An internal memo from Melvin Brewing’s management details an incident involving sexual harrassment that has put the company in hot water with its customers.
“It was reported to Melvin Brewing Company that on Nov. 20, 2017 an incident occurred at Menace Brewing Company in Bellingham, WA between brewer Kirk McHale and a Menace Brewing employee,” said the memo, dated Jan. 11. “Melvin Brewing takes any accusation of misconduct seriously and investigated accordingly.”
Melvin co-founder Jeremy Tofte and its “financial guru,” William Morrow, signed the memo, which the News&Guide obtained over the weekend. The letter, reportedly sent to Melvin employees, said McHale inappropriately touched a server at Menace Brewing in Bellingham, Washington. Melvin, which is in Alpine and associated with Jackson-based restaurant Thai Me Up, opened a Bellingham brewery in June 2017.
“The employee of Menace Brewing stated that while addressing guests at Kirk’s table, Kirk put his hand around her waist, then moved his hand lower and touched her butt and upper thigh area,” the memo states.
McHale is listed on Melvin’s website as co-founder and “head donkey,” but spokesperson Eric Henderson called McHale a contract employee.
“As the company grew the positions became more clearly defined in terms of what roles would be,” Henderson said Monday. “Ultimately Kirk is the mastermind of beer and creativity.”
McHale is contracted to come up with beer recipes, Henderson said.
Keeping out of sight
Since the accusation McHale has been told to lay low.
“For the foreseeable future, Kirk will not represent the Melvin brand at any events or collaborations,” the memo said. “Melvin Brewing is strongly encouraging Kirk to seek appropriate training, counseling and rehabilitation as necessary to help assure that an incident such as this does not reoccur.”
Henderson said McHale sought help.
“It was therapy that reflects upon decision making and conduct in public,” Henderson said.
Outcry over the incident has been abundant in Bellingham, with customers there threatening to boycott Melvin. The Washington brewpub was vandalized over the weekend, according to the Bellingham Herald, with “Go home to Wyoming” painted on on the front.
“Bellingham is a place that prides itself on good beer and good people,” Becky Kobel said on Melvin Brewing Bellingham’s Facebook page. “When you don’t listen to them and hear what people are saying, that’s the fastest way to lose business and customers.”
Some beer distributors in Bellingham also said they won’t carry Melvin beer. But whether or not this incident will significantly hurt Melvin’s business is unknown.
“It’s too soon to say at this point,” Henderson said. “We have a really good location and a reputation for good food and beer.”
An apology was sent to the victim of the alleged groping, Henderson said. No police report was filed.
“She has taken a stance to not talk about it publicly,” Menace Brewing’s owner, Ben Buccarelli, told the News&Guide. “I have to respect that. Our values are of diversity and equality.”
Henderson said McHale’s colleagues were shocked over the accusation and said those actions were “out of character” for their brewer.
“He’s done everything he can to apologize and be forthcoming,” he said.
The News&Guide asked to talk to McHale. Henderson said he would pass along questions. Answers from McHale were not returned by press time.
“At this point in time the brewer in question has voluntarily submitted himself to a continued treatment program,” Henderson said late Tuesday. “Please know that Melvin Brewing is listening and making changes for the good.”
Besides the groping complaint, customers also accused Melvin Brewing of distasteful marketing that mocked sexual abuse. Until recently, Melvin’s contact page on its website featured a button that said, “Show us on the doll where Melvin Brewing touched you.”
Now the page contains an apology.
“In early 2017, Melvin management made a poor decision regarding what was appropriate for the Melvin website,” it states. “The material we posted on our Contacts Page was completely inappropriate and is against what we believe in as a company and a culture. We deeply regret our poor judgment and we will continue to take corrective action.”
The employee who wrote the header has been terminated, Henderson said.
“They have fired the gentleman who wrote the copy on the website,” he said.
Co-owner Tofte has asked Melvin’s fans to forgive him.
“I’m disgusted with myself for not being more proactive in seeing or spending more time on my own website,” Tofte said. “Sexual abuse to children is not a joke and does not reflect how we feel at Melvin.”
The company has tried to get in front of the critiques by posting apologies on its social media channels.
“At Melvin Brewing we do not condone bro-culture or tolerate any sort of sexual harassment,” the company stated on Facebook. “Melvin Brewing strives to support women in all facets of our operations. Many of our employees at the breweries and in upper-management are women.”
Because of the issues, Melvin Brewing is rolling out a harassment code of conduct policy that its “100-plus” employees must sign, Henderson said.
“It’s already being drafted,” he said. “We are working with consultants to lay out the best plan for that.”
Melvin received a $2.9 million grant in 2014 from the Wyoming Business Council to open its Alpine facility, according to News&Guide archives.