This Is Why I'm Drunk

Do You Want Politics in Your Beer?

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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.

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.”

“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.

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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