Everyone in this industry works hard. There’s absolutely no room for anyone who doesn’t. Even though brewery growth and overall market room is becoming cramped now, it’s been even tighter for employees for some time. A lot of us needed to meet the right people to get our foot in the door, to show that we were ready to work non-stop in support of the craft. We’ve embraced being the underdog and we like achieving from a deficit. We love being a bunch of people with a moderate buzz and a lot of love for beer that broke open a market that was so creatively limited for so long.
[C.J. Golobish is the brewer for Liability Brewing Company, which is currently under construction in Greenville, SC.]
Unfortunately, this makes us defensive of everything. Defensive of our beer, defensive of our culture, defensive of our practices. I think that’s admirable and easy to rally behind. It builds a very gung-ho—I’m using that phrase for a very specific reason—mentality. It’s easy to forget that we’re not one collective person, and that being an underdog means more than fighting anti-competitive business practices.
Every one of us has felt at a disadvantage at some point in our lives. I came from a working-class family. My father was physically abusive during my upbringing. I turned out all right, but I had a severe longing to be part of something bigger than me. I joined the United States Marine Corps, where I ended up meeting a lot of people from rough backgrounds who were unified by one sole focus, but it was surprising how many different ways people defined that mission. To kill the enemies of the United States of America, to protect our democracy, to defend the constitution, to fight terrorism: these were all reasons I heard why United States Marines picked their career. However, if you asked a Marine after they had some time under their belt why they really did it, you will almost universally hear responses like “for the guy next to me,” “for my brothers and sisters,” “for my friends.”
In 2007, I was deployed to Iraq. My unit conducted engineering support in the region. I was serving in an administrative role due to there being no need for my normal speciality. I was generally more comfortable than my peers, but as a unit, our Marines paid a heavy price—during and after the deployment. Needless to say, every Marine mattered on that deployment.
During that deployment, there was a Lance Corporal I knew that was awarded Marine of the Quarter. It’s kind of like employee of the month, but they look at your work, your physical fitness, how well you shoot, your level of martial arts training, etc. It’s probably amazingly foreign to anyone who’s never been in the military, but it’s kind of an interesting process. He was later caught looking at pornogrophy on a work computer. He would have probably lost his recognition and maybe, at worst, have been demoted while keeping his job, except that it was gay porn. He was quickly processed out of the Marine Corps, sent home from an active war zone where we were already short handed, lost some of his benefits. His bosses protested, but policy took it out of their hands. We lost an exceptionally qualified Marine because of his sexual preferences, and we received no replacement.
Three years later, I sat in a crowded auditorium, in a building known as the “Death Star” by its employees. It was the headquarters of the Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC). I was a student at the time, in charge of 13 Marines learning mission essential languages. We, along with hundreds of Special Operations Marines, were listening to the Commandant of the Marine Corps tell us about the organization’s business. Think of it like a CEO going around to all the subdivisions of a company to talk about developments, if the company was populated by more than 200,000 Marines.
The brief covered very normal things in our lives, the commandant thanked us for all of our hard work supporting the war, filled us in on logistical changes, and went on to discuss the current state of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the Marine Corps. He informed us that polling samples from inside the Corps suggested that Marines did not want to end the policy and embrace openly gay service members. He then asked us to raise our hands in response to a series of questions, starting with, “Would you be comfortable serving alongside an openly gay Marine?” I was seated about three quarters back in the center set of seats—I had pretty good visibility. About a third of the hands in the auditorium went up. “Would you be comfortable showering in communal showers with an openly gay Marine?” At this point, the dwindling hands dropped to well below 10% of the audience. Final question: “Would you share a barracks room with an openly gay service member?” My hand alone was the only one raised in my view. I heard voices whispering behind me from the more senior individuals who were standing behind the back row. Most of my Marines were seated next to me, or behind me. I was desperately praying some of them still had their hands up as the commandant’s view focused on me.
