Do You Want Politics in Your Beer?

make-beer-great-again-hat

This past weekend was a momentous one for the United States, signaling literal and figurative change throughout our government, prompting a variety of actions and reactions from passionate Americans across the political spectrum.

The presidency of Donald Trump has emboldened and impassioned all sorts, including those in beer.

Over the past year, I’ve written several times about the idea of “authenticity,” culminating in a recent post examining the role it plays in our perception of beer quality. A collection of research was shared in that piece, including the psychological connection between drinker and brewery.

Which poses an interesting question for those in the beer business: is it a good idea to go political?

Shaun Hill, who for years has been revered as one of the smartest and best brewers in the industry at Hill Farmstead, isn’t shy to share his political opinions online.

There are dozens of tense(ish) interactions in that thread, should you care to poke through. Yesterday, there was a now-deleted tweet response telling Hill to “drink a beer, snowflake” after this from the Hill’s account:

Another example comes via Craft Brewing Business, which introduced its top storylines of 2016 with a jab at the then-president elect (emphasis mine):

“A common joke made this year on the interwebs was “Go home 2016, you’re drunk.” This is in reference to a variety of awful / insane things that happened within the calendar year — Prince and Bowie dying, the Cubs and Cleveland Cavs breaking historic sports curses, a reality show fascist bumbling his way into the nuclear codes, and so on.”

As you might expect, it should be reasonable to consider many in craft beer lean left, if only represented by the free-spirited and artistic nature that comes along with the business. Stereotypes and cliches aside, the educational attainment and life experiences many brewers and brewery owners share also aligns with research that connects to political persuasion.

But even an attempt by the National Media Research Planning and Placement organization showcases a political divide based on beer choice. In 2014, they released this chart, suggesting brand preference and likelihood to associate with a political party and to vote. You can click to enlarge, but I’ve highlighted the bubble marked “Any microbrew” for placement of craft beer, which skews slightly democrat with a high probability of voting.

beer-politics-chart

It all circles the broader question of whether this is a good idea or not. In several instances of covering the subject, Forbes, Entrepreneur, and NPR all point toward what is essentially the same answer: yes and no. It really depends on the core values of the business and its connections to customers:

Cindy Kam, a Vanderbilt University political science professor who has studied the effects of campaign signs on elections, agrees that showing support for a particular candidate can be a bad move for a business. But, she says, it can just as easily be a calculating — and good — one. The business owner may be thinking, “If you’re this kind of person, you really ought to come visit our store, because we have these kind of values,” Kam says.

And, based on general demographics that include an above-average household income and education level, we may assume that craft beer drinkers are likely to share and support the kind of commentary made by Shaun Hill, the editors of Craft Brewing Business and plenty of other breweries, from 5 Rabbit to BrewDog.

It’s a sentiment shared by the owners of Central State Brewing, which highlighted their community connections in an interview on the Good Beer Hunting podcast, in which host Michael Kiser referred to the group as “brewers, bar owners and social warriors.”

The group of owners proudly shows their support for causes on topics like LGBT equality, referencing their excitement of attending the Indianapolis Pride Parade in 2015 and “vowed that the next year … we would be in the Pride Parade.”

central-state-parade-1

“It was one of the proudest moments I’ve had as a business owner – marching with my friends and the look in their eyes appreciating us being there,” said one member of the Central State group I couldn’t easily ID by voice.

Members of the brewery also popped up this past weekend during the Women’s March.

central-state-parade-2

Whether or not these types of political activities are endearing to Indiana drinkers appears to be secondary to the values Central State hopes to show and share with the world, appreciation be damned. Potential customers may agree with them or not, but no matter what their choice, the brewery’s decision to focus on its own measure of authenticity and what it means has the ability to strengthen their ties with fans as much as it might turn others away who would prefer them to, as one person told Shaun Hill…

Tracking this kind of impact is something of an inexact science, as an expectation might be for a bell curve of opinion, with most people not noticing or not caring about a brewery’s political activism. However, if we’re to put more stock into the importance of customer connection and authenticity, it is worth considering how these kinds of actions may work to enhance relationships beyond the glass. Especially in a new period of politics.

Which really leaves us with a question that requires a crowdsourced answer: should breweries share their beliefs in this way? I welcome your thoughts in comments below or on Twitter.

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

Header image via The Brewed Dude

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11 thoughts on “Do You Want Politics in Your Beer?

  1. I chimed in on Twitter, but wanted to expand my thoughts a bit here in the comments. I think it is totally fine for a business to take a political stand, but they need to accept the consequences both positive and negative. As a consumer, I sometimes make choices based on public stands that a business or its executives have taken, or based on publicly known policies of that business. [I’ll be the first to admit that I am not consistent on this; sometimes I don’t know all of the in’s and out’s of a business, and there are times when frankly a good or service is so essential that I effectively have no choice to patronize it at least in part even if I disagree with some aspect of the business itself. I have also been around long enough to know that a small fraction of people make a lot of noise about boycotts and it’s less about the moral principle of the matter and more about being perceived as virtuous for boycotting something.]

