Brienne Allan started working in the craft beer field a decade ago, as a bartender. Once the brewery got its license, a manager asked her to transition to the beermaking side of things. That’s when she says the owner walked up to her.
“He said women don’t belong in the brewery,” Allan said. “Everybody laughed and no one stood up for me. I’ve spent every moment trying to prove them wrong ever since.”
Allan’s career as a brewer has since blossomed. She’s been brewing beers – specializing in lagers – for almost 10 years, and she’s served as a production manager at Notch Brewing in Salem, Mass., for about five. But even working at a company she says is supportive, the harassment she faces as a woman, she said, still creeps up.
Allan, 31, who is in the middle of working with Notch to build out a new taproom, said she’s experienced feeling patronized at work, usually by men who don’t work at Notch and are surprised to see a woman participating in the grunt work. According to many in the industry, the craft beer industry is overwhelmingly White, male, cisgender and straight.
In May, on a particularly rough day in the taproom, where contract workers were “being idiots” and didn’t realize Allan was a manager, she says she turned to her Instagram account out of frustration and asked if other women receive sexist comments on the job. “Do male brewers ever get asked ‘How’d you learn to be a brewmaster’ in a condescending way?” she wrote on her Instagram Stories. Allan said she was being spoken to “like a dog.”
What came next she didn’t expect: Hundreds of anecdotes came pouring in from other women in craft beer. Women detailed harassment, toxic masculinity and even allegations of assault at some of the most reputable breweries across the world.
With a simple ask on social media, Allan had sparked something of a #MeToo movement within the craft beer industry, which supporters say has been long overdue. Allan said she’s received more than 1,000 messages since, detailing alleged sexual assault and racism within the craft beer industry. Some women even announced pending lawsuits and potential legal action against former employers.
“Considering the volume and severity of the testimonials from women across the industry, the number of concerns raised and discussed among our leadership has been significant,” said Bob Pease, president and chief executive of the Brewers Association, the most prominent trade organization within the industry. “We are unable to enforce changes at the brewery level, but we recognize that as an industry we need to do more to build a more inclusive and respectful brewing community.”
Despite women being at the helm of beer brewing for hundreds of years, many in the industry say that White men hold all the power in breweries today. And the hospitality industry – which encompasses brewing – has some of the highest rates of harassment of any industry in the United States.
For many of the women who do rise to the top, there’s a sense that they don’t belong. But they’re still fighting to change the industry – and this latest outpouring is perhaps, they say, an inflection point.
“Specifically in this day and age, we all are hyper-focused and aware of mistreatment in all aspects of living,” Allan said. “I understand why this is such a big deal for everybody right now. But we’ve all been dealing with this throughout the entire history of us not being seen as equal.”
Chanell Williams, 31, works at Fair Isle Brewing, and does home brewing and beer blogging on the side in Seattle. She remembers being the only Black employee at the first brewery she worked at in 2017. So she created her social media presence – Hops Galore – that same year as a way to connect with other marginalized people across the industry.
“For the first time in years, I didn’t feel alone and saw others who looked like me enjoying craft,” she said. “I was connected with BIPOC who were making much-needed waves in the industry.”
Williams said she still constantly feels the need to prove herself when she walks into a brewery.
“I have heard ‘Women don’t drink beer’ or ‘Black people don’t drink beer,'” she said. “As a woman of color in an influencer position on social media, we have to fight harder to be taken seriously.”
There wasn’t always this stereotype in beer brewing. It was originally considered women’s work and dates back hundreds of thousands of years.
“Archaeologists and historians who have studied fermentation tend to agree that brewers in primitive hunter-gatherer societies were most often women,” said Georgina Solis, who’s a board member of the Pink Boots Society, a nonprofit dedicated to helping women in the beer industry.
Some historians say the medieval church’s disdain for brewsters contributed to phasing women out. Others say economic and labor reasons were to blame, as beermaking became automated during the mid-20th century.
“Post-World War II marketing, especially though the ’70s and ’80s, played beer up as a men’s-only beverage, with women only present as the decoration,” said Ashlee McLaughlin, 34, the chef and social media manager for Tilton Brothers Brewing in Hampton, N.H.
“It was the nail in the coffin for any sort of real diversity in beer,” she said. “Women were the stewards of beer from its inception, and yet now, it seems men feel a sense of ownership over the industry and beverage.”
Over time, women in the industry have become a niche part of the market, according to Solis. But interest is growing.
“In contemporary society, many of these divisions in gender-normative roles have eroded … and we continue to see increased numbers of women pursuing the trade,” she said. “We’ve come full circle.”
Megan Stone, a media coordinator at Societe Brewing Company in San Diego, has been in the craft beer industry for six years. Stone, 29, who uses both she and they pronouns, said she didn’t realize how much gatekeeping there was in craft beer until she moved to Temecula, Calif., in 2016.
“My abilities were questioned, my male co-worker tried to convince me this industry wasn’t for me and I should go back to salons, my appearance was scrutinized when I didn’t wear makeup,” Stone said. “For the next two years, I refused any help and felt like I needed to work twice as hard to prove my worth.”
But, Stone said, she’s finding her stride. She’s worked for big names in the scene, including Dogfish Head, Mikkeller and Modern Times – the latter two as an assistant brewer. Both Mikkeller and Modern Times have recently faced backlash for alleged sexism. Now, in addition to the full-time brewery work she does, Stone runs a craft beer brand called Is Beer a Carb, where she’s elevated the voices of marginalized communities who love craft beer. In May, she co-hosted Queer Beer Fest, a virtual LGBTQ festival that was sponsored by Samuel Adams and Hop Culture Magazine.
Allan and others say for real change to occur, marginalized communities need to be in higher positions to help make workplaces safe.
Indeed, with the recent outpouring of allegations online, public pressure has mounted for industry leaders to do something. Several high-profile founders have stepped down or been terminated in the aftermath.
Women in the craft beer industry say it’s a start.
“I know this will not happen overnight, but this will be a journey towards creating inclusive spaces,” said Williams, the brewery employee from Seattle. “Men need to listen and believe these stories. We need to call out toxic behavior when we see or hear it.”
The public reckoning prompted the Brewers Association to announce a coalition alongside other trade groups to help promote inclusivity within the industry.
Last month, the group announced a slate of tools and programs aimed at improving the industry, including a three-part webinar series on preventing sexual harassment (the first segment had 700 attendees, according to Pease), as well as added an educational component to the annual Craft Brewers Conference in September.
“Our best opportunity to enact change is to invest in prevention,” Pease said. “To that end, we are working hard to increase the amount of actionable education resources we provide to members.”
Allan says that a key component, too, is for beer drinkers to prioritize which companies they’re supporting – and for big organizations to revoke the memberships of breweries exhibiting poor behavior.
“All these breweries say they’re ‘shocked,’ but if you were a woman running the company, you wouldn’t be shocked,” Allan said. “You’d get it taken care of.”