He told us we could put our hands down. He restated his points on how the policy was effective for morale and for ensuring mission accomplishment, and the day went on. I doubt many other people in the room remember that day. I left composed and we went back to class. Nothing out of the ordinary happened the rest of the day. Under my uniform though, I was drenched with sweat. Coming into direct social conflict with your organization’s leader is something that makes you evaluate your worldview. Publicly standing by my position was something immeasurably important to me, not simply because it was what I believed in, but also because there were Marines I was in charge of that looked to me for guidance and leadership. Who would I be if I put my hand down?
In 2012, I joined my last unit. I requested to be put on a combat deployment as soon as possible. I was put in charge of a platoon of analysts. In this organization, there were two main unit types, small teams composed of men that embedded in austere conditions and gathered intelligence, and offices composed of both men and women who sifted through that intelligence and routed it to units that needed it.
Women in the Marine Corps had to face daily challenges. They were often looked down on because they were sometimes less physically capable of doing tasks. They were often equipped in armour and carrying gear designed for an athletic male frame. They were often viewed as individually weak in an organization that focuses on teamwork constantly. The women I was put in charge of succeeded in every physical requirement I set for them, and excelled beyond my expectations in every military intelligence request or task they received.
One of those women requested time and again to join the teams. She wanted to be more actively involved in the intelligence collection. She was in that same language school with me and sat near me during the previous story, and is tougher than most of the male Marines I’ve met. She did great analytical work and would’ve been an asset to any team. She was denied joining the all-male team because she was a woman. She has since transitioned on from the Marine Corps to pursue engineering.
The situations I’ve discussed are extreme and the situation has progressed since. Gay service members now can extend benefits to their spouses, which is exceptionally important concerning end of life or critical care situations. Women can now serve in combat roles in the Marine Corps. These were amazing steps to see, but it’s far away from finality for either situation.
I’ve worked in kitchens and breweries since leaving the service. I stumbled into it, and owe my start to another Marine. I’ve broken up fights, scrubbed toilets, managed crazy, high-volume sales, and brewed beers that have a normal amount of one-star ratings. I’ve seen a lot of parallels in the short time I’ve been in the industry to the mentalities of the Marine Corps, both positive and negative. For all the good we do, with charity and giving of ourselves to other causes, to taking care of each other and being content to make a nominal amount of money to be part of something bigger, we also have racism and sexism that we can’t choose to ignore.
The “brewers will be brewers” attitude is problematic. It tries to write off behavior that is professionally inappropriate. I believe the people trying to bring light to these situations, and adjust the course of our images and actions, aren’t trying to bring diversity to light for political correctness. I think they believe, as I do, that we will lose quality individuals if we make an environment that is a social battle, every day, simply for people to be comfortable in their own skin.
I’ve seen it happen before, I know it’s happening now. I’ve worked at breweries where ownership has openly used offensive remarks about gays to employees. I’ve been at breweries where employees were fired for sexual harassment. Pretending that everything is fine and the issues will right themselves is a mistake. It’s particularly problematic that the industry is so public. Even though I cherish patrons’ opinions about so many topics, the internal debate here is my focus.
I’ve done things that I’m sure made someone uncomfortable. As a teenager, I used homophobic slurs to insult my friends. I didn’t know the weight and pain attached to what seemed to me like meaningless words. I didn’t have the empathy and knowledge then that I do now. I’m willing to say I did those things, and I’ve learned from them. I know I’ll continue to make mistakes about myriad things—I only hope people let me know when I do.
These difficult conversations about issues of diversity are not one-star reviews. We live in a time where a small business has to often defend itself from public criticism daily—sometimes justifiably, sometimes not. The hospitality industry as a whole takes criticism right on the chin daily. There’s nothing like the feeling of reading reviews slamming your beer or your staff. But we need to thicken our skin to criticism without ignoring it.
We need to make sure the quality of our industry and our workforce is as important as our beer quality. It’s an amazing time to be a beer maker and a beer drinker. There are more than 6,000 breweries in this country producing countless styles. Our people should be as rich and diverse and complex as our product. I’m happy this conversation is becoming more common, and I welcome it.