Don't hate the player, hate the game
Before I tear into one of our state's pioneering breweries for what I believe is its slightly sexist [edit: I think "objectifying" is the better word] beer packaging, I should tell you that I have a lot of respect for North Little Rock's Diamond Bear Brewing Co. Founder Russ Melton has been an accommodating interview on more than one occasion, and he threw a book signing party for me at the brewery shortly after Arkansas Beer was released last year. I have a fondness in my heart for him, and I admire what he has accomplished in almost two decades of brewing beer in the Natural State. He is no doubt one of the state's great beer professionals.
Now that I've put my disclaimer on the table, it's time to point out the flaws in pushing a delicious beer like Strawberry Blonde into the market in a package that makes some people wince. The beer itself is a crisp, low-alcohol beer (4%) with a very subtle strawberry tang. It reminds me of strawberry soda, if for no other reason than it's an easy-drinking and highly-poundable thirst quencher. It's one heck of a beer for the summer, and I have put down my fair share since the season began. What bothers me is the busty redhead in a black leather bustier and high heels sitting atop the Diamond Bear logo. A blonde version of the same illustrated woman adorns the sister beer (no pun intended), Southern Blonde.
Many of you will call me too politically correct in my assessment. Others will say I'm making much ado about nothing. But in this new era of #MeToo it's never a bad idea to try seeing the world through a woman's eyes. I was forced to do that myself recently, if only by accident.
A few months ago I dropped a brief mention of Gravity BrewWorks in my column for Southwest Brewing News:
Gravity BrewWorks in Big Flat has been tinkering with things as of late. A new fermenter purchased in Florida was installed in the brewery, and several more taps were added to the taproom. Bill Riffle--one of the state's true brewing pioneers--and his wife Tony Guinn (who can brew toe-to-toe with just about anyone) have been busy keeping every square inch of fermentation space full...
I'm sure most people wouldn't blink an eye at that statement. One person who blinked, however, was one of Arkansas' prominent brewers, who happens to be a woman. She saw my words through her own lens, and decided to confront me on what she considered to be a somewhat sexist approach to that month's column:
I was pretty disappointed to see that when you talked about Gravity BrewWorks that you described Tony as "Bill's wife" and then added a qualifier that she "can brew toe-to-toe with just about the best of them." Something I've never read about a male brewer, but unfortunately have seen it time to time about a female. As a female brewer and brewery owner it's exhausting to think that at the end of the day I could be described as someone's wife and then an added assumption that because I am said wife (i.e. of the female gender) that I might not be good at my job...I'm sure you meant it as a compliment..and I don't even know if anyone else was offended, but I've dealt with a fair amount of sexism behind my back (intended or not) and felt like this was an opportunity to say something.
Needless to say I was taken aback. I never intended to slight Tony Guinn, and for someone to see it as such was a punch to the gut.
I had a very constructive dialogue with the brewer who shared her opinion with me. I assured her that as a raging leftie (!), my intent was never to dismiss Guinn's legitimacy as a brewer ("...by God she brews as good as anyone, and better than her famous husband," I wrote back). But it goes to show that the perception of our words and actions is just as important--if not more so--than the original intent behind them.
Which brings me back to Diamond Bear and Strawberry Blonde. I don't think the brewery intended to offend anyone with its packaging choice. It's somewhat nostalgic, I suppose, harkening back to mid-20th century pinup posters that surely covered the walls of many Arkansas baby boomers back in the day.
But the brewery is on the hook for another recent blunder. Last year it released a golden ale--brewed with mango, passionfruit, and food-grade glitter--that it called Stripper Sweat. One beer blogger passing through the state took notice, and pointed out how mysogynistic the name was. I can't find his post now, but reading his words back then made me feel extremely disappointed and sad. He no doubt judged Diamond Bear on what was basically an aberration. He probably didn't take time to learn the story behind the brewery, and maybe didn't try some of the other excellent beers with gentler names. If he did, he certainly didn't choose to write about those.
There is no doubt that Diamond Bear is better than the issues I'm writing about here. Which reminds me of an old saying...
Don't hate the player, hate the game.
Beer should make everyone feel welcome regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender. Care should be given to selecting beer names and packaging images that are inclusive. Yes, they can be witty and creative; but anything that is hurtful, off-putting, or divisive should find its way to the cutting room floor.
Diamond Bear should take this opportunity to up its game and improve the packaging for what is one of Arkansas' most delicious summer beers.