Toxic Brewing: Stories


Sexism and sexual harassment in breweries can’t just be a white women issue. It’s an everybody issue. They shared this sentiment with me and then said the issue is really heartbreaking because we’re learning that some respected brewers aren’t necessarily the same person the public sees them as.

They said they were treated like garbage working on an all-male production staff in San Francisco. One day, they called in sick with a UTI (urinary tract infection). The packaging manager called that same afternoon asking what symptoms they had because he had never had a UTI. This wasn’t even their boss. Looking back, they regret just letting it happen as though it was part of the industry.

Oftentimes, they were seen as emotional and irrational, but they acknowledged that they wore their heart on their sleeve, even though men working alongside them would sometimes throw fits and storm off the floor. For whatever reason, when grown men flip out, nobody said boo.

One particular story goes back to when they worked as the morning kegger. For them, this was a stepping stone to becoming a brewer. The nighttime kegger didn’t have such aspirations and wasn’t trying to impress anyone. They told me he was just a rich kid whose parents wanted him to have some work experience. He wouldn’t finish his work and often left the shared station a complete mess. They discussed the problem with co-workers to make sure this wasn’t a misunderstanding concerning assigned duties, and their co-workers pointed out the problem was affecting a few other people. When they shared the info about the nighttime kegger with the packaging manager, they were told to calm down and that they were inciting a mob.

As they noted, this can’t just be a white women issue. Part of this includes not just having others who agree that there is a problem, but having those individuals realize that there’s a lot of work to be done. Without the help of those individuals, nothing will change.

The person I spoke with also discussed learning about their own internal misogyny, and how they have to learn to correct themselves almost every day. You don’t know what you don’t know, fine. But what about when you learn about things that clash with your own preconceived notions? They note their own kneejerk reactions to judging influencers in the beer industry when they’d be talking about beer all done up with their breasts hanging out. People obsess about what it’s like to be a woman in the beer industry, and they had to catch themselves when gatekeeping what type of women should be associated with craft beer.

We all want to be educated on things we don’t understand to be part of the changing world, they say. Doing their part means more than sharing their thoughts; it’s sharing the thoughts and stories of those who’ve come forward. Having a collective voice means the spotlight shines on the issue, not the individual.

They never thought about the brewing industry being male dominated until they became partners with a local business owner to open their own brewery. Before too long, they realized just how high the potential for sexual harassment is in a brewery setting, and how unsafe a workplace can be even when only one other person is getting away with it.

The person I interviewed came back to Wisconsin to fulfill their dream of building a brewery, and it was almost immediately after finding a business partner that the problems started. It was their business partner’s daughter’s birthday party when they were first pulled aside and asked if they wanted to have a threesome with the business partner and his wife. They said no, and thought that, though odd, this would be the end of things.

However, their business partner often asked those he works with if they’d want to have a threesome with him and his wife, something the person I interviewed wasn’t aware of. Another thing the person I interviewed later discovered is their new business partner had a temper, and had threated the lives of employees. In fact, their life would be threated five different times by the business partner before I interviewed them.

Aside from just asking about a threesome, their business partner would brag about women he cheats on his wife with and is quick to show videos of him having sex with those women. He’d even had sex with the cousin of the spouse of the person I interviewed.

Nine employees and former employees have filed charged against the business partner for allegations ranging from sexual harassment to sexual assault to threats. Some of the most serious allegations weren’t shared with me out of respect for the person who’d experienced them not wishing to come forward outside of court.

Before everything escalated to where it is now, the person I interviewed notes that they initially put the business first by not going public, believing things could be handled better internally. In the end, the only person that was protected by not coming forward was the business partner. There was even an employee who quit the brewery and threatened to sue because they no longer felt safe working there, but changed their mind about suing when the person I interviewed told them they would handle it.

Doing the right thing can be incredibly difficult and confusing, especially when you’re a victim yourself. The person I spoke with is doing what they can to ensure the rights and safety of those still employed at the brewery aren’t in jeopardy as they take their case to court.

Though their story isn’t about sexual harassment in an obvious way, it shows how thick some breweries are with toxic masculinity and psychological abuse. Their first brewing job was at a brewery where every employee only looked after him or herself. Instead of being shown the ropes, they felt it was more like being thrown in the deep end and criticized that they weren’t drowning the right way.

No one was training them on brewing and cleaning. Rather, they were told by one co-worker how to do something only for another to come up to them five minutes later telling them to do it another way—condescending remarks about how they performed menial tasks.

They’re gay, which is good for the image of craft brewing, but they note there’s no effort for a brewery to be inclusive. Day to day interactions were inappropriate from a standpoint of professionalism. Being called at 3 a.m. being told to show up somewhere for work in three hours wasn’t doing much for their sleep schedule, and the low pay wasn’t making it worth the effort.

Feeling like a beaten dog, they were always on guard for the smallest things. The entire environment was steeped in this mentality of having to break you down before gaining further responsibilities. From their perspective, it seemed like everyone at the brewery hated each other, but because one brewer earned a degree of respect from the boss, a superficial hierarchy was created to establish a pecking order rather than an atmosphere of experience and support.

They felt like they couldn’t even approach their boss unless he was drinking. When they gave a month’s notice to move on to their next job, the boss just told them to leave now.

Entry level jobs at breweries shouldn’t be an opportunity to take advantage of cheap labor. They hope that anyone who reads this story who might be working in the industry will be able to recognize if the brewery they’re working at isn’t treating employees with respect. It’s okay to have higher expectations on how you should be treated, they say. There needs to be more pressure on the brewing community to admit there’s a problem and stop treating abuse as though it comes with the territory.

Among all the breweries they worked at, sexism was ever present. Oftentimes the issue was related to power dynamics, and they say the male ego is allowed to be at the forefront of the industry—straddling the line between overt and covert sexism. Even when their male counterpart is at best less experienced than them (incompetent at worst), an opportunity for a raise and promotion tends to go toward the man. They say there just aren’t many women in upper management at breweries.

Unchecked egos blur an individual’s perception of what they can ask of their co-workers. At one of the person I talked to’s jobs, a married man was sending them naked Snapchats and trying to hookup. Then there’ve men who rejected one of their ideas initially, mulled it over for a week, only to reintroduce the idea as though he’d thought it up.

They also see some men in charge doing something they call acting like papa bear. The man will act like he’s taking care of his women employees. When something breaks and a woman complains about it, he might ignore it. When it finally does get fixed, he’ll say, “Look what I did for you.”

This individual believes what’s missing is self-reflection. There’s joking that includes sexual harassment that’s just seen as part of the job. It’s assumed everyone is okay with it, and nobody checks. Sometimes an individual doesn’t know when to stop. They’ll push what’s already inappropriate to a point that’s obviously too far, then act as though it’s justified due to what led up to it.

They also noted that the criteria for who will be the face of the company at a beer festival doesn’t come down to knowledge the same way it would for a man. Knowledge is important, but they noted that have bigger boobs is also a factor.

If men who noticed all these things started to address it, they believe that some people in high places would have the opportunity to see just how negatively these behaviors are affecting the people around them, men and women alike.