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Businesses Drop Actual Brewing Following Sexual Assault Allegations

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega Businesses Drop Actual Brewing Following Sexual Assault Allegations
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In the days following the release of a Columbus Alive article detailing sexual assault and rape allegations against The Actual Brewing Company owner Fred Lee, local businesses and organizations have taken justice into their own hands. 

Lee, co-founder and co-owner of Actual Brewing since its opening in 2012, was accused of assault and harassment by eight women, whose stories were corroborated by witnesses in the Alive article. Other women have come forward on social media to tell their stories since the news dropped on Wednesday. Although Lee has stepped down as CEO of Actual Brewing, he has maintained his minority ownership. In response, bars, restaurants, and organizations, some listed in the Alive article, have confirmed they will no longer be stocking Actual Brewing products or collaborating with the brewery on future events.

Actual Brewing responded to the publication of allegations against Lee in a Facebook post on Feb. 6, authored by acting CEO Nicole Felter:

“Though we have been quiet online today, we have not been ignoring your voices, words, and thoughts. Mr. Lee has stepped down as CEO of Actual Brewing Company. As the new CEO, I will endeavor to guide the company through this challenging time. Our employees, our investors, and I take the allegations against Mr. Lee seriously and are prepared to cooperate in any official investigation that may be undertaken. Mr. Lee no longer has any role with the company, and we have begun the process of removing him from his minority ownership position.

Actual Brewing is and has always been about more than one person. It consists of over 35 wonderful, hard-working, and innocent individuals. The brewery was built and supported by many good people over many years. Dozens of people are currently involved with the brewery as employees and investors, and we are committed to preserving the brand, the product, and our dedication to brewing excellent beer for our customers.

We will also work tirelessly to create an inclusive environment that ensures the safety of every one of our patrons and co-workers. We recognize the severity of the claims against our former CEO and we are committed to supporting women.

To our customers who have put their trust in the Actual Brewing brand we will endeavor to continue to produce creative, premium beers, and will continue to embrace the scientific and independent spirit that inspires us at Actual.”

Their followers were less than forgiving, accusing Felter and other Actual Brewing staff of not only being aware of the alleged pattern of behavior exhibited by Lee, but also being complicit. Many stated their intent to boycott Actual Brewing until all who were knowledgeable and complicit in Lee’s alleged behavior were ousted from the company. 

Meanwhile, the following organizations and businesses have ceased relationships with Actual Brewing:

Women Have Options — Ohio

WHO/O announced this week that they would not be partnering with Actual Brewing or accepting support from the brewery while Lee is involved in or benefitting from the company.

“Sexual assault is a violent abuse of power. We feel that any organization working for the social good should be outspoken against such abuse and should boldly stand with survivors. We are deeply committed to creating a world free from violence and oppression, where all people live without fear and with full autonomy,” WHO/O has written on their website. “We feel it is our duty to hold our partners, donors, volunteers, staff and supporters accountable, including cutting ties with individuals and organizations that do not share our vision of reproductive and social justice values.”

Hills Market Downtown

The Hills Market Downtown hasn’t carried products from Actual Brewing for years, according to a post on their Facebook and a comment from Wine and Cheese Director Amanda Smith Anderson in the Alive story. 

We’ve refused to carry beers from Actual Brewing ever since we learned of Fred’s behavior years ago, but this article was still hard to read,” they said on their Facebook page. “All our love to the women who were brave enough to speak out and go on the record to make this happen.”

House Wine

House Wine was one of few businesses to make a post on their Facebook page confirming their decision to remove Actual Brewing products from their inventory.

“Until further notice, we will not offer any beers from Actual Brewing and we’re removing current product from the shelf,” they stated. “We will stand behind women and men who are victims of these egregious crimes, especially the women in this article in our industry who’ve had the courage to speak out and those who are our friends.”

Hop Yard 62

A representative of Hop Yard 62 commented their intent to halt the sale of Actual Brewing products on a Facebook post in the private Facebook group Columbus Craft Beer Consortium. The business confirmed this in a private message.

Savor Growl

Though a formal statement was not made on their social media account, Savor Growl also posted in the Columbus Craft Beer Consortium and confirmed in a private message that they would no longer sell Actual Brewing products.

The Draft Room

The Draft Room is the third business to post in the private Facebook group, Columbus Craft Beer Consortium, that they would no longer sell Actual Brewing products. The business also confirmed in a private message.

The Barrel and Bottle at North Market

No announcement was made, but Collin Castore, co-owner of Barrel and Bottle at the North Market, confirmed with Columbus Underground that they’ve removed all Actual Brewing products from their shelves.

Columbus Ale Trail / Beers & Board Games Club of Columbus

Both the Columbus Ale Trail and Beers & Board Games Club of Columbus, run in part by Drink Up Columbus founder Cheryl Harrison, have announced their divestment from Actual Brewing and Lee. 

Harrison, who’s been friends with Lee for five years, and whose husband has an investment in Actual Brewing, has faced backlash since the story broke of the accusations of sexual assault against Lee. 

As mentioned in the Alive article, Harrison was present for an assault of her friend in which Lee is alleged to have groped her breasts, and, per a post on her personal Facebook page, “did not at the time think that particular encounter justified publicly or personally disavowing him. I am sure we all have a friend who has done a dumb drunk thing. I am NOT apologizing for or justifying him grabbing her breasts, but rather trying to own my minimization of it.”

Harrison claims to have been unaware of a pattern of behavior until she was contacted by an alleged victim of Lee’s in January, who hoped Harrison would tell her story and the stories of other alleged victims. Harrison, having the aforementioned conflicts of interest, declined to write the story herself and introduced the alleged victim(s) to Andy Downing at Columbus Alive. Questions are now coming forward around Harrison’s decision to pass the story to Downing, and whether that decision was influenced by her close relationship with Lee.

“On January 18, 2019 I received an email from a woman I did not know named Julia, whose story is recounted in the Alive article, alleging that Fred Lee had sexually assaulted her and several other women that she knew about. I met with her on January 22 to hear her story,” Harrison wrote on her Facebook page. “I told her that I believed her, and that I wanted to help her get her story out there, but that given the professional and personal ties I had to Fred, which I clearly itemized to her both in person and via text before we met, and which are itemized at the bottom of this post, I was not sure I would ethically be able to write about the assaults, but that I still wanted to help.”

Stay tuned for additional updates on this developing story.

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