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Meet the local woman who set off a #MeToo movement in the beer industry

Brienne Allan, a worker at Notch Brewing. set off a #MeToo reckoning within the craft beer industry when she began posting anonymous accounts of sexual harassment, racism, and assault.
Brienne Allan, a worker at Notch Brewing. set off a #MeToo reckoning within the craft beer industry when she began posting anonymous accounts of sexual harassment, racism, and assault.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

As she worked side by side with a roomful of men building out Notch Brewing’s new Brighton taproom, Brienne Allan felt thwarted at every turn. One contractor working at the site questioned the tools she was using to install equipment, she said. Another laughed at her as she carried pipe for the brewhouse.

Fed up, Allan took to Instagram, where she wondered whether men in the brewing industry ever receive such patronizing treatment. “A man is literally talking to me like a dog right now,” she wrote. Allan asked other women in the industry to share their stories. Within hours, responses detailing experiences of sexism, racism, harassment, and assault began pouring in.

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Allan’s post about her experience May 11 — and her decision to publicly share the more than 1,000 stories others have sent her — have touched off a global #MeToo moment in a craft beer industry that has long struggled to welcome people who are not white men.

Now, several prominent industry figures have resigned amid allegations on social media that they acted inappropriately, and others have faced claims that they failed to respond to complaints of misconduct. More companies — including local brewers Harpoon and Lord Hobo — have launched internal investigations.

“Brewery owners are calling me all day every day trying to explain themselves to me,” said Allan, Notch’s 31-year-old production manager, who posts under the name @ratmagnet. “But I’m not the one you need to explain it to. It’s like, just go change it.”

Allan said she is receiving hundreds of messages a day, including some suggesting she may face legal action for airing the harassment claims. Concerned for her safety, she took a leave of absence this week from her job at Notch — a workplace she says she has always found generally supportive.

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The episode has demonstrated to many that in the alcohol-steeped boys club of brewing, crude comments and overt misogyny are a part of the mix, no less an ingredient than hops or yeast.

“It’s definitely devastating and heartbreaking to read the stories of these individuals who have experienced such pain, humiliation, and fear,” said Katie Stinchon, executive director of the Mass Brewers Guild, a trade group. “But I can also say that, sadly, it’s not totally surprising.”

Brienne Allan of Notch Brewing.
Brienne Allan of Notch Brewing.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

The accounts echo those that have arisen in many industries as more women have spoken out about workplace mistreatment and misconduct.

Women in brewing have shared accounts of being groped and interrogated about whether they might be pregnant. Of being hit on by bosses and enduring sexist comments from colleagues and patrons. Of being paid less than male brewers and being undermined about their capabilities. Others wrote of racist or other derogatory comments. Some shared disturbing stories of assault.

The allegations on social media about other companies have led several brewery executives implicated in the posts to step down, according to company announcements, including the founders of Tired Hands Brewing Co. in Philadelphia, Modern Times Beer on the West Coast, and Copenhagen’s Dry & Bitter Brewing Co.

Meanwhile, breweries in New England and across the country have been denouncing sexual harassment, and some have addressed specific allegations.

In Woburn, Lord Hobo Brewing Co. acknowledged accusations of bullying and sexual harassment after responses shared by Allan described a work environment where women were not treated as equals, as well as an alleged incident in which a bartender physically intimidated a woman after asking for a sexual favor.

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The allegations are being “thoroughly investigated and addressed to our fullest capability,” the company said in a statement released to the Globe. Lord Hobo said that in “at least one instance, we are seriously evaluating legal action against someone accused of abuse.”

Harpoon Brewery also was named in posts, including one alleging that a sales representative faked a handshake and then grabbed a female brewery staffer’s vagina. Chief executive Dan Kenary issued a statement when approached for comment.

“The recent stories of mistreatment and harassment within our industry are heart-breaking and incredibly upsetting,” he said. The postings have prompted an internal investigation at Harpoon, and the company has “a zero-tolerance policy for harassment, discrimination, or hostility of any kind.”

Responding to allegations that staff had witnessed racist and sexually inappropriate comments, Night Shift Brewing cofounder Michael Oxton said there were no investigations underway. He said the incidents “all involve people who no longer work here, and any time we’ve ever had any incidents, we’ve investigated and taken actions immediately.”

Oxton said he planned to offer training on sexual harassment and diversity, equity, and inclusion, and create a counseling line for the Everett company’s staff. “We support Brienne and we’re glad this is happening. It’s a necessary call for change”

At Salem-based Notch Brewing, Allan’s bosses have been responsive to the concerns she’s raised about the industry, she said.

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But recent events have prompted owner Chris Lohring to acknowledge missteps in a reported case of sexual harassment at the brewery 18 months ago.

Lohring said he regrets giving the accused employee a warning and not firing the person outright. It later came to light that the accused person had also harassed others, Lohring said.

“In seeing the posts to Brienne’s Instagram, it demonstrates how difficult it has been for victims to come forward, and it takes a great deal of courage to do so,” Lohring wrote on Notch’s Instagram account. Notch plans to set up a third-party anonymous reporting system that will make it “easier, safer, and more comfortable for people to report,” he said.

The brewing business is notoriously dominated by white men: Only 7.5 percent of women in the industry were employed in the role of brewer, according to a 2019 survey by the Brewer’s Association, a national trade group for the industry, and 88 percent of the people who own craft breweries are white.

None of this was news to Allan, a former chapter leader in Boston of the Pink Boots Society, a national effort to support women brewers. But her recent activism has brought new visibility. When she first posted her prompt she had 2,000 followers on Instagram; she now has more than 58,000.

“It’s a powerful moment for the industry,” said Zack Rothman, a Boston attorney who studies the legal landscape of craft beer, and who has offered legal assistance to Allan. It’s a recognition, he said, of “the vulnerability of marginalized groups within the industry who have not had the positions and of power and influence to make the changes that have been necessary.”

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The Brewer’s Association last week called on members to make their businesses “safe places that encourage respect, empowerment, and freedom from harassment or discrimination of any kind.” The group also promoted its online complaint process to report abuse.

Stinchon, of the Mass Brewers Guild, plans to begin offering more diversity, equity, and inclusion training and to provide additional support for small brewers who lack the human resources infrastructure to consistently handle reports of abuse.

Allan noted that this isn’t the first time the brewing industry has been called out on its sexism, and she’s quick to point out that a massive batch of social media posts can’t stand in as a solution to its problems. She’s hoping the current momentum results in some real change and is ready to have others step in to help her take on that challenge.

“I’m taking the time to reflect on what has happened and what I’ve done in a positive way,” she said, “in the hopes of making it more impactful.”

In the meantime, she’s looking forward to getting back to work. Notch Brewery is planning to release a beer on June 10 to recognize Allan’s role in starting a chain reaction in the industry. It’s a pale ale, and they’re calling it Brave Noise.

Amanda Kaufman of the Globe staff contributed to this report.



Janelle Nanos can be reached at janelle.nanos@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos.