Craft Beverage People: Do Better.

CN: Slurs; rape jokes; racist and sexist langage and images (mostly in links)

It’s no secret that the artisanal food and beverage criticism field is a pretty privileged bunch. After all, to get into it you have to have disposable income, no ailments or conditions that would preclude imbibing a significant amount of alcohol or eating a wide range of foods, and spare time to devote to your blog––or, if you’re lucky, modestly paid freelance gig (while food and beverage writing is some of the most fun work in journalism, staff positions on this beat are increasingly rare).

So we tend to be a pretty white, middle-or-upper-class-born, able-bodied group––just like the vast majority of people making these products. Much has been written and ranted, including by me, about the homogeneity of the craft beer industry, which is slowly building its female demographic but lacking grotesquely in racial diversity, at least in the U.S. Wine production and sales, likewise, is a white boys’ club, though some South African professionals and consumers are changing that. Craft distilling? In my (admittedly more limited) experience, it’s the worst offender. I walked into a prominent craft spirits event this spring and didn’t meet a single distiller from the entire Midwest who wasn’t a white man between the ages of 25 and 50.

There’s plenty of work to be done here. I think most of us have recognized that it’s a problem; the background of “why” is for another post, but it’s the baby steps I want to talk about today. I’m picking on the craft beverage industry because I think we’re better than this: from brewers who donate their spent grain to local farms, to worker-owned winery cooperatives, it’s a socially conscious group, in my experience, and it includes some of the best people I’ve ever known.

Yet I see examples of exclusive language and behavior in these industries constantly, and it often goes unchecked––because the business in question isn’t losing customers. If the vast majority of craft drinkers aren’t affected by a potentially offensive label or term or attitude, the businesses perpetuating these problems won’t be encouraged to change.

When your organization isn’t diverse, the first question you need to ask is this:

Are we the kind of group that people from our underrepresented demographics would even want to join?

With that in mind, can we––producers, writers, consumers––stop with the following? (This is by no means an exhaustive list; just examples I came up with on the fly.)
1. Racist beer names and labels.

Really, Brewkettle? “White Rajah: Taming the Savage Hop”? (The artwork… oh boy.) I’m embarrassed to have ever bought one of your products. And Clown Shoes, “Brown Angel” with that image? You need to stop. And maybe try to avoid Nazi symbolism, Central Waters and Local Option.

2. Sexist beer names and labels.

There are too many to count, but Melissa Cole’s rant is a good start. And again, Clown Shoes, with their “Tramp Stamp” Belgian IPA, and there’s Tyranena with their “Hop Whore” imperial IPA (“Oh, what a body,” the description reads). Let’s not forget Pecan Street’s “Screw Loose Blonde” (thanks to Courtney for tipping me off to that one) or rape jokes and suggestions in beer names.

3. Misogyny in analogies and comparisons.

At this point it’s so cliche it’s just lazy, but people do it anyway: this wine is “the woman you take home to your mother” while that one is “the girl you screw in the back of the limo.” This wine is a “femme fatale” but that one is Pam Anderson. I was totally guilty of this when I first got into wine, but I started to get really uncomfortable with sexual comparisons to wines as I noticed how misogynistic they always seemed to be. How come you never hear that a wine is “the Mark Ruffalo of cabernet” or even “the Shane-from-The-L-Word of sangiovese”? Because wine language is dominantly male and heteronormative. I’m not saying strike sexual analogy from the record––sex is a part of life for many people and, from its sensory features to its anecdotal assets, it’s ripe for comparison––but let’s be a bit more creative, shall we?

4. Assuming that a brewery, urban winery, or distillery is the sole indicator of a neighborhood’s worth.

There’s a reason that when people talk about gentrification, bars are usually mentioned, for better and for worse. Access to interesting alcohol brings foot and bike traffic to neighborhoods, but it is not the be-all, end-all of community development. The least gentrifiers can do is ensure that neighborhood services, community centers, schools, and other public spaces are as available, safe, and well supported as watering holes, and that their favorite establishments are providing jobs to those who need them most. Otherwise, that neighborhood “renaissance” is just colonialism all over again. Speaking of #1.

