- An Instagram user asked women brewers to share their stories of sexism and harassment on the job.
- Hundreds of accusations surfaced, forcing apologies and resignations from beer companies nationwide.
- Women brewers talked to Insider about the reckoning and how they’re changing the industry’s culture.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Three years ago, Torie Fisher witnessed a man accost her wife at the Atlantic City Beer Festival. Fisher and her wife are brewers, but the man didn’t believe it.
“There’s no way she’s a brewer,” Fisher said the man yelled in the direction of her wife. He became “visibly irate,” she said, and her teammates had to talk him down.
Fisher served in the Army for 13 years before founding Backward Flag Brewing Co., a veteran- and woman-owned brewery, in 2015. She’s worked there since, along with her wife.
But male patrons and clients who enter the New Jersey establishment neither expect nor believe that Fisher’s an integral part of the business, she said, adding, “It’s never assumed that I’m the owner.”
“I’ve seen somebody come in, get a beer, and shake the hand of one of my bartenders. They said, ‘This is a great place you have here. You must be the owner,'” Fisher said.
She continued, “I got these big, burly guys working back there, and they’ll point to me and say, ‘Well, actually, she’s the owner.'” Fisher said the man replied, “I thought this place was veteran-owned.”
Fisher said that in the nearly six years that Backward Flag has been open, she and other women staff members have experienced sexist and demeaning comments like that one.
A chasm opens
After a brewer asked women on Instagram last week to share sexist comments they’d received from men while on the job, the brewing industry began to react to the widespread allegations of sexism and harassment.
Many of the submitted comments showed encounters similar to Fisher’s.
Brienne Allan, the brewer who asked Instagram users to share their experiences, posted a series of 10 stories highlighting the demeaning comments women brewers said they received daily at their jobs. She received more than 800 responses.
“Me, standing on top of a ladder, a guy from behind the bar, ‘Watch out for that glass ceiling up there,'” one user submitted to Allan’s call.
“The male brewers being professional brewers while I’m just an amateur brewer,” another submission read.
“OK, but where’s the person in charge here? You can’t be it, you’re a woman,” one comment said.
Other submissions detailed harrowing incidents of sexual harassment and assault against women working at various breweries.
“Owner of brewery would drink and try to kiss and grope his female employees on the clock – me included,” a submission read.
“Warehouse coordinator got drunk and told me how hot and sexy I was ‘with tattoos working those tap handles,'” a woman wrote, as seen in one of Allan’s Instagram Stories.
In direct messages to Allan, women called out specific breweries and named men who they said harassed female employees or created a toxic work environment.
After these stories began pouring in, a social-media user gathered about 200 accusations from Allan’s stories and saved them in a public Google spreadsheet, identifying by name the brewery where each alleged incident happened. The document also identified men accused of harassment and assault.
The document is not a comprehensive list of all the accusations and experiences women shared, and it’s unclear who created it.
The accusations have garnered so much momentum that major breweries have responded with apologies. And some men mentioned by name – such as Jacob McKean, the founder and CEO of Modern Times Beer – have resigned.
“I’m sorry that anyone has ever had to face harassment at Modern Times,” McKean said in a statement posted to Twitter. “No one should ever have to be traumatized at work, and it guts me that people have under my watch.” Modern Times, which has locations across the West Coast, was mentioned 18 times in the compiled list of accusations.
Beer and its connection to frat boys
In popular culture, beer is commonly associated with the trappings of masculinity, such as frat houses and football games. But the drink has a long history that involves women-powered capital and labor.
The first-known beer recipe hails from a Sumerian hymn dedicated to the beer goddess Ninkasi, fermented at the time for use in religious ceremonies. Other cultures also honored beer goddesses of their own and created beer dedicated to them.
In the Middle Ages, beer making was believed to be a woman’s work, a process that eventually evolved into a way to bring in extra cash to the household. That’s how the term “alewife” came to be.
Alewives were able to monetize beer and use the profits to support their families. But the Catholic Church, a deep and permeating influence during the Middle Ages, condemned alewives and alehouses, believing both to be extensions of witchcraft and out of bounds with common gender norms.
When the industrial revolution began, alewives slowed down their own beer-making operations because of speedier production methods. And in the mid-20th century, large beer companies such as Budweiser and Heineken began aligning their brands with images of “manliness.” These ads typically depicted housewives pouring tall, foaming growlers of beer for their husbands.
Since then, beer culture has largely been associated with men.
