Note: This is a follow up to my Q&A with the Brewers Association’s Julia Herz.
Over the weekend, I listened to the latest Good Beer Hunting podcast with members of Indianapolis’ Central State Brewing. Among the variety of topics covered by host Michael Kiser was a lengthy discussion of the business’ commitment to social issues of equality and diversity. The Central State crew spoke with earnest about their interest in LGBT issues and Indiana’s political climate.
On Tuesday, I saw a brewery with a beer named “Date Grape.”
This contrast is not just the push-pull of today’s beer industry, but American culture as well. It’s easy to find wonderful examples of people, businesses and institutions doing what’s right for the advancement of human beings. Then you turn around and that 180 feels like more than a metaphor when you see downright ignorant acts.
The inappropriate beer name wound up being a sad mistake by Mobcraft, a crowd-sourced brewery that neglected to vet the names of beers submitted by fans, something that will now be corrected. Whoever the person may be who shared it was sadly “inspired” to make an ingredient-based pun out of “date rape.”
Even though the correction is welcomed, the incident still speaks to the larger problem of sexism and inclusion that hovers over the beer industry and beyond. The sheer fact that someone thought they were being smart and clever with such a wildly inappropriate name says a lot.
Then again, we are only 14 years separated from the “Sex for Sam” contest, which either seems like a lifetime ago or eerily relatable when we navel-gaze at the communities around us and what efforts in equality continue take place, in beer or otherwise.
There are real, tangible things happening on a regular basis that subvert what so many in beer try to champion: diversity and inclusion. In turn, we should start requesting real, tangible actions.
Did you know about Midnight Sun’s Panty Peeler Tripel? It was actually once named Extreme Polar White Bier, but somehow earned the nickname that now adorns the beer’s labels permanently. To draw a line here: it means that at best somebody thought highly of a horribly crude joke related to the beer, it’s alcohol content and desired impact on women, and at worst, straight up refers to the potential of sexual assault. The brewery says it’s “about being free spirited and loving life.”
Are you familiar with Sick-N-Twisted Brewing? If not, it’s probably for the best, otherwise you’d know questionably-named beers like Hump’her Honey Wheat or Pleasure Victim or Creamy Wet Spot. Unsurprisingly, they’ve also got a beer called Panty Dropper.
This isn’t a First Amendment issue. This is a decency issue.
Aside from the array of inappropriate names and artwork, there’s another thing that ties them together: They’re all paying members of the Brewers Association.
Their dues are going toward an organization that fights for their success legislatively and economically. They even have access to a host of educational and business resources.
But it also means that the behavior of these breweries is going unchecked by an organization that is meant to act as an overarching guide for “American craft brewers, their beers and the community of brewing enthusiasts.” If discussing diversity and inclusion is to become a priority of the Brewers Association, it’s time to not only ask more of the members who help push the organization’s agenda, it’s overdue for the BA to tell them definitively now is the time to get your act together, even if it’s “just” about beer names and labels.
But it’s not.
“For us, we make a lot of excuses in beer,” Laura Bell, vice president of Bell’s Brewery recently told John Holl on the podcast After Two Beers. “The first lesson I learned in brewing was that if you can’t take it when men hit on you, especially men that are your distributors or suppliers or whatever, you’re not going to make it. So grow a thick skin, toughen up, you have to tell them to back off. But if you can’t do that, then maybe this isn’t the industry for you.”
She wasn’t done:
And the more women I talk to, I say, ‘did you learn that?’
‘Yeah, that’s the first thing you learn.’
What a fucking horrible thing.
This is one example, but it’s an example that intimates sexual harassment isn’t just a regular part of day-to-day operations, but it’s something that’s supposed to be accepted and pushed aside. Heaven forbid it’s extrapolated to about a third of brewery employees across the country who are female.
The Brewers Association proudly says it’s membership driven, which is an important aspect of any representative organization. But what happens when the members are the ones poking at a problem, only making it worse?
In the Core Values and Beliefs posted on the BA’s website, the word “diversity’ is only included in reference to flavor and quality of beer. Among the organization’s primary directives is to “build a collegial community of brewers, homebrewers and brewing enthusiasts,” but what about the people those businesses serve, too?
When a woman who is curious about drinking something besides a BMC beer sees New Albanian’s Naughty Girl Blonde Ale, let’s pray she didn’t catch wind of the fact that the Brewers of Indiana Guild refused to even acknowledge sexism portrayed by that beer and others in the state.
“We don’t need to make statements regarding this type of stupidity,” one guild member reportedly said. “It just draws more attention to them. The guild needs to ignore their tactics and let the consumers make their own choices.”
“Why are we wasting time on this at all?” another asked.
This laissez-faire thinking is a problem. Yes, consumers vote with their wallet, but relying solely on the capitalistic structures of business feels a bit cold hearted for a topic for which so many have a burning passion. Something as basic as respecting the dignity of other people is somehow an ongoing conversation we continue to have across the country, but when leadership in certain arenas stay mum, it speaks volumes.
The shifting stance the Brewers Association takes in relation to inclusion is a positive change. The acknowledgement that there is work to be done is a welcomed and necessary first step. But additional transparency and communication is needed.
Julia Herz provided a base from which the BA can build its plans with her recent column, but the organization also needs to accept feedback and criticism from the community of beer lovers who allow its members to thrive. At the moment, there is no suggested way for enthusiasts to share their thoughts, worries and news about problematic situations. “People can share the post and further the conversation so we can dive deeper and have it be more top of mind, and start to get a read on people’s responses,” Herz told me. Make sure to tag the BA on Twitter, I guess.
If we can appreciate Herz’ column and an open display of what the Brewers Association wants to know in regard to the beer community, we must also recognize the other side of that coin. Words must translate into action, whether that be data-driven survey results, community conversations or even a committee to take the lead in addressing diversity and inclusion.
For a long time, the Brewers Association rightfully needed to focus on political and business issues in order to better grow their portion of the industry or further define “craft” and its value. But that time is over. The revolution has happened. Now it’s time to think socially and consciously.
Because we’re supposed to be the change we wish to see in the world … and there are 149 beers registered on Untappd with the word “Panty.”
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac