Addressing Diversity in Beer: Seeking Action

date-grape-beer

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.”

sexist-label-lineup

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.

Maybe you remember Hop Valley Mouth Raper? Have you heard of Middle Ages’ Wailing Wench? Ever seen Tipping Point’s Chunky Gal Amber?

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, CEO of Bell’s Brewery 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?

naughty-girl-beerWhen 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.”

Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

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32 thoughts on “Addressing Diversity in Beer: Seeking Action

  1. A small thing – there are 18 beers from 15 breweries on Untappd (that are not homebrews) that have the word ‘Panty’ in them, not 149. I think it’s important, just as in the MobCraft example to make the disinction between user-submitted names and those endorsed by breweries. If you want to make the point that the BA should be taking action, it would be better to compare names from those do or could potentially have BA memberships to those that don’t (homebrewers, etc.).

    • I guess the point I’m trying to make, much like the Mobcraft example, is that the use of the language and names is questionable regardless of where it’s coming from. Advocating for leadership should apply, period. If we wanted to really drill down we could say the AHA should have something skin in the game if we’re separating commercial vs homebrew, but the ultimate goal with that specific piece of information is simply to illustrate the breadth of the issue. If 149 people are OK with using “panty,” whether commercial or homebrew, that seems upsetting.

      • Why is this “upsetting”? You are going out of your way to take offense at nothing. Craft beer is no place for this Orwellian PC nonsense.

  2. Keep political correctness out of beer! The only problem with “diversity” in beer is that the market is being dominated by one style – IPA.

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  4. It’s not PC, Evan, it’s a simple matter of inclusion. When you objectify people, they aren’t likely to want to be a part of said group/organization/industry. It’s stupid to ostracize a group of people who want to help increase the appeal of something of which we’re already committed to being a part. Grow up and stop using the “PC run amok” argument, it’s stale and doesn’t advance the conversation.

    • Using the word “inclusion” as a bludgeon isn’t an argument. This is literally people getting upset over very mildly off-color names for beers. Here’s a better idea than making absurd demands about your sensitivity – let the market decide. If they can sell enough beer with mildly off-color names to keep themselves in the black, it’s obviously working, irrespective of what a fringe group of oversensitive nuts has to say about it. They use a marketing ploy that YOU may find offensive, likely because you’re looking for something to be offended by, but if it works for them, good for them. In fact, now that I am aware that these mildly off-color names have “social justice” losers freaking out, I’m more likely to buy them, just to annoy that crowd. Grow up and quit whinging about nothing.

      Are you also upset that Trappist ales are brewed exclusively by male Catholics? Because this “inclusiveness” idiocy would suggest that you are.

      This is America, and people here have freedom of speech. That it offends YOU is irrelevant. The breweries have a right to name their beers what they want, and that far outweighs your feelings being hurt.

      The PC run amok argument is actually quite germane. This is exactly what the above nonsense is. Throwing a temper tantrum about slightly off-color names for beers is absurd and Orwellian.

      Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to think up some truly offensive names for my home brews. Because irritating the perpetually offended while drinking my own brews will just make the experience that much more enjoyable.

      • Am I upset that Trappist beers are brewed exclusively by male catholics? No, because they aren’t. In fact the brewmaster at Orval, Anne-Françoise Pypaert, is a woman. Do your homework, and when you’re done, grow up.

    • “it’s stale and doesn’t advance the conversation.” Yes it does, because it is how you are perceived. So take a breath, calm down and embrace diplomacy instead of screaming everywhere and offending people. You don’t think they are sensitive, you feel objectified by them. Well, try to know them, talk to them, get them to know you, and understand your point of view while trying to understand theirs. >< Damn, I did not think I needed to explain it to a grown up person like you.

  5. I can recommend some hemorrhoid medication that will help your butt feel less hurt.
    Of course these matters of inclusion are important ! Of course we need to help fight against objectification and segregation ! But allies like you are way worse than enemies. You are a scourge to the cause you think you are defending. I for one don’t want allies like you. You are undermining our credibility. This fight is one that takes TIME and PATIENCE and DEDICATION, and DIPLOMACY ! Not your butthurt idiotic and inquisition-like rampage.

    • “Segregation”? Are you actually serious? That fight ended decades ago. You speak of undermining credibility, and yet you actually say that there is SEGREGATION in beer. This is an indefensible position.

