anything in life). Are people of color really being welcomed as consumers and as employees and as managers, are they being treated well and completely equitably? Are women? Are women safe? Respected? Enabled and empowered and equally paid to do what men are doing? Able to go to a beer festival without fear of sexual abuse? No? What are we doing about that? Are we listening? Are we looking within to figure out what we can contribute to change?

In the immediate future, here are two things to bookmark. Mikaelaa Crist has set up a GoFundMe for Brienne Allan for potential legal costs, etc., that very well may come as a result of her sharing these stories, no matter how often she repeats that she is just sharing them and cannot beyond a shadow of a doubt verify every shred of accuracy. Allan has said she will not use the money for herself but will instead donate it to any of the victims who need it for their own legal fees and anything else that comes up. And, Good Beer Hunting found this document—creator still unidentified—that’s a running list of breweries and individuals named in the accusations.

We need to see real accountability. Not “apologies” that actually offer no apology whatsoever like the one Shaun Hill gave to VinePair. I’m very cautiously optimistic about responses like that of the Modern Times team: so far, founder and CEO Jacob McKean has resigned, an employee named in the accusations was let go, and they are implementing open third-party investigations and by-stander and anti-harassment training. But it’s way too early to tell if these efforts will have effective follow-through. Meanwhile, other breweries outside of the accusations but inside of this industry that needs a unanimous overhaul are taking the time to stop slinging beer and focus on the urgent need for creating a constructive, supportive environment. Interboro has dropped Tired Hands and Modern Times from its upcoming Pils City festival due to them being named in the accusations, and is taking a beat to consider how to move forward with the event, if at all. 

We need to ask real questions and find the real answers and do the real work. We need to consider that maybe it’s not that craft beer has to be destroyed, but that it’s long past time that cishet white men’s domination of the industry end.

To anyone reading this who has experienced any form of sexism, please know I’m thinking of you always, and while we might be strangers, my inbox is open. I want this industry to belong to anyone who wants a part of it. And, I hope anyone reading this will also keep joining me, so we can talk about the good things in beer, too—although, trust me, we will continue to shine a light on the bad—and spotlight diverse voices, makers, beers, initiatives, events, and more. 

I’m sorry if this is a bummer of a thing to hit your inbox—in the sense that I’m not sorry at all. Women, nonbinary people and members of the LGBTQ+ community, and people of color have been suffering greatly, often in silence, and there’s no world in which it’s cool to keep enjoying beer without doing some serious work. It should have been happening before. It literally can’t not happen now.

Beer Tarot!

It feels, frankly, batshit to transition to something as light as beer tarot, but everything is going to feel like this for a while—as it absolutely should—and I’m going to try to awkwardly shove on, like we all will while we’re doing that Work. And, you know, here’s a little moment of levity.

I pulled the Nine of Swords. Which, holy hell, feels appropriate this week, I mean, look at this thing:

Swords is the suit of air, regarding our intellect and decisions. The Nine of Swords specifically speaks to anxiety. No shit, Nine of Swords!

Pulling this card may mean you’ve been cut off from what gives you comfort, that you’re trapped under a barrage of unwanted thoughts, that you’re struggling and worrying about more than one or two things. The red roses in there are indeed signs of hope, but you may not be able to see that hope yet.

The Nine of Swords often signals you're overwhelmed at work, not sleeping, suffering from mental and emotional health issues—I mean, check, check, check for so many of us, right? Again, there is hope. This card is also about how you’re going to respond to the situation(s) causing you distress.

Normally, this part of the newsletter will feature a beer recommendation that goes hand in hand with the reading, but I’m not feeling that this week. I think the “beer recommendation” for this week is about our next steps. Because the Nine of Swords acknowledges our drowning in stress, but it shows us there can be light at the end of the tunnel. When we’re ready, we have to take our hands away from our eyes, look forward, figure out the healthiest and most productive way forward, and be there for each other in the process.

Weekly Must-Read

This week’s main must-read, of course, is Brienne Allan’s Instagram stories, @ratmagnet. I also recommend the aforementioned and afore-linked Beth Demmon for VinePair and Kate Bernot for Good Beer Hunting stories. Then, keep going. Beth also wrote “Buzz, Kill—The Physical, Psychological, and Financial Price Women Pay for Working in Beer” for Good Beer Hunting. The story has apparently been in the works since before March of last year and chronicles the brutal disparity and danger women can face in this industry. It’s essential reading.

Until next week, please enjoy this photo of my pug, Darby, showing her support for Endless Life. Darby has been my main source of self care through all of this, and if anyone in NYC needs to hug a dog but doesn’t have one, she’s available. She’ll dress her best for you.