An Instagram account fielding stories of discrimination in craft beer has prompted an industry reckoning that was long in the works.
Jean Broillet IV, the founder of Ardmore’s popular Tired Hands Brewing Company, is stepping down after allegations of sexism and racism surfaced via anonymous Instagram posts over the weekend.
Broillet announced Monday night he would be “stepping aside for a bit” in a since-deleted post on Tired Hands’ account. “To the extent that any of these statements are true, Julie [Foster, Broillet’s wife and Tired Hands cofounder] and I take personal accountability. This is our company,” he wrote. “[W]e have strived to make our company a safe, happy and healthy place to work and that commitment to our employees is ongoing. But clearly, we totally can and must do better.”
Broillet and another Tired Hands representative did not respond to requests for comment.
After Broillet’s post was deleted Tuesday, a new post from the staff at Tired Hands replaced it. “By our request, Jean Broillet IV has stepped down from all daily operations immediately. Julie has not been working here since March, 2021,” it reads.
“We, the existing staff, will remain in place and continue operating as we search for new leadership to build a stronger culture here,” it continued. “The recent outpouring of stories about our industry have unified us in addressing our own experiences and we stand in solidarity with anyone that has ever experienced toxic workplace abuse, racism, or sexism in the brewing industry, including our coworkers, past and present.”
The numerous, mostly anonymous allegations of toxic workplace behavior at various craft breweries appeared on the Instagram account of Brienne Allan, a brewer at Notch Brewing in Salem, Mass. Those describing Tired Hands were targeted primarily at Broillet and Foster.
Allan started soliciting reports of discrimination in the brewing industry last week, prompted by her own experiences of sexism at work. Her inbox has been flooded with thousands of grim stories; she has posted screenshots — as well as messages corroborating some accounts — in her Instagram stories. Allan could not immediately be reached for comment. In response, dozens of breweries posted statements to Instagram applauding Allan’s efforts and pledging to reflect on their actions.
Tired Hands has emerged as a local leading light in the craft-beer community over the last decade, attracting national attention with its funky, creative brews. But the stories sent to Allan described a disturbing work environment characterized by toxic masculinity and intimidation.
Several posters said women were long denied bartending positions and were held to a different standard. One former employee who wrote of working with Broillet at Victory Brewing Company and Iron Hill Brewery (where Broillet was employed before starting Tired Hands) reported workers of color were given only back-of-house positions, mostly as dishwashers, and they were also held to a different standard from their white counterparts.
Other accounts characterize Broillet as volatile and Foster as litigious. A few described Broillet’s “inner circle,” who would drink on-the-clock and demand service from staff without leaving a tip. One story alleged a physical assault occurred at a company holiday party with no repercussion.
Another asserted that the company gave employees ultimatums when the pandemic struck, forcing them to choose between delivering beer to customers’ homes or losing their jobs; the same post said Tired Hands did not retain all of its 112 employees but collected a Paycheck Protection Program loan. (The company received a $956,000 PPP loan, which has been forgiven or paid in full, according to the government website federalpay.org.)
In less than a decade, Tired Hands has built a small empire. It launched in 2012 as Tired Hands Brew Cafe in Ardmore and quickly gained a national following for its farmhouse ales and alternate-grain IPAs. By 2015, Broillet and Foster expanded the operation to Fermentaria, a brewpub that more than doubled the brewery’s production capacity. In 2017 it opened a general store, also in Ardmore. It expanded to Philadelphia in early 2020, opening St. Oner’s — named as a play on the word stoners — in Fishtown.
Craft brewing has for many years had a reputation for being overwhelmingly dominated by white male workers and owners. This reckoning also comes as restaurant and hospitality workers have made waves about low wages, lack of benefits, and poor working conditions — factors that have contributed to the current labor shortage.
Tired Hands is not alone in dealing with shakeout. Connecticut Valley Brewing Co. terminated its director of sales in light of harassment allegations. The Copenhagen-based brewery Dry & Bitter announced its founder and head brewer would take a leave of absence. Other breweries called out by name, including Philly’s Evil Genius Brewing, had yet to respond or acknowledge posts that alleged grievances that ranged from condescension to manipulation to sexual assault.
For many women in the brewing industry, the stories did not come as a surprise. These are “the conversations that have been happening between women in the industry for a while now,” said Erin Wallace, owner of Devil’s Den and the president of the Philadelphia chapter of the Pink Boots Society, in which Allan is also an active participant.
“I love this industry,” Wallace said, “but at the same time it’s a hard industry to be in when you’re not a white male. Because it’s not just women, it’s not just women. We’re the ones talking up right now, but it’s people of color, too.”
Wallace has seen similar situations play out in craft beer before — and has seen them fizzle out just as often. She hopes that this moment elicits widespread, lasting change.
“Hopefully this will catch and it’ll stick with the entire industry, because it needs it,” Wallace said.