In July 2019, pop culture website Uproxx published a list touting the best beer influencers on Instagram. The 12 individuals included bloggers, brewers, and photographers, and 10 of them happened to be women.
In a now-infamous episode of the Brewbound Podcast, former editor Chris Furnari derided these women. In a transcript of the episode, Furnari names the first two Instagrammers, who are male; then, he says, the list “goes to s*** and it’s all chicks who basically take photos of themselves in like low-cut tops with beer.” He refers to the women as “girls in tight clothing and bathing suits,” and their beer-focused Instagrams as “ones where we’re just looking at chicks.” This portion of the podcast has since been deleted.
Following the incident, Furnari made multiple public apologies, writing, “I unfairly stereotyped and made generalizations about a group of individuals who have clearly earned the right to be recognized.” He continues, “The comments I made were out of line and demonstrated a complete lapse in judgment.” His words proved to be insufficient, however. On July 25, 2019, Forbes.com announced Furnari left his position at Brewbound, an award-winning beer news website where he served as editor for more than eight years. It is unclear whether he resigned or was terminated.
For the record, the women Furnari referred to are Bella (@onehoppylady), a food and beverage photographer who did not share her surname at press time; Caitlin Johnson (@bigwrldsmallgrl), blogger and content manager; Heather Lewis (@beerbitty), blogger and former operations projects director at Brooklyn Brewery; and Megan Stone (@isbeeracarb), brewer at DuClaw Brewing Co. Some of their photos indeed include plunging necklines and bikinis, but there is diversity among their profiles. Stone (@isbeeracarb), for example, shares her beer-focused travel adventures and collaborations with other brewers; and Lewis (@beerbitty) posts about life experiences through the glass of memorable beers.
View this post on Instagram
So I had the pleasure of interviewing THE Sam Calagione of @dogfishhead at work recently!! I tried very hard not to fan girl over the legend I’ve been reading about for at least a decade, but I think a ton of my co-workers fan girl/fan boyed quite a bit when he came into the office. And I couldn’t resist getting a selfie 😅💁🏻♀️ What a fun guy! Super grateful that he made time in his schedule for this interview during his trip to NYC! We’re so proud to be distributing Dogfish Head at @unionbeerdist 🍻🍻 Head over to the @unionbeerdist IG and click on their link in bio to read the full interview!! And give them a follow too! ☺️🍻🤩
Furnari’s comments sparked fast and furious responses from men and women in the industry, many of whom are avid readers of Brewbound, fans of the slandered Instagrammers, or both. His departure caused even more controversy.
“Calling BS on this,” New Belgium spokesperson Jesse Claeys tweeted on July 25, 2019. “Furnari has always been a pro and a strong advocate for craft beer. Taking female beer/boob Instagram ‘influencers’ to task for essentially returning to misogynistic 70s era beer marketing is not a fireable offense.” (Update 8/12/19: New Belgium’s PR department requested VinePair clarify Claeys made this comment personally, not in his capacity as a spokesperson for the brand. His Twitter account has since been deleted.)
Beer writer and broadcast journalist Tara Nurin noted how easy it is to say something “stupid” on air in a Forbes.com piece, writing, “I feel the hosts were actually speaking up for women by chastising those whose personal branding suggests that their chests are more important than their faces and that their bodies speak louder than their minds… We still have a double standard but now it’s women who are commercializing themselves and trying to silence the men who give their opinions about it.”
Others argue these women deserve the same reverence and respect as Furnari or any beer professional. “I’m tired of women having to prove themselves as beer drinkers,” Melis, a.k.a. @thegirlwithbeer, who was also included in the list and prefers not to share her surname for safety reasons, wrote on her feed. Melis is a communications manager for a craft brewery in San Diego. “I work full time for an independent craft brewery, support the Brewers Guild and Pink Boots Society. […] You want beer culture to be more diverse and inclusive? Stop sh*tting on the people who bring diversity to it. Do better.”
