If you’ve followed beer news on any social media platform lately, you’ve likely seen Brienne Allan sharing stories of sexual misconduct and abuse in the craft beer industry. It started when Allan posted a question on her IG stories, asking “What sexist comments have you experienced?” Over the course of the next week, Allan compiled an eight-part series of IG stories containing dozens of reports of women facing everything from verbal abuse to physical and sexual abuse within the craft beer world. It’s a look behind the curtain of an industry that has been slow to wrestle with these matters for decades now.
To get a first-hand account of what is currently happening in the craft beer world, as well as what it’s been like to work as a gay woman in a cis-white-male-dominated industry, we reached out to brewer and beer expert Megan Stone. Stone has worked as a brewer from some of the biggest names in the San Diego brewing community and has guest brewed across the country. Currently, she’s working as the Media Coordinator for Societe Brewing. She’s also been active on “beer Instagram” for years now as a valued advocate for all things craft beer and industry-wide diversification. This led to Stone receiving the 2021 Woman/Person of the Year award from the Craft Beer Marketing Awards for her work bringing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into beer communities online and on brewery floors.
But Stone has also been the victim of verbal abuse and harassment along the way, reporting her own story to Allan and sharing it via her Instagram account. As craft breweries nation-wide begin to take long-needed corrective action, we jumped on a call with Stone to talk about what’s happening now and what’s next for an industry that can’t seem to move past its misogyny, racism, and sexually motivated aggression towards women, the LGBTQIA community, and people of color.
Over the past week, there’s been a re-emergence of misconduct accusations. For a lot of people, this isn’t anything new. Can you sort of walk us through your experience seeing all of these stories about an industry that you’re in?
It’s been a mix of emotions for me. I think the posts were first brought to my attention by a friend and I didn’t know the weight or the severity of the situation. At first, I thought it was another woman just sharing her story online. I didn’t really understand what was about to unfold. I mean, it was like one day I was looking at her account and there were 2200 followers and people were sharing their stories. Now, it’s become everything and anything that people and beer are talking about.
Even if you’re just a beer consumer, it’s something that people are hearing about. I think that is a really important thing and a long-overdue thing. My mixture of emotions comes from the fact that it took way too long for this to happen. I mean, women and marginalized communities have experienced harassment, assault, and discrimination like this for decades.
My feelings are a mixture of emotions, ultimately. I’m happy that it’s happening. It’s also frustrating in that I feel like previously having been someone who’s very vocal about these issues, that my words were mostly taken seriously but nothing really came of it. Often, I was dismissed as some angry, crazy woman in beer. But I am glad that something is happening.
What did you see changing before this last week’s revelations? Was there real change taking place within the industry that was positive, or do you feel like it was all talk?
I think the change prior to this incident has been maybe out of obligation. I think in some cases, it was more a publicity thing for people or to save face, and not necessarily having the authentic feelings around this or try to understand the perspective. I feel like it was maybe a bit more reactionary, whereas this time I think that more people are starting to try to understand and try to listen, as opposed to just reacting.
When you look back on your career, you’ve been very upfront about the fact that you’ve faced a lot of terrible moments. Did that embolden you to fight even harder to stay in beer? Or were there times where you’re just like, “Fuck it, I’m done with this.”?
At the very beginning, when it wasn’t as aggressive and it was more a question of my ability based on being a small woman, I think it was something that fueled me to prove people wrong. Then I think it got to a point where I felt just exhausted that things were never going to change. It was frustrating going from brewery to brewery, and having expectations, and being hopeful, only to have my dreams crushed. I thought Modern Times was going to be my brewing dream job and I had a rude awakening during my time there.
[The CEO of Modern Times stepped down last week, following accusations of harassment and discrimination at the brewery.]
What led to you leaving?
Honestly, while I was there, I started to interview for a job outside of the industry. I felt so hopeless that the industry was never going to change. Sure there were good people, but I felt like the bad in the industry outweighed that. It was just heavier and had an effect on my mental health even when I had so many people who supported me.
Are you still looking to go back to being a brewer, or do you feel like you’ve moved on to somewhere where you feel more empowered and have a bigger voice?
I love having a hands-on, physical job, problem-solving, being creative, that also involved in science. I definitely miss it. But, I think my ultimate goal would be to incorporate both into my life. I enjoy the marketing side of beer because there are things that I genuinely enjoy about marketing. But it also sort of provides that stability for me, in terms of pay, benefits, and being able to work remotely.
