“And I Say Let It Burn” by Tessie Warnecke, Head of Coffee for Modern Times Beer

May 18, 2021

Regarding the gender discrimination and sexual assault stories being shared by women who work in craft beer that’s shaking up the industry.

In October of 2019 I sat in my apartment in San Diego refreshing multiple tabs: fire maps, wind maps, twitter feeds with hashtags of #Healdsburgfire, #kincadefire, #chalkhillroad, #highway128, #calfire, etc. I was reloading the Healdsburg fire watch Facebook group I had joined previously when fires raged across Sonoma County. I had multiple text threads going: group messages with family in the area, texting back to people who had reached out that knew I had ties to the areas that were under emergency evacuation orders, messages with my sister grieving loss that hadn’t happened yet, giving extended family from the east coast whatever updates I had.  I was doing what almost felt normal since I did the same thing in 2017 during the Tubbs fire…I was trying to find as much information as I could from every source available to me on where the fires were, and if those fires would engulf my family’s vineyard and what I consider my home. I was in survival mode, but only in my mind, and at a distance.

The past week I have somehow been doing the same exact thing. Except this time I am at home in wine country, the first vacation and visit home to see family and friends in over a year due to COVID and due to work (as always). And here I am frantically trying to absorb as much social media – hashtags on twitter, Instagram story shares, Facebook group posts, Slack channels, and fielding texts from friends and family…. but all of these related to the fire that started raging last Thursday and continued to build, with winds picking up, and blowing all across the professional lives of my colleagues. The fire that I am now emotionally consumed by is the movement started by Brienne, also known as ratmagnet on Instagram, that brought forth a platform where women all across the craft beer industry have been sharing thousands of accounts of sexual harassment, abusive behavior, toxic work environments, and all sorts of very ugly and dark realities.  

Just like with the Tubbs fire, and the Kincade fire, and every other Sonoma county fire for all of eternity, my mind is completely inundated with thoughts related to the accusations and experiences of women currently at the front and center of the beer industry. I cannot stop for more than 5 minutes to have a conversation with my aunt, my cousin, my sister, or a friend, without my mind racing back to – What is going to happen? How much is going to burn? Are my loved ones safe right now? How will my life be different after this? How will the lives of those I love and respect be different? What is my part in this? Do I speak up? Did I speak up enough? If speaking up before never worked, why would that make this fire any bigger? Will this one be bigger than any of the fires that happened every day all of these many long years I’ve been in this industry? These exact same fires that were quickly put out by protected men who see to it that other men stay protected? Do I want the fire to burn everything down, my stable employment along with it? What will be left?

    Here is the thing about fires: They are fast. They are destructive. They rage faster in certain areas due to very specific environmental features. They are necessary. It is not surprising that the craft beer industry has caught on fire, just like it is not surprising that most of Australia burned in 2019-2020. There are many, many actions that a person can take to prepare yourself for it…. controlled burning, fire hoses, generators, emergency to go bags, insurance. The people who live in areas that are at the most risk for fires are usually prepared for these things, but it does take some time. It takes a few seasons to get used to it. And you do your best to protect yourself, your family, and your belongings. But the hard reality is that sometimes you are ill prepared and the fire will burn everything in its reach. And you won’t be able to protect yourself, your family, and your life.

There is a fire raging across the craft beer industry right now, I can see it on the fire maps of Instagram stories, in the statement after statement from brewery after brewery after brewery. It is not contained, it is growing and consuming businesses and abusers left and right. Some of these businesses are prepared, they have their fire hoses at the ready, and they are welcoming the annual fires to burn down the dead grasses that feed the flame so they no longer have that risk. They can use this moment to make necessary changes and things can start to feel better, at least for a little while. 

Other businesses are not prepared and are scrambling to figure out which family photo albums they should grab before it is too late, or in other words, scrambling to figure out how to survive a reckoning. These businesses are drafting and rewriting statements, hiring third parties to mediate for the first time ever, making difficult and consequential decisions that normally would take weeks or months in a matter of hours, and are for the most part shit out of luck.  In any case, the truth of the matter is: the craft beer industry is very, very flammable. The swiftness of social media and the power of public scrutiny is a perfect storm, it is the kindling under your porch that you forgot was there before it was too late.

When women marched by the millions in 2017, in 2018, in 2019 carrying signs that say “Pussy Grabs Back”, when women protested outside the supreme court because a rapist had just been appointed to the highest judicial position in the country, when women cried every single time our access to reproductive healthcare was attacked, when Kathleen Hanna yelled “Girls to the front!”, when women cried because we were passed over again and again and again for that promotion that went to a less qualified white man, when women asked to not be tone policed, or catcalled , or drugged, or assaulted, or called crazy, or when we asked for equal pay. When we asked to be treated as human…. what we were doing was inching closer and closer to sparking up that kindling, the kindling that men forgot was underneath the porch. We were the winds building up and pushing in directions ever closer to flammable areas, fire zones. These were the warnings.

    And the sparks were not put out. We did not get that equal treatment; we did not get respect or dignity or a voice. The winds have decided to blow towards one of the most flammable of all places.  The spark that was not put out landed right onto craft beer’s forgotten kindling. The porch caught on fire last Thursday.

       I will return to my other home in San Diego next week, just as I returned home to Healdsburg after the Kincade fire. I will walk through the ashes, through the remnants of burned down buildings, through my place of work that is still standing but is not the same. I will ask the familiar but different questions to my women colleagues: How are we going to rebuild? What will it look like? What does a future hold for the people left after the fire has burned and everything is different? Is everything different? And most importantly, will the flammable parts of this place still be there, the ugly and dark realities that men have enabled? And will we be able to rid ourselves of those parts, will it require more fire?

When women say “burn it down” this is what we are talking about. This has always been the result of not heeding the red flag warnings. And I say let it burn. 

-Tessie Warnecke

For more context, articles and resources on the sexism in the beer industry and the now over 1,000 stories shared by women in the industry, please go here.

If you’d like to share a story or write something for WOTB, email WomenoftheBevolution@gmail.com or DM us on IG

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