View this post on Instagram
I have three significant things happening soon. The first one is that Melis @thegirlwithbeer and I are going to PANAMA next week!! I was invited to collab with @fulaicaza at @boquetebrewingcompany, and asked Melis to come along. Ale has a whole itinerary packed full of exciting things that we can’t wait to share with y’all. If you happen to live in Panama City, we will be doing a little meet and greet event. Check my stories for info. TAG your friends in Panama, we’d love to meet them!! And stay tuned for the next drop of news. 🇵🇦 ✈️ . . 🍻🍹: @southernbeergirl, myself, and @thegirlwithbeer drinking some @brooklynbrewery Bel Air sour and beer cocktails at @thepearlhotel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . #craftbeeronly #craftbeerlove #craftbeerbabe #craftbeergirl #brooklynbrewery #brooklynbeer #sourbeer #unicornhair #rainbowhair #craftbeercommunity #panamacitybeach #panamabeer #visitpanama #beerblogger #travelblogger #gypsybrewer #ladybrewer #girlswithbeer #dippindaisysswimwear #beerus #boquete #boquetepanama #sandiegogram #visitsandiego
Bella, a.k.a. One Hoppy Lady, also defended her right to control her own image in an Instagram post following the podcast, writing: “Does my fitted shirt discredit the 9 years I’ve spent in the beer industry? Does @isbeeracarb’s bikini erase all her brewing knowledge? Is @la_petite_biere too sexy to enjoy beer? […] I’m disappointed in Brewbound for publishing this harmful speech against women.”
(Ironically, or perhaps not at all, the Brewound Podcast topic was “diversity and inclusion.” It later featured an interview with D.C. brewery owner Julie Verratti, former chair and current member of the Brewers Association Diversity Committee.)
Womanhood, like beer, is political. What women say, wear, and do with our bodies in public is regularly politicized and policed. When the collective expertise of a group of young women is called into question because of the ways they present their bodies online, it opens our eyes to the ways conservatism and unsolicited criticism are unfortunately still present in the beer industry — and the world at large.
Interestingly, this is not the first time a listicle of influencers sparked controversy within the beer community. In 2017, “30 Female Beer Lovers You Must Follow On Instagram,” published by Men’s Health, also ruffled feathers. Some responses, from women as well as men, were strikingly similar to Furnari’s recent remarks.
View this post on Instagram
Quality is so important to me when I make beer, I make sure all of my ingredients are fresh and healthy before using them. I taste the wort and beer in every stage to make sure things are progressing as they should be. I’m so concerned about quality, which is why since I’ve started at @jaggedmountaincb we have been using the lab company @fermlyknow ! They have the specialized equipment that most breweries can not afford or have space for. They are able to test a wide range of things from ABV to calories. If you are worried about a contamination they can test for other unwanted yeasts/bacteria. I was able to visit their lab the other day and pretend like I was helping 😝 in all reality it was super cool to see how they go through the samples that us breweries send them. I was most fascinated by the way they test for calories! If you want to have a more in depth view be sure to check my stories. Fermly is a great option for breweries concerned about their beer quality, or just getting a more in depth view at your beer. Both of the owners have been in the beer industry, and give you a personal touch with direct communication. This is why if you mention me, southernbeergirl, you can get 10% off your first order with them! Check out the link in my bio to see all the services they offer 🔥 THEY TEST INTERNATIONALLY TOO! Have you ever gotten your beer tested? What are some things that surprised you the most?
“I just think that championing these so-called IG ‘beer chicks’ is not the best vehicle for [recognition]… IG has just become an endless T&A parade with nearly naked pics being posted to lure you to their paid sites,” Hopgoddess312 wrote in a BeerAdvocate forum discussing the article. She also referred to the list as “a bunch of pics from women’s IG accounts, a good chunk of which are just tit pics and nothing to do with beer.” (Ironically, or perhaps not at all, Hopgoddess312’s profile photo is also a close-up of her breasts and a beer.)
“I feel this type of attention sets us back and demeans the hard working women who are in the industry,” Afro Beer Chick wrote in an October 2017 blog post. “There is no need to be a ‘hey look at me’ type beer chick… Let’s keep the boobs and butts for the other Instagram thots.”
On the other hand, the Men’s Health list was published in its “Sex” section. This is a meaningful editorial decision that reinforces the idea that attractive women and beer experts are two different subjects that often overlap.
Two years later, we are still grappling with these nuances. When members of the beer community see women baring it all in their photos, and earning more “likes” and followers, it’s easy to critique them for marketing to the male gaze. Yet when a male figure enters the ring to publicly condemn these same women, many jump to the women’s defense. What’s the deal?
It’s all about agency and respect. All members of the beer community should be able to present themselves however they choose, so long as they’re not hurting anybody; it’s not up to us to dictate what’s best for anyone else.
Yes, many of the Instagrammers included in last month’s list have sexy public personas. They’re also equipped with brains and beer expertise. Assuming anything less does a disservice to us all.