A national discussion about misogyny and sexual harassment and assault in the craft-brewing industry erupted last May, sparked by a social media post by a Massachusetts brewer named Brienne Allan. Posting under her Instagram handle Ratmagnet, Allan asked if anyone else had experienced the type of patronizing, sexist attitudes she’d encountered during her nine years working at Jack’s Abby and Notch Brewing. She later told Noah Bissell and Matt Robinson, hosts of the Graining In podcast (Ep. 102, May 31, 2021), that she needed help from friends to manage the tsunami of responses, which she estimated number in the “tens of thousands.”
Readers willing to take a deep dive into the toxic sexism afflicting brewery workers can find the posts archived on @Ratmagnet’s Instagram account. The sheer volume of responses will be sickening to those who thought everything was happy-hoppy in Beerland, but affirming to anyone who’s been on the receiving end of such abuse.
“It’s been pretty wild hearing stories,” one local brewer told me confidentially, “and they’re definitely not … too different from things I, and other colleagues, have seen, heard and experienced.”
Some in the media called it a “moment of reckoning.” Founders of several high-profile breweries, including Modern Times, Tired Hands, Wormtown, and Lord Hobo, resigned their leadership positions in the wake of the revelations and reevaluations Allan’s post inspired. Across the country, public relations personnel churned out quotes and mission statements about diversity and respect.
And beer continued to flow.
Apart from the aforementioned resignations, has anything in the industry changed?
Kailey Partin, Director of Branding and Hospitality at Rising Tide Brewing in Portland, has been working for years to ensure the brewery and its tasting spaces are safe and comfortable places for everyone. She said she doesn’t expect real, lasting change to result from a single incident, like Allan’s post going viral. It’ll be a long, ongoing campaign.
Rising Tide works with Prevention Action Change Maine, Heart of Hospitality, and Robert Jackson, a diversity and inclusion specialist from the University of Maine, to regularly train staff in skills to counter sexual harassment, assault and abuse. “There is a certain level of grace that I think our culture lacks,” Partin observed. “It’s not unique to the beer industry. … It’s ingrained in our country’s culture in a way that is so systematic, and [if you are] pretending you are not a part of it, you are fooling yourself.”
These corrosive cultural attitudes sink in through repetition, so the counterarguments must also be repeated. “They say in advertising and marketing all the time that you have to see it like 26 times before you even realize that you saw it,” said Partin. “It is the same concept with the reminding and learning. And we also have a big team, and we have new people who don’t all know this stuff. We want to make sure that we have covered all of our bases, so we do it again and again and again.”
Without meeting Partin, one might be inclined to dismiss her talk of “bringing humanity back into business” as brand-positive buzzwords. But in person, it’s clear she lives and breathes the mission. In addition to the staff training program, Partin fills the employee newsletters with items of global and local concern, and has made a point of welcoming LGBTQ+ patrons who felt displaced when the pandemic cut them off from some of their usual gathering places.
Most large breweries, like Rising Tide, have the resources to bring in consultants like Prevention Action Change to help train staff to handle these issues. Allagash, our state’s largest brewery, has also been sharing its resources with smaller Maine brewers so they can get their staff up to speed. The company’s response to the recent eruption of this long-simmering problem has been predictably generous.
Allagash scheduled a refresher course with Prevention Action Change for all its employees, then worked with the Maine Brewers Guild to open those sessions to beer industry employees statewide. “We ended up with 75 attendees coming out from breweries all over the state, which we consider a really positive turnout,” said Brett Willis, a marketing specialist at Allagash.
Allagash founder and owner Rob Tod has led his company to become one of Maine’s most responsible and respected enterprises. So when a recent company memo on sexual harassment in the beer industry calls the problem “deeply rooted and systemic,” fostered by “attitudes in the wider society” and “exacerbated both by alcohol and … irreverence for convention,” it speaks with a refreshing candor and authority.
As Partin said, addressing sexual discrimination, harassment and assault in the beer scene requires sustained effort. And when leaders like Allagash cross company lines to build industry-wide awareness, the industry’s culture begins to shift in the right direction. To quote the aphorism that inspired the name of Partin’s workplace, a rising tide lifts all boats.