IMAGINE THAT, 40 years ago, Coors brewed a beer called Down With Queers. Or that 60 years ago Falstaff had a beer named Whites Are Supreme.
It never happened because, though both breweries held some strong political views, neither advertised them on beer cans.
Which is why the widely publicized campaign against North Carolina’s anti-transgender law by a group of Tar Heel breweries is a remarkable step down an uncertain path. For, while brewery operators – like any business owner – hold personal opinions, they typically don’t wear their politics on their sleeve.
Or, in this case, the label.
But that’s what 40 small breweries did in April when they jointly brewed a beer calledDon’t Be Mean to People: A Golden Rule Saison. The beer was named in protest of HB-2, the North Carolina law that discriminates against gay and transgender people by prohibiting them from selecting public restrooms based on their gender identity.
“We just felt it was something we wanted to do to show the rest of the world we’re not all like that in North Carolina,” said one of the protest organizers, Erik Lars Myers, CEO and head brewer at Mystery Brewing in Hillsborough, N.C.
For Myers, the decision to protest the bathroom law was a no-brainer. As he and co-organizer Keil Jansen of Ponysaurus Brewing in Durham wrote on a fundraising website, “We didn’t feel like the law that was passed represented us as constituents, entrepreneurs, or business owners. We wanted to do something in response. But what? What do two brewers talk about doing when faced with a world in which they want to make a change?”
Now, brewing a beer in support of a liberal cause might not seem like much of a stand in a niche industry where experts say the majority of the producers and the consumers lean to the left.
But Myers said that not every like-minded colleague was ready to take a public stand when the pair approached them to join the protest.
“I heard from a lot of people who support this,” Myers said, “but they told me they couldn’t because of where they’re located in the state – that not all of their customers would support them.”
Indeed, North Carolina is a sharply divided so-called “purple state,” with liberals in blue corners in Asheville, Charlotte and Raleigh, and red-staters in wide, rural swathes.
But the state’s demographics are hardly unique. After all, the majority of Americans now live within 10 miles of a brewery, and if you hadn’t noticed, we’re not exactly all on the same page.
So, when a businessperson takes a political stand, an opponent will almost surely threaten a boycott.
In Wisconsin, for example, New Glarus brewery owner Deb Carey was lambasted as a “raging libtard” when right-wingers noticed her sitting with Michelle Obama at the president’s State of the Union address in 2013. Some bar owners refused to buy her beer.
The same year, labor leaders called for a boycott of Yuengling after owner Dick Yuengling urged the state to enact a right-to-work law that would make it more difficult for unions to organize.
Coors was hit with boycotts in the 1980s because of its family’s right-wing politics (Joseph Coors founded the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank) and employment discrimination against women, gays, Hispanics and blacks.
In the 1950s, Falstaff faced a boycott from segregationists who charged the brewery was supporting “the mongrelization” of America when it purchased a membership in the NAACP for one of its salesmen. Falstaff immediately backed down and repudiated its support of the civil rights group.
But none of these breweries, as I mentioned above, put their politics onto a beer label.
That’s changing in 2016.
A handful of small breweries have named beers in protest of Donald Trump’s White House candidacy. Meanwhile, Budweiser temporarily renamed itself, “America” – an act that many viewed as an attempt to climb on Trump’s “Make America Great Again” bandwagon. Anheuser-Busch said it was merely being patriotic.
So far, the pushback against the North Carolina breweries has been minimal, Myers said. That’s probably because of its touchy-feely Don’t Be Mean To People label; I mean, who’s going to protest kindness?
“We wanted to keep our message positive,” Myers said. “That’s why we didn’t go with the original name for the beer.”
And that was?