Necromancer Brewing
Necromancer Brewing lead brewer Nina Santiago, left, of Brookline, and head brewer Lauren Hughes, of Greenfield, clean after brewing through the morning on Wednesday, July 13, 2022, in Ross. Photo by Stephanie Strasburg / PublicSource.

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By Matt Petras

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Nina Santiago found herself at a crossroads.

She wanted to grow after working in retail management for almost eight years and became tired of disrespectful customers. After learning how to make wine from her wife’s parents and enjoying it, she completed a vocational program to help people break into the brewing industry at Trace Brewing in Bloomfield.

Santiago then went on to work for Necromancer Brewing in Ross. She loves Necromancer and feels respected there. “It definitely changed my life,” Santiago said.

But at a beer festival in May, Santiago alleges an employee of another Pittsburgh brewery harassed her and made homophobic remarks after noticing her T-shirt, which read “Queer AF.” This frustrated her, but it also spurred a new push for a code of conduct now under development by the Pittsburgh Brewers Guild that could improve the environment.

The Pittsburgh Brewers Guild held its regular weekly meeting on July 12 and spent the bulk of the evening discussing how best to implement a guild-wide code of conduct. In a statement later released to PublicSource, Pittsburgh Brewers Guild leaders said they support implementing a code of conduct and believe it would be a natural progression of the guild’s past and current focus on making the local brewery scene attractive.

“As an important next step, we plan to implement and enforce a code of conduct that emphasizes we all benefit when breweries and their team members welcome people of all backgrounds, treat everyone with respect and do business the right way,” the guild wrote in a statement emailed to PublicSource. “Our goal is that these basic expectations — which are typically met day in and day out — will become defining values for every PBG member.”

The guild is forming a subcommittee of its member volunteers to create the code of conduct, beginning immediately.

The national brewing industry is dominated by white men. About 94% of individual owners of breweries are white, and about 76% are male, according to the Brewers Association.

Lauren Hughes, head brewer at Necromancer, who is a gay woman, knows that Pittsburgh’s scene also is predominately run by white men. She found the guild meeting productive and volunteered to be part of the subcommittee.

“I think it’s definitely in the right direction,” Hughes said. “I was honestly — I think a lot of us were — worried that it wouldn’t get this far. I’m interested to see how it works out.”

Lauren Hughes
Necromancer Brewing head brewer Lauren Hughes, of Greenfield, working in the brewery in Ross. Photo by Stephanie Strasburg / PublicSource.

Hughes said she spoke up at the meeting to acknowledge that doing the work necessary to implement a code of conduct won’t be easy, but that it’s essential for ensuring marginalized people feel welcome in the scene.

Hughes said she told the guild, “Unfortunately, I’ve been discriminated [against] a lot in this industry within Pittsburgh. I know no one wants to hear that. … But it’s happened, and obviously it’s a problem or else we wouldn’t be wanting to get this.”

Harangue in the bathroom line

In May, Santiago alleged that an employee of Millvale-based Grist House Craft Brewery approached her as she stood in line for a bathroom and made inappropriate sexual and homophobic remarks. Hughes, a mentor for Santiago at Necromancer, said she confronted the employee only for him to double down on his comments.

“I felt really disgusted, and I felt really angry as well,” Santiago said, “because [I was] being judged on such a core part of who I am and how I identify without this guy even knowing anything about me.”

Hughes and Santiago informed Necromancer owner Ben Butler, who said he met with Grist House management and didn’t think they took it seriously enough. Santiago went public with the allegations in a June 18 Instagram post, and they made their way to Reddit and then Twitter.

PublicSource reached out to Grist House owners regarding the allegation and received an email statement.

“After being informed about an incident involving one of our employees at a beer festival, we immediately conducted an internal investigation and consulted with outside professionals,” the Grist House owners wrote. “We then followed our company’s long-established code of conduct policies and took disciplinary, remedial and educational actions which were based upon the findings of the investigation and consultations with outside professionals.”

Unsatisfied with their conversations with Grist House management, Butler, Santiago and Hughes of Necromancer began to push for a code of conduct for the whole Pittsburgh Brewers Guild, supported by the owners of Two Frays Brewery and Trace Brewing. The Pittsburgh Brewers Guild, a nonprofit organization, supports and represents more than 40 breweries.

Necromancer has its own code, published online, with a detailed description of prohibited harassment. Disciplinary action following a report of a code of conduct violation — including harassment — can include written warnings, mediation, suspension, firing and filing of a police report.

“It helps communicate what the expectation is, but it also gives a mechanism to handle complaints,” Butler said.

Photo by Stephanie Strasburg / PublicSource
Part of the crew at Necromancer Brewing from front, Ben Butler, owner/founder of Necromancer, of Ross; Nina Santiago, lead brewer, of Brookline; Ryan Rusiski, cellarman, of Shaler; and Lauren Hughes, head brewer, of Greenfield; in the brewery in Ross. Photo by Stephanie Strasburg / PublicSource.

Dave Kuschen, founder of Trace, also supports a guild-wide code of conduct.

“Pittsburgh has gotten a lot of attention for being inclusive. Not just for people working in the industry but people coming to drink here, making sure the spaces are safe,” Kuschen said. “And part of holding each other and the whole industry to a standard, you need a code of conduct that clearly spells out what the expectations are and what the ramifications would be if those guidelines aren’t followed.”

Jen Onofray, co-owner of Two Frays with her husband, said their brewery has diverse employees, all from its neighborhood in Garfield. Two Frays also has a code of conduct published online.

“I can’t figure out a reason in my mind, logically, why everyone would not publish a code of conduct,” Onofray said.

Diversity and growth

The Barrel and Flow festival in Pittsburgh, founded by Day Bracey, co-host of the popular local podcast Drinking Partners, has been celebrated as the first Black craft brewers festival in the United States. For the upcoming festival on Aug. 13, Bracey said he expects 3,000 to 4,000 people to attend.

Last year, organizers accused a Hofbrauhaus manager of using racial slurs at the festival, exposing nationally the Pittsburgh area’s issues with inclusion and diversity. But the festivals have been successful, so much so that Bracey believes they’ve helped the scene become more diverse.

“When I walk into some of the taprooms, they do look a bit more diverse, especially when you’re looking at folks like Trace, doing the work that they do,” Bracey said. “But progress is slow.”

Bracey supports a guild-wide code of conduct and believes it will be helpful if implemented and enforced properly, allowing individuals to come forward in a way that makes them feel safe and guiding action when necessary. He also said he believes it’s long overdue, raising the fact that both the Brewers of Pennsylvania and the Brewers Association have their own codes of conduct, published online. Individuals in violation of the Brewers of Pennsylvania’s code of conduct could be subject to actions like retraining, warning, a probationary period, removal from the group or a ban from group events.

Necromancer Brewing
One of Necromancer Brewing’s many skeleton figurines holds a Progress Pride Flag atop the establishment’s brewing equipment. Photo by Stephanie Strasburg / PublicSource.

“I was actually surprised to hear that [Pittsburgh’s guild] didn’t have a code of conduct in place already, given the state of the industry, given the work that we’ve been doing over the years,” Bracey said.

The craft brewery industry in Pittsburgh brings in a lot of money to the city, Bracey said, and essential to its growth is becoming more diverse and inclusive.

“There are a lot of communities out there that can be tapped into to grow the industry, not just nationally and internationally, but even locally,” Bracey said.

Matt Petras is an independent writer and educator based in the Pittsburgh area. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @mattApetras.

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