      A sexually suggestive beer name is not “objectification” by any means, and to claim that it is so is to infantalize women. It’s no secret to women that men like sex, and to claim that admitting as much is akin to rape is grossly offensive to the overwhelming majority of men who are not rapists, as well as trivilaizing the experience of actual rape victims.

      Get over yourself. You want to talk about “inclusion” and not alienating people? Drop the PC nonsense that alienates those of us who don’t live in Brooklyn or Portland.

      • It sounds like you are equating objectifying women with liking sex? Most people like sex – nothing wrong with that. No one should objectify others, sexually or otherwise. That is wrong and you can’t claim to be a victim of a PC culture to justify it.

        How hard is it to name a beer or create label artwork that doesn’t objectify women? Most beers don’t, so why should we accept the ones that choose to do this?

        We haven’t even started on beers like Sexual Chocolate that not only objectify women, but go even further to exploit the sexualization of black women.

        And this isn’t just a beer culture thing. What we see in beer culture is just a reflection of culture in general. People have been fighting this battle in video game culture for a long time. To isolate these as problems of specific sub-cultures diminishes the problem and makes it harder to find solutions.

        But the solution really is easy. Just stop objectifying people.

      • Again, this is absurd. Using the allure of sex to sell products does not “objectify” anyone. You offer no evidence that it does, you demand that we all accept it ad tautology. Grow up, stop being offended over nothing.

        Chocolate is a well known aphrodisiac; I can’t imagine what absurd mental gymnastics you had to go through to equate calling a beer “Sexual Chocolate” to “objectifying black women”.

        This is my point. You talk about inclusiveness, yet you spout the type of absurd politically correct tropes that alienate everyone outside of a few coastal cities. Take off the blinders and look around you. The overwhelming majority of people in this country are not out to “sexualize black women” or whatever insidious conspiracy you think we’re up to. We do, however, resent this thought police nonsense where virtually everything has to be scrutinized for some type of racial/sexual meaning that we can be demonized for.

      • Have you seen the label artwork for Sexual Chocolate? It doesn’t take any mental gymnastics to think that the artwork, in combination with the name, sexualizes black women. Only those unfamiliar with history, would you think mental gymnastics are required to reach this conclusion. Black women have been sexually exploited for centuries. This is just one small way that this continues today.

  6. It’s been a while since I read 1984, but I’m pretty sure that when George Orwell’s vision of a totalitarian dystopia didn’t revolve around people being forbidden from giving beers sexy names. But hey, maybe I’m wrong, maybe it’s a slippery slope. Maybe one day we’re suggesting breweries should consider being mindful of their marketing, and then the next we’re pledging allegiance to Big Brother while we fight a perpetual war with Eurasia.

    But you know, for shits and giggles, let’s look at it from another perspective. You know, IIRC, Orwell’s vision, was a world almost devoid of love and passion with those feelings harnessed and reserved exclusively for Big Brother and the State. Now, we’re all reading this blog because we love craft beer. We love it for its unique flavors, its fellowship, its tradition, its innovation, its bubbles, etc and since we don’t live in an autocratic beer based society, a brewocracy if you will, because we are free to love other things and people, I think it’s safe to say that we currently do not live in an Orwellian nightmare. That said, sure, we’re Americans, we have a right to be jerks and name beers offensive things. And as Americans, we love Capitalism and the Free Market. So sure, a few breweries come up with some sexually aggressive names for their beers, and maybe the novelty helps their sales. But see, that’s only one brewery, and that’s only short term growth. I’m not saying that short term growth or the fate of one business aren’t important, but as an industry and a passion, maybe it’s more important to consider long term growth. To achieve long term growth as an industry maybe the best thing would be for craft breweries to collectively come to a decision to not only be inclusive in their marketing but to also not trade on the fact that alcohol can and has been used as a date rape drug. After all, isn’t love a huge part of what makes craft beer, craft beer, and isn’t love, as much as anything, conditional upon simple things like understanding, sharing, and empathy, you know, things like considering other people’s feelings.

    I don’t know, maybe I’m old fashioned, but I always believed being respectful and considerate were worthwhile ideals inherent in what it meant to be an American, maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’ve been wrong my whole life. I’m big enough to admit that, how about you?

