Last spring, Brienne Allan’s Instagram account, @ratmagnet rocked the beer world, bringing to light hundreds of stories detailing allegations of sexism and harassment in the industry. Chicago beer fans will have a rare chance to hear Allan in person next week as she’s a headliner at Chicago Brewseum’s Beer Culture Summit.
The event, in its third year, gives attendees an opportunity to hear from some of the brewing industry’s most diverse and dynamic voices from Thursday, November 4, through Sunday, November 7. Besides Allan, a Massachusetts-based production manager, the summit will give the beer industry a chance to hear from historians, chefs, and of course, brewers.
Founded in 2016, the Chicago Brewseum is a nonprofit that celebrates beer history and culture while educating drinkers on the industry’s past and present. They continue to search for a permanent space for a museum. For the group’s executive director, beer historian Liz Garibay, the event is a rare chance for curious drinkers to learn about beer’s impact on history with the help of academic and industry experts. “If you look at history through the lens of alcohol, it’s played such an important role over space and time,” she says. “The summit is an opportunity to have important conversations that are accessible to anyone and everyone.”
Though this year’s conference doesn’t have a specific theme, Garibay says the relationship between women and brewing serves as a tentpole. She was inspired by Allan, who last May invited women in the industry to share their stories of sexism and harassment via her Instagram account. What followed was a deluge of anonymized stories that Allan shared on the social media platform, asserting claims that ranged from sexist comments to accusations of sexual harassment and assault. The @ratmagnet account aggregated stories in a similar way to @The86dlist, which focused on stories from Chicago’s restaurants and bars. But unlike that account, Allan used her real name.
Allan also shared stories from Chicago’s beer industry on Instagram. One entry prompted the city’s Cicerone program to cut ties with a worker after allegations of harassment were made public.
Allan will appear on Thursday at the summit’s opening night panel with other advocates including Jen Blair (Orpheus Brewing), Ash Eliot (Women of the Bevolution), and Ren Navarro (Beer. Diversity.) to discuss gender and racial discrimination and Allan and Eliot’s three-month-old organization, Brave Noise, which pushes to make breweries and bars more inclusive. This event is in person at Pilot Project in Logan Square where attendees can sample beers from Half Acre Beer Co., Hopewell Brewing, and others. Other events will be streamed virtually.
The beer history sessions range from a look into the beer culture of Neolithic and Bronze Age Britain (2800-1800 BCE) to the way Prohibition catalyzed a gender revolution for some women during the 1920s in America. The lineup also considers ongoing cultural reckonings such as #MeToo with talks that examine barriers that have kept South Asians, Black, and queer people at the margins of the craft beer world.
That focus extends to the significant recent increase in antisemitic attacks in the U.S. and Europe, a topic that will be addressed in Jews and Beer: Before and After the Holocaust on Friday, November 5, led by Peter J. Stein, a Czech-born Holocaust survivor and former co-director of the Holocaust and Genocide Studies Center at William Paterson University in New Jersey; and his son Michael, president and founder of Lost Lagers, a beer history consultancy. The Steins will draw attention to the truncated history of Jewish Europeans in the beer industry — abruptly ended by the murder of six million of the continent’s nine million Jews by the Third Reich — as well as the Jewish and non-Jewish beer industry leaders who resisted the Nazis, often at great personal cost.
“The summit has sort of taken on a life of its own, but in a great way — the way I had hoped,” Garibay says. “This gathering is really one of the most inclusive, nontraditional gatherings in beer.”