Backlash in Bellingham

Post updated below.

Last month, Kendall Jones reported the disturbing news that a Melvin Brewing employee had groped a server at another Bellingham brewery, Menace. The two breweries are just a block apart, and the incident (which involved a brewer visiting from the Wyoming site) unsettled the tight-knit community. 

The backlash has been profound. I’m here in Bellingham for the town’s beer week, and you won’t find Melvin’s name mentioned in the Beer Week materials. John Holl and I hit the brewery trail yesterday, and decided to stop in to see whether Melvin was still attracting a crowd despite the official cold shoulder. Not exactly:


That photo was taken at about 4:30, and breweries nearby—Kulshan, Menace—had great crowds on a gorgeous sunny day. 

Melvin cultivated an aggressive, bro-y image, and it was wildly successful. The brewery made 20,000 barrels in 2017, way, way up from the 8,000 the year before. That brash, testosterone-fueled kind of brand is far from rare among beer companies, many who appeal to avid 20-something men. And the dangers of such a brand (and, apparently, culture) seemed low. We may need to rethink that.

This situation has some distinctive features that may make it a unique one-off. Melvin isn’t a homegrown brewery, and Bellingham is a small, close community. Would the response have been different had this happened elsewhere or if a local brewer was involved? Seems likely. 

But the rebuke is nevertheless remarkable. John and I had a pilsner and rye pale ale, both very nice, and all the visible employees in the place were women. They were cheery and courteous and I felt bad for them. But it was like a wake in there. It’s quite possible the Melvin Bellingham won’t make it—they’re certainly not going to with a half-dozen customers whispering in the eerily empty building. 

And Bellinghamsters don’t need Melvin. John and I were impressed by our tour through some of the city’s offerings. Menace, where the incident happened just down the road, is a wonderful brewery with low-ABV session ales, including a wonderful best bitter. Kulshan does hops, including a really nice hazy pale. Wander does a delicious rauchbier that is a perfect complement to the barbecued brisket from the food truck outside. 

Melvin may well become an important cautionary tale about just what kind of behavior will be tolerated in the future. With 6000 breweries out there, people just don’t have to put up with this—and in Bellingham, they’re not. 

Update, 11:45am.
By coincidence, Tristan Chan at PorchDrinking posted an interview with Melvin Brewing's Jeremy Tofte and Ted Whitney this morning. It's worth a read to see how the brewery is contending with this situation. The brewery was clearly not prepared for anything like this and is still learning how to handle it. They seem to be engaging in the process sincerely, but introspection doesn't come naturally. I hope this is something they can overcome and learn from, but it's going to be a process.

Jeff Alworth15 Comments