This is our place

Head brewer Charlotte Cook discusses the deep-rooted cultural problems behind misogyny and bullying in the craft beer industry

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When this sort of thing happens, the media usually like to call it a “reckoning”. The recent reckoning in beer was the outpouring of distressing accounts of the abuses that women and non-binary people working within craft beer face daily. I’ve worked in craft beer for a decade and at some of the most highly regarded breweries on the planet, including BrewDog, Põhjala and Cloudwater, so for me the recent revelations of horrific sexism that came out on the Instagram account of Brienne Allan (@ratmagnet) were not surprising at all. I’ve seen it, and I’ve lived it, and I’m bloody sick of it, and I want to let those of you outside of the bubble know where it stems from, and how you can help. 

These allegations range from verbal belittlement from either customers, colleagues or superiors to sexual assault and violence. These abuses were largely carried out at the hands of men, but also facilitated by women with uneasy regularity. All of the allegations are dripping in misogyny and it’s an arrogant assuredness that I have come across many times in my years in brewing. 

When I began brewing the number of women in production in the industry was hovering in the low double digits. I’m constantly overjoyed to see young women enthusiastically joining craft beer, but I do also fear for them. As a female brewer you’re always treated as less capable than “The Boys” if not by your employer, then by those ancillaries to brewing. Sales reps from scientific companies saying “Oh, so you know what ATP is then, love?” (I am writing my MSc. thesis as we speak), or delivery drivers trying to give you directions on how to operate a forklift, until you have to shout at them to stop distracting you. If you react with emotion, you’re told to keep it professional, if you keep it in it affects you professionally because you feel that there is no recourse for your frustrations. 

The fact that the craft beer industry has essentially sprung up from nowhere means that many breweries have grown above and beyond the rate that they expected, and simply don’t know how to deal with it. This has a myriad of effects ranging from overwork for some employees, absent or untrained “HR” departments and most toxic of all, brewery owners in possession of a hubris so colossal to be almost messianic in nature. This means that they feel that within the brewery they can act with impunity. I have witnessed a brewery owner throw a tantrum over an apprentice (on £3.70 per hour) not wishing him a good morning as he made his daily strut around the production area. I have also been subject to gaslighting when an employer has completely straight facedly told me that the decisions I’d made the week before regarding production were in fact theirs and I’d said no such thing. 

These companies are not run as businesses, but as theocracies

This toxicity can spread beyond the workplace too, Greg Koch of Stone is often humorously called “The Beer Jesus”, but there are plenty of brewery owners out there who would take that at face value. These companies are not run as businesses, but as theocracies where the Good Book is in fact the proclamations on twitter of the brewery owner, and the disciples are those who have invested in whatever crowdfunding scheme they have shilled. Within these companies subversiveness is maligned, and unless you’re actively drinking the Kool-Aid then life won’t be easy for you. The image on social media is of a happy family, where the CEO is engaging with the workers (for the photo), but when you speak to the brewers as they down their 5th pint, you know that the good ship may be sailing off course.

I strongly feel that this is the root of the problem with misogyny in beer. The ego trip that takes place when someone tells you that you’re incredible and make the best beer in the world can easily drive people to act in ways that they wouldn’t normally, and as the praise keeps pouring in, so does the need for the serotonin hit that it provides. This also leaches out into the wider company culture and explains how these abuses can be enabled without repercussions from within. The lure of celebrity is strong, and it would be unusual for someone to say that they wouldn’t love to attend award ceremonies or go for dinner with a rock star that you’re collaborating with. This glitter is rarely extended to the oiks on the production floor, but often to the social media or HR managers, who get to treat this as part of their renumeration. You probably don’t get to attend festivals in Brazil with a biscuit factory in Salford, so the desire to acquiesce to the wants of the CEO in order to preserve your position can cloud your professional judgement and allow both the law and professional ethics to be cast aside. 

To work at a very prestigious brewery alone is often considered to be a big chunk of your pay packet. I will very much defend Cloudwater here, whilst they are not perfect, and no-one there would profess to be so, they were good employers to me and want to do better. I know from experience and from the corroboration of others that if dissent was raised at other top 50 breweries a frequent response would be that so many others would be very grateful for the jobs, and we should bite our tongues or go somewhere else. I like to take pride in my work, but in the mind of management this is subordinate to just showing up and doing it, which is obviously problematic. 

The issues I’ve summarised above very succinctly highlight why misogyny is rife in craft beer, in my opinion. I’d implore every consumer to look at the stories that were brought to light by both Brienne and Siobhan (who has reported UK issues, @britishbeergirl). These two women also deserve commendation for their sheer bravery. Siobhan said “It has honestly been quite harrowing compiling all these stories, but I feel like it’s something that needs done - I love this industry so much, and I want to use my platform to do whatever I can to help women, non-binary folk and other marginalised groups feel safe in bars, brewery taprooms, event spaces, and in the workplace. It’s been tough exposing breweries I previously respected, but someone needs to lead the charge - I’m never one to shy away from speaking out about socio-political injustices, so it felt natural for me to take on the UK contingent of stories after seeing what an impact Brienne’s work had in the US.”

If you hear a rumour about a company, believe it

As consumers I ask you to think if you have seen any misogyny on the timelines of these breweries or in their bars. If you hear a rumour about a company, believe it, even if you bought shares or invested in a crowdfunder. It took a lot of courage to tell these stories and the people telling them don’t want to take the brewery down, just for their story to be heard and taken seriously. Consider some breweries the chlorinated chicken of the beer world, and spend you hard earned money with the good ones.

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