Julia Burke

Julia is a wine educator with an interest in labor and politics in the wine industry. She has also written about fitness and exercise science, mental health, beer, and a variety of other topics for Skepchick. She has been known to drink Amaro Montenegro with PB&J.

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  1. It’s no secret that the artisanal food and beverage criticism field is a pretty privileged bunch. After all, to get into it you have to have disposable income, no ailments or conditions that would preclude imbibing a significant amount of alcohol or eating a wide range of foods, and spare time to devote to your blog––or, if you’re lucky, modestly paid freelance gig (while food and beverage writing is some of the most fun work in journalism, staff positions on this beat are increasingly rare).

    Yes, this is the type of thing that (unfairly, perhaps) makes me roll my eyes and think “hipster” any time someone waxes poetic about the EBU of this or the “only way” to mix that. Enthuse about your favorites all you want, and if someone has their facts wrong about a topic (maybe the original recipe of a drink, say) then by all means correct them, but I find quite often that it leads directly to mocking and ridicule of anyone who dares to disagree. And I’ve seen that behavior from people I like otherwise (Alton Brown, Ryan from Science.. Sort of), and while it’s easier to take from them because they actually seem to care about their fellow humans I can’t help but feel that food and drink writing is especially hard to pull off, and if you don’t care about your fellow Earth travelers you come off as a douche (ahem, Anthony Bourdain) even if you have good points or advice.

    I know it’s nothing to get to upset about (eyerolling is usually the extent of it for me), and it’s no worse than any opinion that excludes other possibilities, I guess it’s the “just so” attitude that really gets me regardless of the topic. But then, by virtue of writing this, I suppose it must bother me a bit.

    1. Sorry, got caught up in the rant. I wanted to say I noticed this disgusting “trend” years ago and it seems to be getting worse instead of better. But then maybe it’s not getting worse, maybe it’s just that there is a larger number of examples only because the market itself has gotten so much bigger. Either way, it needs to stop.

  2. Ack, I want to try that Clown Shoes one… but I would have completely dismissed it on-shelf with that label.

  3. Julia, I disagree somewhat about Nazi symbolism. That Totenkopf or Death’s Head is not the SS version as it lacks a mandible. The symbol is used widely. Also the lighning flash is not a sigrune.
    The swastika itself was used in the Finnish and Latvian airforces in the 30s and early 40s.

    I’m a little in 2 minds over this one – maybe after 70 years we should take a wider perspective?

    1. I know I’m not the only one of my beer-loving friends to find it way too close for comfort, especially with the German theme. I’m willing to accept the possibility that the similarity was inadvertent, which is why I mentioned it offhand rather than making it the focus of this piece. My point with this and each example I listed was that what we have here is an overarching theme of oblivion, and I think in the context of a very not-diverse industry this example falls into that category.

      1. All I’m saying is that not all skulls are Nazi symbols, just as not all eagles are Nazi eagles. We have to look closely at both.
        But I take your point, especially with the Bavarian connection, and if there is any trace of a political or racist agenda attached, even if say this brew turns out to be the favorite tipple of Stormfront members, then I’m right there with you.
        I used to get white with rage in the 80s when those reactionary racist Boers in South Africa marched with their Nazi lookalike flags so I know what you mean.
        {Yesterday I was here recommending the Grim Reaper as an AIDS symbol, what’s going on :) !}

    2. As a German, as somebody whose great-grandmother escaped the Nazi murder brigade about exactly 70 years ago, as somebody who’se been active in anti-fascist activism since I was 14: No.
      That logo, the type, the flash, that’s standard Nazi symbolism. Better said, it’s standard nazi symbolism with plausible deniability for the easily convinced. If I entered a bar, and saw that beer, I would leave quickly and try to get away unhurt. Yes, many people love skulls. Ed Hardy designs are equally ugly and popular, but since Pirates of the Caribbean, skulls are everywhere. But this is not the same.
      As for the Swastika originally menaing something different: You cannot walk it back. It’s not possible. You cannot use it now and claim you don’t mean it.