Cayla Marvil, the cofounder of Lamplighter Brewing Co. in Massachusetts, disagreed with the assertion that the drink isn’t for everyone. “Beer is an incredibly accessible beverage, but media does not depict it that way,” she said.
But Marvil is eager to turn that around.
“Breweries can be a really powerful place for social change,” she said. “There’s so much variety to it. It’s not just about crushing pints with your bros at the frat house or whatever it is.”
Marvil said that when patrons come up to her and tell her they don’t like beer, she can usually “find a beer that they’re going to enjoy.”
“I hope that it’s becoming a bit more exciting and accessible for everybody, but media does not depict it that way,” she said.
The masculine connotation that beer carries has a direct effect on how women brewers are treated.
Women brewers who spoke with Insider said they’re regularly asked by patrons whether they themselves enjoy beer or patrons assume that the women around them don’t enjoy beer.
Fisher, for example, said most of her brewery’s patrons are men, some of whom answer for their wives when staff members help with beer selections.
“They’ll bring in their wife, and they don’t even give her the ability to speak,” she said. “I see that so often – where I’ll ask the woman what she prefers to drink, and they like to chime in and answer for her: ‘Oh, she doesn’t like beer.'”
“I’ll end up just kind of ignoring them and talking to their wife, and start asking questions,” Fisher continued. “And a lot of times I will find a beer that she likes.”
The public reckoning is forcing breweries to change
On Tuesday, the Brewers Association, a craft-beer trade group made up of thousands of brewers and distributors, sent out an email obtained by Insider inviting its members to engage in a three-part webinar on harassment and sexism in the industry.
The first part began on May 27, and the webinar is expected to continue on the fourth Thursday of June and July. As part of the webinar, “participants will craft an action plan and learn how to handle a complaint and what an investigation process looks like,” the registration invitation said.
But women-owned breweries are not waiting around.
As women in the industry come to terms with their own experiences of harassment or sexism, they’re leading the charge and changing the breweries they own from the inside.
In light of the revelations, Marvil of Lamplighter is reevaluating the way her brewery does business.
From now on, Lamplighter plans to ask its distributors, vendors, and partners to sign statements saying they do not condone harassment, sexism, or misogynistic behavior in the workplace, Marvil said.
“We’re going to be more intentional about these partnerships, and we are now monitoring the news surrounding our suppliers and vendors,” she added.
“Clearly harassment and sexism are out there, and it’s much more prevalent than we believed,” she said. “We want to make sure we are not supporting or associating ourselves with what’s going on.”
Laura Dierks, the founder and CEO of Interboro Spirits and Ales in Brooklyn, is workshopping strategies to make her brewery a more inclusive and open space, she said.
She and other female colleagues have talked about beginning to openly address biases at work, such as when women are talked over in meetings or made to feel like their ideas aren’t as valuable as those of male colleagues.
“We’re going to be creating anonymous surveys and getting feedback at meetings with no names attached,” she said.
Dierks for a long time kept silent about her experience with harassment and sexism while on the job.
A prospective business partner once asked Dierks how she planned to balance work and motherhood. Her business partner, Jesse, at the time had smaller children than she did, but he was never asked such a question, Dierks said.
“How does a woman answer that question, sitting next to someone who also has children but happens to be a man and will never be asked that question about how good a dad he’ll be?” Dierks said. “Never in a million years, right?”
Because the man who had asked the question was a prospective business partner, Dierks, though dumbfounded, answered the question: “Yes, my husband is very supportive of me and helps me out at home. I have an au pair. I have somebody to help me with the children in the house.”
Questions like that aside, Dierks has experienced something far more sinister. Right before the pandemic hit, Dierks was at a conference in Miami when a man pushed her into a bathroom and tried to assault her, she said.
Dierks, 53, believed she would be safe from assault because of her age. “‘Why would anybody do this to me?’ was my thought,” she said. “I felt like [harassing behavior and assault] wasn’t going to happen to me ever again because I’m not young, and thinner, and all these things. Yet it did.”
Dierks said she didn’t tell anyone except her husband about the incident. She added, “Because we’ve been taught to not talk about these things.”
“What motivates me now is the courage that many younger women than me have,” she said, when asked why she chose to speak up now.
She added: “I didn’t have that courage when I was younger. And I think that the power in numbers is there. The connectivity we feel to each other, and the support that we provide for each other as women, is much stronger in a public way than it ever was before.”