Tidal Wave of Sexual Harassment Allegations and Toxicity in Craft Beer Industry Lead to Terminations

A chain reaction of personnel changes is beginning to course through several breweries, set off in recent days by a social media account’s mounting collection of hundreds of stories of widespread sexism in the beer industry.

It began on May 11 when industry employees — mostly women — began sharing their experiences of workplace discrimination and allegations of sexual harassment and assault with Brienne Allan, production manager for Salem, Massachusetts-based Notch Brewing, who then posted them as stories to her Instagram account, called “@ratmagnet.”

The stories have come to number near 1,000, and Allan’s social media following has grown from around 2,000 to almost 30,000. A GoFundMe started to help Allan with potential legal fees has raised more than $18,000 from 233 donors.

The fallout within the beer industry is just beginning to be felt.

The founder of Tired Hands Brewing Company, Jean Broillet, has stepped down from his leadership role in the company at the request of the brewery’s employees, according to an Instagram post from Tired Hands staff.

Ardmore, Pennsylvania-based Tired Hands was among the breweries frequently cited within posts to Allan’s account, which detailed allegations of a hostile work environment that included berating employees, sexually suggestive beer names and shaming a newly pregnant employee for the negative environmental impact of having a child.

“We, the existing staff, will remain in place and continue operating as we search for new leadership to build a stronger culture here,” the staff wrote on Monday. “The recent outpouring of stories about our industry have unified us in addressing our own experiences and we stand in solidarity with anyone that has ever experienced toxic workplace abuse, racism or sexism in the brewing industry, including our co-workers, past and present.”

The staff post followed a now-deleted post from Broillet that was published around 10 p.m. ET Monday. In it, Broillet wrote that reading accounts from former employees was “saddening and humbling” but he cast doubt on the stories’ veracity.

“To the extent that any of these statements are true, [co-founder] Julie [Foster] and I take personal accountability,” he wrote. “This is our company. We love it. It’s who we are and how we’ve met so many wonderful folks in this life.

“Throughout our nine-year history, we have strived to make our company a safe, happy and healthy place to work and that commitment to our employees is ongoing,” he continued. “But clearly, we totally can and must do better.”

In their rebuttal, the Tired Hands staff said Foster “has not been working” at the company since March.

A message to Foster asking about the status of her and Broillet’s ownership stake in the company has not been returned.

Meanwhile, Connecticut Valley Brewing confirmed on Instagram that it terminated director of sales Jeff Nelson, who was named in several stories for sending unsolicited sexually suggestive photos to women.

After an initial post that did not name Nelson, Connecticut Valley co-owners Lori and Steve Palauskas shared a second post that included Nelson’s name and claimed that they “had no previous knowledge of the accusations” made against him.

“We completely detest this behavior and are doing everything we can as a team and a company to ensure this does not happen again,” they wrote.

In a public post to his Facebook profile, Nelson apologized and said he planned to donate to the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence.

“After lots of introspection over the last few days I would like to apologize to any female co-worker, peer and customer that I have made to feel uncomfortable or harassed over the course of my career in the brewing industry,” he wrote.

Nelson also mentioned that he is dealing with alcoholism, noting that “I will seek help to address this issue in my life.”

Connecticut Valley said it will host sexual harassment trainings, “a series of meetings to help facilitate open conversations” and “education surrounding harassment.”

“The work will not stop here,” the company wrote. “We will affirm our commitment to sexual harassment awareness in the coming months with new initatives to support victims.”

After its founder Shaun Hill was accused of inappropriate sexual behavior, Hill Farmstead Brewery wrote in an Instagram story that the Greensboro Bend, Vermont-based company stands for “conscionable action in the beer industry and will continue to support the respectful quest for safe and equitable workplaces, productive dialogue, and industry change.”

Hill provided a lengthy statement to VinePair, calling the comments about him “unsettling.”

“I have never acted in a manner that was openly, willingly or consciously dismissive, degrading or threatening,” he wrote. “I didn’t intend to be a visible presence in a community and I have been both honored and challenged with this unique role.”

On the west coast, Modern Times president and chief operating officer Chris Sarette penned a blog post detailing the company’s plans for employee resource groups and anti-racism and anti-oppression training for staff. Several posts shared with Allan detailed a hostile work environment at the San Diego craft brewery, particularly for employees of color.

Modern Times confirmed that it terminated Derek Freese, its “League Coordinator.” Freese’s Linkedin profile says he worked for the company for eight years as “Party Lord.”

A post from the Oakland Modern Times staff said they would “not be pouring beer … until we feel that company leadership acts in a way that aligns with our personal values of inclusion and equality, and that appropriate actions and measures are put in place to prevent further discrimiantion and harassment.”

Fallout from the accusations isn’t limited to internal HR operations. Interboro Spirits and Ales founder and CEO Laura Dierks wrote in a post on the Brooklyn-based brewery’s Instagram account that Modern Times and Tired Hands could no longer participate in its Pils City event.

“The entire event will be put on pause until we have time to talk to all of the invited breweries,” she wrote. “We need more action, toward truth and reconciliation and hopefully real change.”

As her account has gone viral, Allan has included a link to the Brewers Association’s (BA) code of conduct for members, which includes instructions for filing complaints. The BA introduced the complaint process last fall.

The organization has received one formal complaint since Allan began sharing stories of abuse, president and CEO Bob Pease told Brewbound. The BA declined to name the person or brewery named in the complaint.

“Breweries need to be safe places that encourage respect, empowerment, and are free of harassment, and how we get there requires an industry-wide effort,” he said. “Short-term, the Brewers Association will be reissuing some of the resources that are currently available to members. Longer term, we are exploring ways to develop more HR- focused resources and convene industry leaders and subject matter experts to work together on solutions in service to the brewing community.”

Other events this year have also forced the beer industry to look inwardly about its poor treatment of women.

In January, former female employees of Boulevard Brewing Company shared stories of pregnancy discrmination and sexual assault and described a deeply ingrained toxic culture.

The Kansas City, Missouri-headquartered company first denied that harrassment took place, then reversed its stance, announced it was hiring an HR consulting firm to investigate, and fired former chief financial officer Matthew Szymanski. Then-VP of marketing Natalie Gershon resigned from her post. Jeff Krum also resigned as president. Boulevard founder John McDonald returned to run the brewery’s day-to-day operations for the first time since he sold the company to Duvel Moortgat in 2013.

As the investigation continued, three additional employees were dismissed in March.

Alpine, Wyoming-headquartered Melvin Brewing faced backlash when an internal memo became public in 2018 and detailed an incident in which former brewer Kirk McHale allegedly groped a server while visiting Menace Brewing in Bellingham, Washington.