    • No, demanding that beers be given politically correct names will not immediately have us declaring perpetual war against Eurasia. But political correctness in general is essentially controlling speech, and using speech to limit thought, which is one of the crucial attributes of Orwell’s dystopia. It is indeed a slippery slope. Once speech on one issue is silenced, it becomes that much easier to silence speech on others.

      Saying that the word “panties” in a beer name is “sexually aggressive” is a massive leap in logic. Suggestive, certainly. Sex sells, and is used to sell everything from deodorant to cars to beer. Suggesting that a beer is sexy by its name is not, and cannot reasonably be claimed to, advocating rape. To claim otherwise is patently absurd. We’re not talking about “Get Her Drunk To The Point Where She Passes Out And Rape Her Ale”, that would be actually offensive and in incredibly poor taste. A name like “Panty Dropper” is not anything like that. I’m most familiar with the term panty dropper from my time in the Marine Corps, where we used it to refer to our dress blue uniforms, and in the context it always implied seduction – get her in the mood, not force her. There is a MASSIVE difference both ethically and legally between the two.

      This is false outrage over nothing. Whipping up a two minutes hate (back to Orwell) against beers with vaguely naughty names reflects poorly upon the outraged, not the brewers.

      • This isn’t just any “product” that’s being marketed. This isn’t a sexy Marine Corp uniform or deodorant or a car. This is a chemical compound that (when consumed even in moderate doses) can cause a person to lose control over their faculties. When we’re talking about using alcohol to “get her in the mood”, what we’re really saying is, “using alcohol to get her drunk enough not to say no”. Instead of getting her in the mood with beer, try getting her in the mood with deodorant or a car… or just not being a piece of shit.

      • Hey man, I appreciate where you’re coming from, but I think you’re off base in a few respects:

        1. Generally speaking, I agree, censorship is not productive to a free society, however it should be noted that there are various ways in which we do accept censorship such as not being allowed to yell fire in a crowded theater, not being allowed to make death threats, and a handful of words you can’t use on TV, among other examples. However, in the context of this article any talk of censorship is beside the point because…
        2. This is not political conversation, no one is suggesting laws be put in place to prohibit the rights of individuals or businesses to think or say anything. What this is about is marketing within a very specific industry. Generally speaking this isn’t outrage so much as a much needed conversation within this industry because…
        3. For the Craft Beer industry to grow and thrive for years to come then it is reasonable to suggest that the industry, as a whole, come to terms with the negative aspects of alcohol in our society because as peddlers of said alcohol they are both legally and ethically responsible for promoting the responsible use of their products. To that end addressing subjects like alcoholism, drunk driving, sexual assault, and other social issues that are/can be related with alcohol use in anything other than a serious manner is unwise and counter-productive, to say the least. Now…
        4. “Panty Dropper”, which as a name for a beer is explicitly trading off the notion that an inebriated woman has a harder time fending off the advances of men. You may suggest this is simply a joke, but it is a joke that winks at the notion of sexual assault. Now, you may see this as a harmless joke, and among friends it could be, but this is a product, and beyond simple offense at a slightly off color joke, honestly speaking, would you want to consume a product that promoted itself as a way to prevent you from fending off the advances of men? Now from an industry standpoint…
        5. It can be argued that putting out beers with these names that can be seen as offensive can affect and hurt the industry as a whole, not just in sales but in reputation, and a bad reputation for an industry dealing in alcohol leads to consequences like regulation and prohibition. If craft beer is going to continue to thrive it cannot simply write off women or any other demographic, and beers with names like “Panty Dropper” or “Mouth Raper” don’t do anyone any favors. Now, no one is suggesting that these breweries and their owners have their freedom of speech revoked, but freedom is power, and power means responsibility.

      • No. “Political Correctness” isn’t about controlling speech. It’s about being courteous to other human beings who are different than you. Sure the 1st amendment gives you the right say what you want. Free Speech away! But, it doesn’t guarantee the right to be free from consequences. You can be as big of “non-PC” jerkwad as you want, but we’ll call you out for being a jerkwad and you’ll be labeled thus so others know to avoid the jerkwad.

        If these breweries want to be dirtbags, they’re free to do so. But we are free to point out their bad behavior and punish them by not buying their products and encouraging others to not buy them either. Because craft beer has an overarching group that manages the general interests of the segment, it is also smart for them to provide guidance and encourage its members to do the right thing for the segment. It’s better for the whole segment and the individual members sales if we make the product inclusive and not rely on offensive gimmicks to sell beer.