It feels like there’s more growth in this role than there is in brewing where you might become a head brewer or a DOBO, director of brewing ops. But it feels like there’s a ceiling or a cap on growth. I’d love to keep my role in marketing and grow in that, but also continue to write recipes and brew collaborative beers with friends around the world. That’s ultimately my goal. And of course, I want to continue to speak up and work in this space of DEI because it’s something that I’m extremely passionate about.
I read through all the Beer Advocate comments on the recent postings by Allan before it was shut down by site administrators. It was very disheartening in the sense that it seems like people just don’t seem to understand. They go back to this, “Well if it’s illegal or assault or whatever, why wasn’t it reported to the police when it happens?” Basically, finding any excuse to dismiss these stories. Do you think that’s changing or do you still feel like that’s a huge hurdle to overcome?
I feel like it’s in the middle and my perspective on this has always been there’s going to be those people who will fight you tooth and nail and will insult you to attempt to prove their point. Those are the people whose minds you either can’t change or they’re not at that point where they’re receptive to a conversation and seeing another perspective. So I think it’s more important to just ignore those people for the time being, but continue to speak passionately about what you believe in, and the change you want to be in.
There are people who will listen and those people have an impact on other people. You don’t need to be an influencer or anybody significant in any space to have an impact. I think that’s something people need to be reminded of because it takes numbers. I think that’s something that this movement is proving. There are all these people coming together and sharing their stories and people are banding together for change.
I think that it just needs to be a continuous effort. I think that there are people who will jump on board and we just need to continue to push and to grow in that unity against hate and discrimination.
What do you see as a step forward for craft beer in both the short-term and long term?
I think, first of all, the people who are proven to be the abusers and the offenders need to be removed from their positions. Secondly, I feel very strongly that for women and people of color, there needs to be more diversity through upper management and people in positions of power because there needs to be more perspectives added to that realm of the industry. But ultimately, I think that more breweries need to take — and brewery associations and guilds — need to take actionable steps.
It’s nice to put out a statement. It’s nice to hear words of support. But those don’t really mean anything to me when somebody submits a concern and issue, and then nothing is actually done about it or nothing gets done to prevent it in the first place.
People need to be more receptive to listening to people and considering that what they’re saying is truthful or has some truth to it and take investigations more seriously. I think that breweries need to go beyond HR. Right now, I feel like HR is just kind of an obligation.
Can you expand on that?
HR tends to be more afraid of the liability of the company, rather than protecting and supporting the individuals. I think that there needs to be more of a balance there.
I don’t want to get too much into the weeds. But is there an organizational path employees can take by unionizing or bringing in a more official third party who can help bring more transparency on these issues?
I think unionizing is definitely a conversation that could be had because there are major issues that exist in regards to discrimination, assault, and harassment. But it’s also been a long time coming that breweries need a change with safety regulations and benefits as well. Being a brewer in San Diego, I make the same money as some of my friends who brew in Florida, and the cost of living is vastly different.
I think unionizing is an option to consider in solving a myriad of issues in this industry. I also think that bringing in a third-party organization could be extremely helpful, considering that this industry has an issue to its core. This industry has been built by and built on straight, white, cisgender men who tolerate misogyny and discrimination. Outside help is needed at this point from people who are experienced in that realm.
You mentioned that consumers seem to be paying a little bit more attention this time around. I guess I call myself a realist, or maybe it’s cynical, but people buy beer from breweries they know have a terrible history. So what can a consumer do to really, actually care about the beer they’re drinking, to be sure that their money is going to some who’s ethical and not hurting anybody?
As a responsibility, I always try to look into a brand. I always try to look into brands that I work with. If there’s a place that I frequent, I look into them. I don’t think that it’s difficult for consumers to make the effort of maybe taking three to five of the brands or specifically breweries that they frequent and doing their homework. The information is out there, and it’s been out there. But… I think people just want to have a blind eye to it because they want to enjoy their beers.
They want to love their favorite brewery and pretend like these things aren’t happening. I vocalized my own brewing experiences at two well-known breweries to friends and have watched them continue to support these places. You’re saying something with your dollar. When you’re aware of these situations and you continue to use your dollars to support these places, you’re saying that you condone that behavior.
Absolutely. Given this last week and the stories and reactions that are coming out, is this giving you a bit of hope that things are going to turn a corner this time?
It’s a big step in the right direction, but it’s not the end-all, be-all. This is something that needs to be continuous, and people need to understand that it’s not just a trend or a blip in time. It needs to be continuous work to uphold these promises that breweries are making. It’s not just about removing the abuser from their position and removing the toxic people the one time this all comes out. It’s about vetting everybody who wants to work for your company. It’s about doing a company culture audit and working internally to ensure that every unique individual that works for you feels supported and feels heard.
I’m hopeful, but I’m also a realist. I hope for the best and I expect the worst.