  4. Jimminy juming jesus on a pogo, I guess all the big problems must be solved if we’re moving onto taking down people for selling drugs with inappropriate names.

    This place needs to dial it down a notch. Between this and the petty article tearing apart that chick on youtube for having a slightly different definition of feminism you’re descending into group-think and in danger of losing the people who come for basic skepticism, but learn things about women’s perspectives along the way. Seriously.

    1. Indeed, there are greater problems in the world than these labels––but no greater offense than an unwelcome topic! :)

    2. Sometimes fixing the small things can help solve bigger problems. By shifting acceptance of sexism in small ways, we shift the whole culture.

    3. As opposed to talking down to an entire blog for not doing basic skepticism the right way? Perspective is indeed needed, I’m just not sure you’ve correctly identified who needs it.

      1. I know what it’s a reference to, but I can’t stop imagining that you’re addressing a Dragon Quest slime made of beer. Or perhaps a beer-loving slime (Maybe that’s how fire slimes are made, they steal some poor traveller’s alcohol, get too close to fire, and the alcohol burns). Presumably, Beerslimas would be the grunts of Julia’s army of doo-I mean, army of justice. Yeah.
        <__<): This is an article about problematic language issues that have arisen within a specific community of some renown. Even if you don't care about alcoholic beverages, there is still plenty of useful thoughts about the pitfalls and unquestioned assumptions that arise from a history of homogeny. Plus, the names are terrible and problematic up the wazoo-gazoo, so I don't really see why it's a bad thing that someone within that community is starting a conversation with the hopes that it may get wiser and more sceptical. Scepticism isn't just for Yetis and conspiracy theories about faked Mars cats, nor is it too limited to apply to beer brewing. ^_^

        1. PS Apparently something happened with that comment. It’s supposed to say “And to actually get on topic (Sorries! DX)” before beginning to talk about the article. Probably screwed up something, sorry!

          1. I have to confess I’m having a hard time parsing your comment. I’m not sure if I’m being taken to task or agreed with, though to be sure my own “Dear Beerslima” wasn’t anything more than a reference. I assumed my intent, here at Skepchick at least, would be understood, but perhaps I assumed wrong.

            I wanted to offer only a little sarcastic and dismissive snark on drbob’s tantrum. I value Julia’s contributions, and as always, learned something from this one. I think her points are important and I look forward to learning more from her.

        2. bcmystery, I don’t want to speak for Keveak but I’m pretty sure he’s with you, and just having some fun with the word “Beerslima.” I loved your comment and thank you for your kind words :)

          1. Thanks, Julia. The last few weeks my brain has been running on fumes, which makes it extra hard for me to know whether I’m being a wit or a half-wit. :)

  5. Julia Burke,

    I never drink bear or alcohol in general and this makes me even less likely to want to do so. I’m reminded of those often rather disturbing images people have put on bottles of hot sauce and I’m thinking, they guys who made this actually think that image is going to get people to want to buy this product?

    1. In the 90s, the Wall Street Journal came to the defense of Crazy Horse Malt Liquor, calling it the “second murder of Crazy Horse”. (The Oglala Sioux Tribe only recently ended Prohibition. The hope is to start a liquor store that funds a detox center for alcoholics, simultaneously helping recovering alcoholics while bleeding the border town liquor stores.) Seriously, some of these labels are ridiculous.

      I’m waiting for the Pope John Paul II Memorial Abortion Clinic.

    2. Criticaldragon, the use of skulls in marketing of alcohol has a long history and is attached to the idea that alcoholics have a death wish. This from my daughter who is a marketing manager. I shit you not. Needless to say, this is a very unhealthy thing. I do not know how much truth is in this but it was and is believed in some circles.

  6. I would love to try the “Mark Ruffalo of cabernet”. Would you consider composing a semi-official list of wines distinguished by deep notes of celebrity? That sounds fantastic.

  7. Julia, Giliell, I just went back to the offending logo and it has been redacted.
    Maybe some of our folk had something to do with this?
    I wonder if it is acceptable now or still problematic?

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