The ‘great’ craft beer experience

Erin Broadfoot (Little Beasts, owner/head brewer) has shone a much needed light on the dark side of our industry here in Ontario — coming off the stories Brienne Allen shared in the US ‘we’ as an industry are a disaster.  Behind the ‘good times and camaraderie’ there is a dark underbelly, a booze-fuelled side, a sexist and skewed patriarchal side, a side that desperately needs to change.

My experiences in the craft industry nearly broke me, but I consider myself lucky. I know my experiences have been relatively small compared to so many others. We (Jes and myself) almost didn’t speak up, but ultimately realized that it is critical that everyone acknowledges that there is a fundamental problem in the way women (all of us) are treated in this industry.  My experiences have left me with little desire to be apart of whatever this community currently is. Three years into Matron, I’m only beginning to understand the ramifications the previous 10 years have had on me as an individual. Coming off what felt like a blossoming career in another field, I didn’t see this coming. My experiences in craft beer squashed much of the confidence I had right out of me. I am still dealing with what often feels like crippling social anxiety. It has left me a quieter, more anxious and deeply uncomfortable version of my former self in social settings. From pouring beers at festivals to undeniably running a brewery and now owning one, it’s been a pretty shit ride to be forthright.

Things don’t change unless we talk about them, excessively. So here we are, sharing some of our stories, saying we see all the women who shared theirs. As brewery owners, we felt the need to step up. It’s deeply uncomfortable, both the literal experiences and trying to write them — but it is necessary because they’ve happened in one form or another to almost every lady that has worked in this industry. 

Here is a run-of-the-mill list of some first hand experiences I’ve had over the years:

  • physically backed into a cornered on the way back from the bathroom and harassed by two intoxicated male staff (from another brewery) at a festival after-event in Toronto

  • endless, endless jokes/inquiries about being ‘the naughty neighbour’ (while pouring beer for Nickel Brook) - if you need a reason to not use a stupid sexist name, consider how much those serving it are going to deal with jokes aimed at them by people their father's age — also beer events often (read: all of them) result in over consumption which always equals disgusting behaviour from a wide variety of individuals on both sides of the bar

  • sales manager (from yet another brewery) would make loud boisterous jokes for years about not knowing who I was, despite running into each other at events frequently and having shared several beers and group meals together - he loved to get people to join in

  • yelled (wtf!) at by a brewer who was angry that his girlfriend working in the same establishment had been given a $2 raise “do you know how that makes me feel?!” - because they were now making the same amount of money. Note: I had nothing to do with either of their compensation arrangements.

  • after having been pushed up against a wall in a dimly-lit hallway by a regular patron and being threatened to "be spanked", the male owner of the brewery, a self-proclaimed "feminist", brushed it off as the patron was ‘just drunk’
  • in being considered for a job, I was asked if I ‘was going to get pregnant on them’, and if I ‘could even’ lift heavy things
  • being blocked out of group conversations at industry events - at pretty much every event, we’d try and squeeze back in but after awhile we kind of would just give up (my past career included a lot of networking events, this wasn’t foreign territory, just foreign behaviour)

  • paid 38% less then my counterpart while running operations with a larger staff of direct-reports

  • zero recognition for the significant strategy, creative direction, business development, operational, marketing and sales work I was doing with measurable financial success — ‘she does the social media’.

  • had tips taken away when moved into a FOH management position at a brewery, significantly decreasing my earnings without a greater or even equal increase in pay, for no expressed reason while all other managers continued to be tipped out

  • owner dramatically stop paying attention when I would speak in meetings (ex. pulling his phone to eye level and scrolling), only to put it down when male counterparts would speak

  • mocked by brewers, assuming they knew my palate and assured me that I’d only liked certain beers/offering of theirs

  • forever being asked if I need help moving anything and everything 

Jessica’s Experiences:

  • Was almost passed over for a sales position as the owner told an employee that I was “just going to get pregnant and leave”. They were reassured that I wasn’t going to do this when they were told I was in a same-sex relationship (as if that's anyone's business)
  • Harassed and groped by customers at beer festivals
  • Patronized by peers for my ability to lift heavy objects / drive delivery vehicles
  • Ignored and belittled at beer conferences
  • Constantly presumed that I’m just the shop girl and spoken down at our own brewery by male patrons. I often don’t communicate that I am a co-owner as it feels boastful and unnecessary.

Matron doesn’t attend large beer festivals (where patrons are allowed to run amuck and those working un-checked). Jes and I would never attend a beer conference on our own. We’ve done it all before, it was awful. 

One of the reasons we wanted to open Matron was to facilitate a safe place for ourselves, our team and those who choose to visit us to enjoy a product that we love to share- in the process, I was constantly second-guessed, questioned and belittled but hey - we’re here now and we will kindly ask you to leave (or kick you the fuck out) if you can’t play nice with others.

In an industry that felt like it didn’t want us (Jes and myself, we know everyone loves Justin, so do we) - we opened Matron Fine Beer. A huge piece of our success is unquestionably Justin’s incredible brewing talents, but what makes Matron special is that we are an actual team. We are not about glorifying one individual. We’re not about pretending we’re a family - we are a high functioning, high performance team.

Finally, we’d like to give a shout out to those breweries, gentlemen, and fellow women who have been allies, who included us in the conversations or started new ones, who acknowledged the fucked up interactions we were experiencing at every event/conference/festival we were attending. It’s a short list, but damn it if we didn’t need you sometimes when we were feeling uncomfortable.

Let’s all be those people. Let’s show up for each other. Let’s force this change because it’s 2022 and enough is enough. 


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