Tacoma Brewery Under Fire for Homophobic Response to Online Criticism

Dystopian State's owner and head brewer has been suspended after his response to criticism from a patron.
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Over the past 24 hours, well-loved Tacoma brewery Dystopian State Brewing Company has been on the receiving end of online backlash over how its owners handled criticism from a patron.

In a Facebook group for local beer lovers, the patron described Dystopian State as the “only place I have spit beer back into a glass.” The comment apparently didn’t sit well with owner and head brewer Shane McElwrath, who privately messaged the commenter with homophobic and threatening statements.

“Spit that back into your boyfriends [sic] mouth you piece of [expletive],” he wrote.

According to screen shots of the exchange, the commenter did not appear to respond to subsequent threats and more expletive-laden messages from McElwrath.

But McElwrath wasn’t the only representative of the brewery to get involved. On the commenter’s initial post, co-owner Lana Adzhigirey left ableist, angry remarks. These actions are drawing a large amount of criticism from the local community and craft brewing fans across the country.

Just over a year ago, Dystopian State Brewing Company opened in a 10,000-square-foot space. The kid-friendly beer haven quickly became a neighborhood haunt, drawing praise for the company’s beer and taproom. 

Now, the brewery’s popularity hangs in the balance as the backlash of the craft beer community has proven swift and harsh. Within 24 hours, the company’s scores on Untappd, a social beer rating app, have plummeted. Negative Yelp reviews have popped up and hundreds of negative comments have flooded the company’s Facebook page.

In response to the controversy, Dystopian State posted an apology Monday night on Facebook:

“We really screwed up. We lashed out to one of our customers who made a negative comment about our beer on a beer group on social media. We made it personal. And have sent him messages in very poor taste. This is unacceptable and it was wrong.

“This is unprofessional and we take full responsibility. Gus Erickson - thank you for giving us a chance and please accept our deepest apology for sending you hateful messages.

We would also like to reassure you that we accept people from all walks of life, any and all sexual orientation, color, gender, opinion.”

Comments have been streaming in since the apology was posted with no sign of slowing down. Many commenters suggested that this is not the first time the owners have lashed out at online critics and questioned the sincerity of their apology. In response to the continued criticism, the company posted another statement in the comments of the original apology.

“No excuses. We own our insensitive, terrible comments and the hurt we have caused. It came from a place of anger, frustration and this is not who we are as people and this is not who we are as a business,” it read in part.

McElwrath later offered an apology from his personal account, indicating that he has been “suspended from my duties.”

“This is Shane. I have verbally attacked our customer and made hurtful comments one of which was of homophobic nature. This came from a frustrated and angry place which has been building up over time. None of this matters now. What matters is I made a horrible remark which I should have never made. I am not a homophobe, never have been. I have many friends, colIegues and even family who are gay. I did a disservice to our community, my friends and customers with my remarks.”

While the response has largely been negative, the original commenter and recipient of the hate speech posted on Facebook that he has forgiven the brewery for a “slip in judgment.” He encouraged people to visit the Tacoma taproom and try the beer for themselves before passing judgment.

Dystopian State declined to comment further for this story. Nevertheless, the reaction makes this recent dust-up over a Sounders beer seem pretty minor.

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