Growing up in the 1980s, Brian O'Connell was bombarded with images of the Cold War, of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, of the Soviet boycott of the Olympics and of the end of the USSR.
Years later, when he founded Renegade Brewing, O'Connell decided to highlight the idea of independence for craft brewers with a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Soviet Union and how consolidation under a single regime doesn't work. So he used the most glaring imagery from the Soviet days, the bright red and yellow hammer-and-sickle flag design, on the cans for his Hammer & Sickle Russian Imperial Stout.
But times have changed. Although the USSR is long gone, the Russian government is back, and it has once again involved itself in the daily lives of everyday Americans — in elections, on Facebook, with fake news.
As a result, when Renegade decided to bring back Hammer & Sickle, which it hadn't packaged since 2015, it also decided to rename it, rebrand it and get rid of those meddling Russians. The newly dubbed Hammer Imperial Stout, available in six-packs, will make its debut this week at the brewery at 925 West Ninth Avenue and in stores.
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"Hammer & Sickle was one of our first beers when we opened five years ago, and relations with Russia were a lot different in 2012," O'Connell says. "Things have changed drastically since then. Obviously, our country is having some issues with Russia right now, and I don't want to send mixed messages to the market. In no way are we supportive of Russia or Communism or anything they are doing."
Renegade didn't package the beer last year because it wanted to can its Depravity imperial peanut butter stout, and the brewhouse didn't have the capacity to do both. Bringing the beer back with a new name and look — but the same recipe — was a tough decision, because it has been an award winner for Renegade. "But ultimately, it was the best thing to do for the longevity of the brand," O'Connell adds.
Hammer will be released at the brewery at 5 p.m. on Thursday, October 12. Buy a ten-ounce pour and keep the glass — and receive a free six-pack to go. The free beer won't last long.