Hailstorm Brewing co-owner and head brewer Steve Miller has been removed from the company following accusations of sexual misconduct, the Tinley Park, Illinois-based craft brewery announced on Facebook.
“The other owners of Hailstorm are deeply disturbed by this incident and directly began gathering information and have reached out to the victim,” the company wrote. “Based on the incidents, this owner will no longer be affiliated with Hailstorm Brewing as an owner, investor, or employee.”
Information about the incident — which took place at an after party in August following the Great Taste of the Midwest beer festival in Madison, Wisconsin — surfaced on a Chicago-area craft beer Facebook group last weekend. A group member who had been present alleged that Miller had approached a woman and “put his hands down her pants.” In a reply to the group, Miller wrote that the depiction of his behavior was “an accurate portrayal of the night.”
The observer was talking to the victim at the time of the alleged assault.
“She started crying and looked at me and said ‘Steve keeps touching me and I don’t want him to touch me,’” the observer wrote.
Of the incident, Miller wrote that “it happened.”
“I’m still incredibly ashamed by it and it’s something that never should have happened,” he wrote. “I misread the fun our group was having and acted terribly.”
Hailstorm founder and co-owner Chris Schiller told Brewbound that Miller’s ties to Hailstorm as an employee and owner have been severed. Miller owned 3% of Hailstorm’s shares, for which he will likely have to be compensated. Hailstorm’s five other owners used its disassociation clause to remove Miller.
“That’s something that the majority of the members can vote immediately and do,” he said. “So, while we may owe something for the shares, he is no longer a shareholder or owner in any form.”
No other employees or owners attended the Great Taste of the Midwest, and they were unaware of the incident until this week, Schiller said.
“None of us were up there; none of us knew anything about this,” he said, pushing back against online rumblings that Hailstorm was aware of Miller’s behavior that night.
“Any kind of questions about if we know anything and covered anything — absolutely not,” Schiller said. “We never knew any history of anything.”
Miller’s dismissal now leaves Hailstorm without a brewer, as he was the sole member of its brewing team. Schiller said the position will need to be filled immediately to stave off an existential crisis for the 8-year-old brewery.
“We have a lot of employees that depend on this place for livelihood,” he said. “We have people that have put a lot of their years and heart and soul into it.”
In addition to his role at Hailstorm, Miller was also a member of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild (ICBG) board of directors, a position to which he was elected during the summer. He resigned from the board on Saturday, according to a statement from the ICBG.
“In the coming weeks, our Membership Ethics Advisory Panel will be rolling out new resources – including an anonymous reporting tool for brewers, staff and patrons – to help our members foster safe, respectful and inclusive environments for all,” the guild wrote.
Hailstorm, which has a code of conduct and has trained its staff on sexual harassment, will be increasing its efforts to ensure employee safety.
“We’re having an outside firm come in and do training that specializes in this and allow time for individual employees to speak with a neutral third party anonymously if they wish to let us know about anything that has ever happened,” Schiller said. “They wouldn’t have to talk to an owner or, if they want to be anonymous, they can.
“We don’t know of anything else that’s ever happened here, but we do want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to bring that up and feel safe doing so,” he continued.
Miller’s ouster comes nearly seven months after thousands of women began sharing their experiences of sexual harassment and assault in the beer industry with Brienne Allan, who posted them to her Instagram account, @ratmagnet. As those stories came to light, leaders of popular breweries such as Modern Times and Tired Hands stepped down, but the status of their ownership stakes in those breweries remains unclear.
Of the thousands of stories shared on the @ratmagnet and @EmboldenActAdvance Instagram accounts, many entailed misbehavior and assault during and following beer festivals. As a result, Women of the Bevolution founder Ash Eliot and beer writer Courtney Iseman created a four-part guide to hosting festivals with “safe spaces and supportive environments.”