    That said, I also greatly respect businesses who do the right thing and take a morally just stand even if it results in a potential loss of some customers. I don’t respect businesses who take a “stand” against basic rights and then whine about being called out on it. I am also not a terrible fan of business decisions that make big shows about a cause without really doing anything substantive. But, I suppose that is all a matter of perception. And comes back to the idea that actions have consequences, positive and negative.

    In terms of social media messaging, I think there is a risk in being too off-topic for too long, especially if there isn’t a major effort to show why a particular political stance is relevant to the overall aims of the business. I think that it _is_ easy to show relevance, but it is necessary. I see this in science communication all the time, and it truly is easy to show why social issues are relevant to the practice of science (and vice versa).

    So to sum up this long-winded comment, sure, politics in my beer is fine, if it’s done well and done with eyes open to the potential positive and negative consequences.

  2. I think everyone should be political all the time. Politics is important. When you hear “You’re an x, not a politician; go back to doing x” it means “I’ve been made uncomfortable by discovering that I like your work but disagree with your opinions. This is your fault, please fix it.” Fuck that noise.

    One of my local drinks producers, whom I’ve known for years and whose products I always enjoy, began taking to Twitter now and again to espouse political views that I find absolutely repugnant. I eventually got sick of letting them slide and ended up having a polite but robust exchange of views. On foot of which he unfollowed me, but more importantly has stopped using Twitter as a platform for his politics. I’ll continue to buy and drink his stuff, because it tastes good. I’m not bothered about his politics, but I know other people are and won’t be buying his drinks again. And that’s their right. I think it’s good that all of this gets aired and customers get to make up their own minds and apply their own criteria. I’m still following that guy, and will continue to challenge his political opinions when I think they’re misguided and harmful.

  3. I think that if there is a risk that one might lose business by sharing one’s beliefs and one shares those beliefs anyway, I applaud that act of bravery regardless of whether i share those beliefs. That said, I don’t think the question “Should…?” is applicable here. There’s no moral imperative here! It’s not mandatory to share beliefs in this way, it’s voluntary. Sometimes we customers might place everything within a larger context in choosing to support/withhold support from such a business; sometimes we customers will act knee-jerk.

    We’re all more complicated than whatever position we come down on concerning a given issue. If we keep that in mind, perhaps we can place the expressions of belief of business X in a proper framework, and also place the decisions of consumers who purchase or who stop purchasing based on said belief in a proper framework.

  4. I’m with The Real Beer Nut and Bill, basically. It’s not a “should” question, as that implies there’s a correct answer. But, in general, I’ve learned to lean toward “everyone should be political all the time.” Except it’s more that… everyone IS political all of the time, even if we don’t realize it. So, it’s really up to the brewery owners and spokespeople to decide if they want to show their politics.

    I personally hope more start to, because we are in extreme and bizarre times. A huge part of why we Americans are having to have conversations that are preposterously similar to debates about things like “fake news” (propaganda) and “alternative facts” (lies) is because we’ve (myself included) allowed politics to slide by the wayside in favor of being “nice” or “polite”.

    Maybe it’s time for individuals figure out how to show our politics while being respectful, polite, and nice. As for businesses? Up to them, but I do hope they’re thoughtful about what they do and do not wish to show.

  5. My job is in sales and marketing and politics is typically a third rail you never should touch. Too easy to really alienate a large body of potential customers. That said, smaller neighborhood breweries can carve out a local niche’ politically, especially if it is well matched to the beliefs of its customer base. On the other hand, Yuengling made a poor decision to so visibly endorse Trump. If they endorsed Clinton, it would be about as bad. A large brewery endorsing any political figure, especially as polarizing as Trump (or Clinton) is going to piss off a lot of current customers, and discourage new customers from trying their beer. This is especially true since a lot of Yuengling’s distribution area is in blue or “purple” states. Maybe if Yuengling was located in Tennessee or Alabama and the Trump decision would better reflect their local customer base and culture, it might actually reinforce customer loyalty.

    At any rate, the smaller the brewery, the more likely they can engage in politics with a successful business outcome.

    • That’s why the Central State example isn’t that special to me. It’s a super niche brewery taking a fairly common stance amongst the left and moderates alike. Not like they’re going to lose a lot of customers by supporting LGBT rights, women’s rights, etc.

      It always seems too calculated to me. But, maybe I’m too old and cynical.

  6. Despite the fact that our Founding Fathers did some great work over beer, I think it unwise for breweries or those in the industry to get political. Even if it’s done humorous and light, businesses risk being misunderstood.
    If a brewery is in a clearly left- or right-leaning town, matching that lean will likely work out. But, most often, why bite the hands that feed you? There are other avenues for political activism and expression of thought that don’t end up causing a head-on collision with customers or potential customers. Great timely topic.

  7. Pingback: What If You Don’t Have to Make ‘Good’ Beer Anymore? | This Is Why I'm Drunk

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