There are stages to controversies in the social media age. First, the scandal breaks. Then it spreads. Criticism rains down on the perceived offender from across the internet. A few beats later, that person emerges publicly to defend themselves. The public generally rejects such an apology or criticizes the apology itself. Eventually, heads roll and/or the public moves on. End scene.
The craft beer world has moved through precisely those steps this week. A few days ago, an article published on the front page of regional beer publication Great Lakes Brewing News began making the social-media rounds. The article, which ran under the byline of Great Lakes Brewing News publisher Bill Metzger, ostensibly was about Scotch ale and cask ale, but its sexist tone drew swift and forceful criticism. Choice lines from the 2,800-word hybrid article/essay, which was written in the first-person, include: “In the age of #metoo, the pendulum has swung too far. One aggressive move and a man’s career can derail. I feel the walls closing around me, my room to move shrinking. My instincts to bed every woman I see are reducing from a king-sized mattress to a cot, the size of which I only remember from a tour in Iraq.”
You can read more excerpts via The Buffalo News, including the article’s repeated mentions of using alcohol to lower women’s sexual inhibitions.
When I first saw screenshots of the article, I blinked slowly. How was any of this about beer? How did this get published on the front page of… anything? What does Bill Metzger have to say for himself? Other beer writers and breweries themselves were equally upset, with some who’d advertised in the publication condemning the piece and withdrawing future ads. (Metzger’s Brewing News company publishes other regional beer newspapers as well.) Some breweries burned the publication in effigy.
So, we’ve arrived at the scandal stage where the accused emerges to defend themselves. Per a screenshot posted by the creative director for Chicago’s Pipeworks brewery, who criticized the article on Twitter, Bill Metzger responded to her with the below message which includes the by-now-a-punchline phrase: “I’m sorry you were offended.”
A statement on Great Lakes Brewing News’ Facebook page states the article was intended as parody and does not reflect the views of the author. Metzger’s statement continues: “Nowhere in this piece is there an endorsement of misogyny nor hatred. It is a simple parody of a disgusting attitude that I have seen often. We have been publishing the occasional piece that does anger people as some topics seem too toxic to discuss rationally. And it most certainly does not reflect my views; those who actually know me beyond a few articles written and/or published know that much.”
Forbes beer writer Tara Nurin, who has long covered women’s role in beer, spoke to Metzger by phone and found him “genuinely and deeply pained that his admittedly misbegotten attempt to highlight the problem of sexual harassment and assault in brewing has backfired so badly.” Still, she and other beer writers ultimately reject his parody defense, with writer Robin LeBlanc calling the whole mess “a special kind of trainwreck.” This beer writer agrees.
There’s never a good time for failed satire about sexual assault, but Metzger’s timing is especially bad. Earlier this month, the CEO of Actual Brewing in Columbus, Ohio, stepped down amid an investigation into allegations he repeatedly sexually assaulted multiple women. Last year, Jackson Hole, Wyoming-based Melvin Brewing faced backlash from retailers and customers after one of its brewers inappropriately touched an employee of another brewery, bringing to light what some called a larger “bro culture” within Melvin.
Though women in any male-dominated industry face challenges, those challenges can be especially dangerous when your daily job functions involve alcohol. I’ve seen the beer industry take important steps to make itself safer and more welcoming to women and minorities, but as recent stories of assault and discrimination illustrate, there is still much work to be done. That women’s painful efforts to share their #metoo experiences would be the object of abysmal satire only prove how long the road will be.