Good Beer Hunting

Humanity in Hospitality

Reaction: I Know What Boyz Like — A Grassroots Industry Struggles to Find Leadership on Social Issues

As a woman working in the St. Louis beer community, I can say the last 36 hours have required some serious soul searching. I am simultaneously grateful to Good Beer Hunting for their efforts to expose the issues of gender and diversity in the beer industry, but also conflicted by my love for and loyalty to some of the brands used to illustrate their stance. However, the overall reaction to this piece from the St. Louis community as a whole has disheartened me more than its contents, and has reaffirmed some hard truths we need to address. 

Sarah Rybicki has been working in the beer industry in a variety of roles for the past eight years, the past five of which have been in St. Louis. She is the author behind the blog The Barley Broad, and contributes to local beer blog Saint Brewis and podcast Beering Impaired

Upon seeing Good Beer Hunting share a piece titled "I Know What Boyz Like — A Grassroots Industry Struggles to Find Leadership on Social Issues," I expected an informative article pertaining to a subject that interests me. I recently launched a website dedicated to inclusivity in the beer industry so, naturally, the topic seemed relevant to my work. 
As many others who read the piece, I was quickly surprised by the introductory paragraphs which named several well-known breweries and their use of inappropriate, boys club, or "parody" social media accounts. While this idea itself didn’t shock me, I was truly taken aback to read two very prominent St. Louis breweries listed as part of this practice.
I have friends, peers, and colleagues at both breweries, and I was initially appalled to learn that this was happening. While I had no previous knowledge of these accounts, it was fairly easy to find peers with access to them. They ranged from harmless fun to pointedly problematic. But intentions aside, they illustrate an attitude that has been widely accepted in our circle for some time.
I am grateful that breweries mentioned in the piece reacted thusly, prompting a necessary—albeit painful—conversation about the issues at hand. The initial responses to the article shed light on particular breweries and their perspectives on the accusations, which I understood and appreciated hearing. However, it should have ended there. 
The continuation of the dialogue quickly became confrontational on multiple fronts, displaying symptoms of a toxic mentality that exists in the St. Louis beer community. Rather than acting like a group of artisanal producers, some people in the industry see themselves as gods.
These attitudes are not just limited to brewery employees. It also includes a community of beer enthusiasts who perpetuate a culture of greed, misogyny, and homophobia from the sidelines—a culture that breweries seem happy to buy into.
We can all read the social media threads to make up our own minds about whether these attitudes are the norm, or the result of a vocal minority. However, the answer to our "inclusivity" problem is not to point fingers at the journalists attempting to prompt a dialogue and break open these issues. 
While I agree that there were missteps in the presentation of this article, dismissing the issues it presents due to our loyalties is a dangerous mistake. We, as an industry, are fighting against big beer to claim more of the beer category by touting independence and authenticity.
What do these parody accounts and the overall attitude of the beer "boys clubs" convey to our consumers? It is difficult enough just starting out as a craft beer drinker, navigating through the myriad options available. Yet, some make it even more uninviting by expressing misogynist and homophobic ideas. Satire or not, we are living in a space where such subjects are not taken lightly. In the post-Weinstein era that we find ourselves in, can we honestly accept these behaviors as “just a joke” in good conscience?
Returning to St. Louis, I must state that I highly respect 2nd Shift and the Criders for what they've accomplished and for the way they have worked to promote women in the industry. I do believe they are owed an apology for the way they were presented without any context. But one brewery is not the real issue, in my opinion. As someone who lives in this city, I hear many voices outside of St. Louis who are trying to comment on the problems we have here—and our response as a community has been to deny it. Frankly, its maddening to see people I admire speaking so adamantly against this specific piece, or a single paragraph, instead of viewing the greater problem with some objectivity. 
Perhaps the reason we experienced such a visceral reaction to Bryan Roth's article is because deep down we know we need to get our house in order. Let’s take our blinders off. We need to stop defending bad behavior and accept that mistakes have been made. We should be holding influential members of our industry to a standard of professionalism—despite our personal loyalties. They are not heroes nor gods, and it is up to us to hold them accountable.

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If you have a story to tell about your experience working in, or around the beer industry that would help readers understand the need for conclusion and an open dialog about sexism, racism, homophobia, or otherness in general, please get in touch. This section is intended to give voice to those that are too often silent.  All messages will be kept confidential with our editorial team.

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Words by Sarah Rybicki