  7. I’d like to submit another book for reference, the 1977 novel “Rage” by Stephen King (written under Richard Bachman). This was a fictional story was about a school shooting. Some years later the book started being referenced and idolized by people who went on to actually commit these horrific acts. King stopped publishing the book, and more recently stopped including it in a compilation with other Bachman books not because he was directly at fault but because he didn’t want to be associated in any way with the inspiration for those terrible crimes.

    Coercing someone with alcohol to the point they want to drop their panties leads to all sorts of concerns regarding consent and where the line into rape gets crossed. (Hopefully you are all aware that a woman removing her underwear is not synonymous with consent, right??) Does a panty dropping label lead directly to forcible sexual behavior? No, but it certainly makes light and dismissive of a very serious issue in this industry, with a product factually known for lowering inhibitions. I cannot understand why a brewery would want to be associated with that stigma.

  8. 1) Thank you for listening to our podcast episode with Michael. We’re very proud of the ethos that it captured and the feedback we have received.

    2) I’m glad to see you share similar thoughts regarding the responsibility for education within our industry. When Route 2 (An Indiana brewery) released Leg Spreader ESB, I also asked our Guild representatives to take a position and was told that they wouldn’t interfere with business. Multiple times in the last 24 months, I have asked about education in quality techniques and branding and have been told both are “in the process and will be delivered soon.” They haven’t.

    We all have a responsibility to continue to push our industry and communities forward. I believe dealing with overt sexism is the next barrier to growth.

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  10. Bryan-

    Thank you for covering this important topic!

    It all comes down to economics. I am a woman who spends a lot of money on beer, I am involved in the industry and I influence women who drink beer. I will not buy beer that objectifies women and neither will my friends or colleagues.

    Whether you think this is PC or not, as one of the commenters mentions, in an increasingly competitive craft beer marketplace, breweries (or least those that want to be success) should not alienate a large segment of their potential market by using offensive marketing.

    Cheers,

    Kristen

  11. Thank you so much for writing this article, Bryan! I greatly appreciate you calling attention to this rapidly growing, juvenile problem. If a woman wrote this article, it would likely be dismissed very quickly, so it’s particularly great to see guys discussing it! Cheers! Keep the conversation going! 🙂

  12. Bryan, well done for keeping this on the agenda. Interesting point you make about how the BA’s reference to diversity of beer styles doesn’t really carry over yet into official calls for diversity of representation.

    I don’t have much to add to the conversation above that hasn’t already been said, save for this: Without getting into a long diatribe on the issue, the point is less about “political correctness” (at any rate, a problematic term used by folks who don’t like to see their viewpoints criticized) than it is about how ill-conceived labeling practices have the potential to exclude large swaths of people on the basis of gender, sexuality, or even race. Not that I’m an advocate for a return to some sort of prudish Victorian morality, but I think one of the strongest points of this article is its attempt to wrest segments of the craft beer community out of the locker room.

    • That comment was one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever read. For one, the obsession with “diversity of representation” is absurd and pointless. If you actually care what the people who brew your beer look like, I pity you. How about just letting people be people, and those who like craft beer will like it, and those who don’t won’t? If we’re going to worry about “diversity” at all in beer, let’s see less IPAs that all taste the same and more actual creativity in brewing. You want to address the “diversity” problem? Then let’s all work to fix the fact that I can walk into most beer stores and find 75 interchangeable IPAs, but God forbid I want a Baltic porter or a Biere de Garde, or even a good brown ale.

      The problem with political correctness is not having viewpoints criticized. Those of us who reject political correctness are open to reasoned debate. The issue is that political correctness is using language to suppress thought, and suppressing any ideas they don’t like, often for arbitrary reasons – this article about beers with slightly sexually suggestive names is a prime example. Suppressing speech and thought is never acceptable under any circumstances.

      This whole article is about a non-issue. Go to any beer store or beer bar, and you’ll see women buying and drinking beer. Though they are a minority, there are certainly women brewing beer and owning breweries as well. Beers with mildly suggestive names are not “excluding” women from craft beer, and even the suggestion that they are is not only insulting to women, but to all people who are able to think for themselves.

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