Trouble is brewing and it’s ‘not a whisper anymore’

The chorus of those speaking out against the craft beer industry’s toxic treatment of women is growing louder.

By Krista Sylvester | June 16, 2021 |7:00 am

atasha Peiskar has worked in the craft beer scene for nine years and runs the @hoparella Instagram account that shares the stories of women who have faced varying levels of harassment and abuse in the industry.

Photo: Krista Sylvester // Calgary Citizen

She used to take pride in fitting in with the guys — a common tactic among women in the craft beer industry.

But Natasha Peiskar soon learned that was a defence mechanism to much of the harassment she not only witnessed, but also felt herself over her nine-year career in the craft beer industry — and she’s not alone.

“I definitely have been witness to and experienced a lot of the harassment, sexism, and misogynist comments,” she tells Calgary Citizen.

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Peiskar started in the industry back in BC during the scene’s explosion, which eventually brought her to Calgary. Here she’s worked for Concorde Group, the National beer brand, Tool Shed, Last Best, and now Establishment Brewing in a variety of roles from bartending, brand management, and production.

“When I went to the production side of things, I experienced weekly if not daily comments. Usually not done by my colleagues — although there have been some jobs I’ve left because of that, but a lot of customers, third-party contractors, and delivery drivers. Very sexist and misogynist, all the time,” she explains.

Those comments would range from “your appearance to your ability to operate a forklift, to sexuality, and what you’re wearing”, she adds. It would also happen to her and her colleagues in drinking environments, including beer events, launch parties, and beer festivals.

That’s when the excuses would flow in, Peiskar says.

“‘They’re usually not like that. Oh, they’ve had too many beers tonight.’ And yeah, alcohol abuse tends to fuel that sort of behaviour. But then we’re told to grow a thick skin… instead of saying ‘no, that person shouldn’t behave like that.’”

It’s all part of that “old boys club” mentality…

“I used to pride myself on being able to fit in with the guys. I definitely look at the industry a little differently now,” Peiskar says.

She’s not the only one. This so-called reckoning is rippling through the entire industry all over North America with women from all over sharing their #MeToo stories. Instagram accounts such as ratmagnet and Peiskar’s hoparella are bringing attention to the industry’s dark side like never before. Calgary isn’t immune to these rumours and many in the industry are speaking out.

As Peiskar says, the collective won’t be silenced anymore: “You know, we call it the whisper network, but it’s not a whisper anymore. It’s open now.”

Kelly Mandeville echoes much of what Peiskar has said, and says it’s time women’s stories were taken seriously. She says she doesn’t know many women who haven’t been affected in one way or another. Mandeville spent many years in the craft beer industry herself, mostly on the marketing side.

“It is kind of like an unspoken agreement that women in the craft brewing industry, that we all just kind of agree to work together, and we communicate our concerns to each other,” Mandeville explains.

“It’s not always behind closed doors. It’s not just your peers.”

Mandeville says there isn’t always a way to tell your employer you’re not comfortable and she isn’t surprised so many women are stepping forward with their stories through anonymous accounts.

“This is a problem that just kind of wove itself throughout the industry over the last 20 years. Now we’re at a point where social media is very much a thing, and we have an outlet to share our stories.”

The severity of the issues brought up on the Instagram account range from sexist and negative comments to mental and physical abuse, Mandeville adds.

So, what’s being done to address this harassment?

Both Peiskar and Mandeville say that while acknowledging the issues plaguing the craft industry is the first step, there is a long way to go and it takes everyone from top to bottom to take a look in the mirror.

“We, as an industry, have to look at why and how we let it get to this point where the only way to communicate is anonymously through the Instagram account of someone that we don’t even know.”

Some in the local brewing scene are already stepping forward and making changes. On May 25, Annex Ale Project announced new policies in direct response to allegations heard through these social media accounts.

Last Best Brewing & Distilling also announced policy changes as of May 26 in light of the allegations swirling in the industry. In a statement provided to Calgary Citizen, Last Best said it was important to “build a framework to be more engaged and inclusive going forward.”

“We want our brewpub to be a cornerstone of the community and that means being active and engaged beyond our walls. This is part of a movement in the craft brewing community and it’s incredibly important, so we want to be a part of it. The support from craft breweries and other hospitality businesses has been great, both locally and throughout North America and that’s been amazing to see.”

Policy changes that both Last Best and Annex Ale Project are instilling include implementing a reporting structure, ensuring management is properly trained to handle these types of issues, and updating code of conduct policies, to name a few.

As Last Best stated, these are industry-wide challenges and the craft brewing community in North America has been buzzing as women and marginalized people step forward with stories, now amplified through social media accounts.

Peisekar and Mandeville applaud the brewery businesses that are taking initiative and hope others in the industry will follow suit.

Mandeville is on the board of directors for the newly formed Diversity and Beer Society, which is working on its mission statement and close to launching with the goal of bringing more diversity and inclusion to the craft brewing industry. She says while she still indirectly works in the industry, she won’t work for a brewery again because of the “toxic” environments.

“The biggest part for us is we can’t ask people to do things that we’re not willing to do. We’re putting in all that important foundational work to really look at the things that we want to accomplish,” she says.

Peiskar says change doesn’t happen overnight but the reckoning is here.

“It’s not just acknowledging that this is a serious problem; it’s publicly declaring your values and following up with actions — this is going to take time.”

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Krista Sylvester

Reporter at Calgary Citizen

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