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Widely derided craft beer article was satire, author insists

The American craft beer industry was already having a conversation about sexism. Then Bill Metzger, an early supporter of craft beer and one of the people behind one of Buffalo's best-known purveyors, published an article in Great Lakes Brewing News.

Now the conversation has gotten heated and Metzger has found himself on the wrong end, apologizing for offending readers and insisting that the piece was meant to be satire.

This month, Great Lakes Brewing News, one of seven bimonthly regional papers that have covered the American craft beer industry for decades, carried a byline piece on its front page by Metzger, its publisher.

The fourth sentence of the article, headlined "Scottish Hopping To Real Ale," reads: “In the age of #metoo, the pendulum has swung too far. One aggressive move and a man’s career can derail. I feel the walls closing around me, my room to move shrinking. My instincts to bed every woman I see are reducing from a king-sized mattress to a cot, the size of which I only remember from a tour in Iraq.

“Today’s rules put men like me in the equivalent of a feminazi re-education program instead of ceding to my genetic makeup and behaving like that great seducer, Don Juan. I’m not boasting here, but there are times when I’ve given the legendary womanizer a run for his money, especially in the days of internet dating.

“But I’m here to discuss beer,” the article continued, mentioning brewing for the first time. The 2,800-word article offers a travelogue loosely associated with beer-related observations and sites, and various traveling companions.

Using alcohol to leverage sexual contact is a recurring theme. The article’s protagonist muses about women needing “a higher level of alcohol to overcome the social restrictions on their primal selves.” He also plots bedding women who were novices on the subject of cask ale.

The piece touched off an uproar in local and national craft beer circles, leading breweries and beer venues to pull their advertising and widespread disgust directed toward Metzger.

In response, Metzger said his piece was satire, “an attempt to portray a despicable character, and his views.”

His critics were not buying it. Numerous breweries and beer venues in the U.S. and Canada have announced their severing of ties with Great Lakes Brewing News, including Buffalo’s Fat Bob’s Smokehouse, Thin Man Brewery, Moor Pat, Coles, Colter Bay, the Terrace and Community Beer Works.

“A growing part of the craft beer world is not putting up with misogynistic, homophobic, racist, generally bigoted attitudes in our industry,” said Community Beer Works co-owner Ethan Cox. “We didn’t want to be associated with stuff like that.”

In an interview after the article went viral, Metzger stressed that he meant it as parody. He acknowledged that it was not labeled as such, and that the article ran in a spot usually filled with craft beer journalism, not fiction.

The person in the article is not the real Bill Metzger, he said, but a satiric portrayal of the sort of misogynistic person he loathes. In the past, he noted, he has written other fictional travelogues, but “not quite as over the edge as this one has been, I gather, given the reaction.”

In Buffalo, Metzger was an early supporter of the craft beer community through his publication and investments. In 2012, he was part of a group that bought Gene McCarthy's Tavern, the historic Irish pub on Hamburg Street in the Old First Ward, and opened Old First Ward Brewing.

Metzger said he was not drinking when he wrote the article. It is no longer on the Brewing News website. “My partner is in the process of taking it off the internet, as the outrage with it has grown.”

Metzger's apology came too late for staff writer Matt Kotula. He resigned, writing on Twitter that “While I have enjoyed my years writing for GLBN, I do not in any way condone the attitudes and beliefs expressed in Bill Metzger's piece in the current issue, and am dismayed at the thought of the editorial process that allowed it to run.”

Muddy York Brewing Co., the Ontario brewery profiled on the other half of the front page stated on Twitter: “Great Lakes News your publication and anyone linked to you are no longer welcome at Muddy York.” Numerous beer establishments, in Toronto and elsewhere, posted images of papers in recycling bins, toilets, or set on fire.

In Toronto, Robin LeBlanc had seen the paper publication in bars, but learned of the Metzger article when it was being shared and criticized by craft brewing industry members on Twitter. Reading it was “disappointing but not surprising,” she said.

“This is a conversation we’ve been having, I would say, too many times," said LeBlanc, an award-winning beer blogger, and co-author of two editions of the book “The Ontario Craft Beer Guide.” She wrote an article detailing her objections to Metzger’s piece.

“If it’s not something like this, it’s a brewer making a rape joke, or an offensive beer label,” she said. But even amid the routine disappointments, “this was a special kind of train wreck.”

“There was nothing about that piece that said it was fictional, or parody,” she said. “This was on the front page of a community newspaper about the beer industry, not a novel.”

LeBlanc said she’s a fan of the Buffalo craft beer community, and the article made her feel sorry for it. “Every year I go there and it’s just getting bigger and better, with so much going on,” she said. “I can’t help but wonder, is there nothing significant going on in the Buffalo beer scene where you have to put this sexist fictional take on the front page of your newsletter?”

Whatever Metzger’s authorial intent, he missed how hurtful to women the views aired on the front page of his widely distributed publication could be, critics said.

“When you're a woman in the beer industry just starting out and a man with some influence gives you a professional opportunity, it can be easy to trust that he genuinely respects you and sees you as his equal,” said Julia Burke, former Buffalo beer journalist and Western New York correspondent for the Great Lakes Brewing News who now lives in Portland, Ore. “Then when you read something like this years later it feels like all your own work there is tarnished, in addition to that trust.”

Calling it satire is almost worse, Burke said. “Satire without a clear target or purpose is just a lousy release valve for bad-faith arguments and accountability-free bigotry, and an experienced editor and publisher should know better.”

She was “terribly disappointed,” Burke said, “to see this from someone I once called a colleague and mentor.”

After 30 years of writing about beer, he may be remembered for a piece he now disowns, Metzger acknowledged. “If anyone was to think that’s me, all I can say is they’re mistaken, and they don’t know me. I think it was a stupid mistake to assume that of many, many people, especially women, who have dealt with unfairness in an industry, and a lot of the issues it brings.”

He was wrong to run the piece, he repeated, adding: “I apologize to the readers I offended.”

email: agalarneau@buffnews.com

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