You know how you get sick after being confined in crowded areas like airplanes or New York City? It appears the same can be true for some companies when markets get crowded. I will say for the record that the independent craft breweries and industry folks that I know, almost universally, are good, community-oriented people who genuinely want to make incredible products and leave a positive footprint in their respective spaces. But with more and more people coming into the industry for varying reasons*, some of the sheen has worn off as of late. So what kind of bad behavior are we talking about? A couple of examples might shed some light and make you uncomfortable.
First up on the tap list: Racism. Founders Brewing Company, Michigan’s largest brewery, was recently sued by a former employee for racial discrimination involving some shocking claims. Tracy Evans asserts in his complaint that Founders fostered a culture of racism by, among other things, (1) calling a printer upstairs “the white guy printer,” while the general employee printer downstairs was called the “black guy printer”; (2) not firing employees who called Mr. Evans the n-word at work; (3) disparate treatment among white and black employees; and (4) allowing racist comments to go unchecked (such as a white employee lamenting how “dark” the Detroit taproom is). Interestingly, Founders denies some of the allegations, but not the use of the n-word by at least a few employees. The litigation is ongoing, and Founders claims to have since required sensitivity training and hired a director of diversity and inclusion.** For a scathing opinion about racism in craft beer beyond this one instance, see Beer Kulture’s response to the Founders issue at https://www.beerkulture.com/kulture-tings/selective-outrage-does-inclusion-include-us. We can do better than this.
Next up: Sexism. Several women craft beer writers will say that they have been aware of sexism in craft beer for a long time.*** But it recently came to a head and within the public eye when the publisher of Great Lakes Brewing, Bill Metzger, published an article that contained the following: “In the age of #metoo, the pendulum has swung too far. One aggressive move and a man’s career can derail. I feel the walls closing around me, my room to move shrinking. My instincts to bed every woman I see are reducing from a king-sized mattress to a cot, the size of which I can only remember from a tour in Iraq.” Uh. Ok. Of course, social media took off after Metzger. Metzger claims that it was satire and that he was offering social commentary. Perhaps. And at least one female beer writer believes him. (See id.) If you simply Googlize it, you will find stories of female industry folks who have seen or felt this type of behavior all too commonly in craft beer. Again, we can do better.
Along those lines, this one hurts. Track 7 Brewing out of Sacramento has just been sued for, you guessed it, sexual harassment and wrongful termination.**** The allegations are a bit salacious (Track 7 denies them), and it would make me blush to write them here. So I won’t. But I have publicly lauded Track 7 to my friends, my students, and my colleagues. I won’t be going there or drinking Track 7 beer unless or until this behavior objectively stops or is proven untrue. See? People actually care who makes their beer. We can find better.
Lastly (for now): acting like someone else. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts just yesterday upheld a decision of the Massachusetts Alcohol Beverages Control Commission against Craft Brewers Guild (“CBG”), a craft beer wholesaler, finding that CBG engaged in commercial bribery (errr pay-to-play). The Commission levied a fine of $2,623,466.70 (that is quite a fine in this world TBH). The Supreme Judicial Court upheld the Commission’s findings that CBG “had paid monetary rebates in differing amounts on craft beer purchases to certain licensed retailers in violation” of Massachusetts tied-house laws.***** Damn. You mean “Big Beer” isn’t the only one to engage in pay-to-play? Stay true to your roots, folks. We can do better.
I believe, perhaps naively or wrongly, that independent craft beer has at least some amount of moral high ground. The amount is certainly up for debate and different perspectives–there are those who would disagree. If we want to keep it, we simply cannot ignore this type of conduct lest we become like every other industry out there. But this community is far more conscious than that. The people I know and interact with are welcoming, caring, and entrepreneurial small business owners. Let’s not let a crowded market or an unwillingness to engage in uncomfortable conversation turn us into something we are not. Often times, the consequences won’t be just legal—they will be empty taprooms and old beer on shelves. We demand better.
Cheers. Let me know what you think.
*See https://www.forbes.com/sites/taranurin /2019/02/12/publishers-odd-anti-metoo-rant-raises-question-of-how-writers-should-cover-beer/#da6faa3f5cba
**See https://www. freep.com/story/entertainment/2019/02/21/founders-brewery-detroit-grand-rapids-racism /2929524002/
***See https://www.forbes.com/sites/taranurin /2019/02/12/publishers-odd-anti- metoo-rant-raises-question-of-how-writers-should-cover-beer/#da6faa3f5cba