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Breweries Are Facing A Reckoning Amid Accusations Of Harassment, Racism

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Women and people of color are questioning their treatment in the brewing industry. Cristela Guerra of WBUR says it started in Boston two weeks ago when a woman spoke up on Instagram.

CRISTELA GUERRA, BYLINE: The stories run through her mind as Brienne Allan drives to work at Notch Brewing in Salem. Her Instagram has become a vessel, filled with accounts of abuse.

BRIENNE ALLAN: It started off just your everyday, like, women can't lift kegs. Women shouldn't be brewing. Like, just those offhanded, rude comments. And then it escalated really quickly into people talking about sexual violence and sexual harassment, racism from owners and superiors.

GUERRA: She got comments like this one.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I was just a brewer at the time when one of our distro companies owners came up to me and said, in light of the #MeToo movement, I probably shouldn't say this, but you look really sexy driving that forklift. I wanted to crawl out of my body.

GUERRA: Allan doesn't know who all these people are, but she knows what they've been through. They told her they were assaulted on the job, felt up by superiors, made to feel like they didn't belong. She knows the feeling. It happened recently as Allan worked to open Notch Brewing's newest location. Contractors talked to her like a puppy, calling it cute she was helping. She's the company production manager.

ALLAN: I'm, like, in the middle of building a brewhouse, upside down on my back under machines. And they're just being super rude and asking me questions about, like, why I was there.

GUERRA: Now Allan's sharing anonymous stories publicly, forwarding messages to breweries, holding business owners accountable. She's gone from 2,000 followers on Instagram to 59,000 and counting. It's taken its toll.

ALLAN: I haven't been sleeping or eating. How have I been handling it? That was the question? Not well, just like crying every day. I mean, this is terrible. And it's not just women, either. It's everybody.

GUERRA: Allan worries nothing will change. But people have resigned or been fired from breweries around the nation. Women are raising money. And a brewery in Philly is holding events to discuss sexism and racism in the industry. Ann Obenchain, spokesperson for the Brewers Association, said they just held the first of a three-part webinar on preventing sexual harassment.

ANN OBENCHAIN: We had almost 700 people attend, so this was just a fantastic first start and encouraging to see the energy on that webinar.

GUERRA: Like many state organizations, the Massachusetts Brewers Guild hasn't finalized its code of ethics and still doesn't have a formal complaint process. Night Shift Brewing is among the accused. Co-founder Michael Occitan said any allegations that mention Night Shift happened years ago and that those employees no longer work there.

MICHAEL OXTON: We're making proactive changes now to be even sort of hyper aware of what's happening with our staff internally. How can our staff bring issues to light really quickly?

GUERRA: Brienne Allan says she doesn't think she'll give up until she sees systemic change.

ALLAN: Probably not. Every time I get a comment, I get mad, and then I have to talk about it.

GUERRA: There's a reason Allan has earned every certificate she can, including how to make a Czech lager. They're the hardest beers to brew. Maybe then, no one will question her expertise. Allan and a fellow Notch brewer have worked on a new beer in honor of this movement. It's called Brave Noise Pale Ale. For NPR News, I'm Cristela Guerra in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.