When David and Erin Levesque were trying to think of a fun name last December for the beer they planned to tap on New Year’s Eve at their taproom, Launch Pad Brewing in Aurora, they were looking for something that would capture both the spirit of the evening and the spirit of the beer, a bright-pink cream ale that had been aged in pinot noir barrels. After thinking about it for a while, Erin settled on Pink Panty Dropper and set up a Facebook event for the party, offering free five-ounce samples to customers for a toast at midnight.
“The beer was pink, and it was designed to be tapped when the ball drops in New York,” David says. “Everyone who knows us knows that we would never want to offend anybody.”
But that’s exactly what happened. Because for the people who have grown tired — very, very tired — of the small but significant number of beer names that are sexist, racist, derogatory or just plain mean, Pink Panty Dropper was just another example of how to alienate customers. The implied meaning of a name like that, they say, is that the beer is strong enough to get a woman really drunk and therefore easier to manipulate or take advantage of.
Though Colorado breweries have mostly (and mercifully) stayed away from sexist beer names and labels, that’s not the case in the rest of the country. Just a few of the names that have caused a stir include Clown Shoes Tramp Stamp, showing a woman with a lower back tattoo from behind; Route 2 Brews Leg Spreader, featuring a woman with her legs spread; and Pig Minds Brewing’s PD Blueberry Ale, showing a woman with her panties around her ankles.
Colorado Let’s Talk Craft Beer Facebook page, in particular — exploded in a vitriolic battle.
“It got really nasty. People lost friendships over it. People who drank together and had Thanksgiving together don’t speak now because of that,” Levesque says. Some argued that the names were harmless fun, while others said they spoke to a larger societal problem about disrespect and misogyny. “Everyone has a point, and they're all good points to talk about. But we weren’t trying to incite rape culture. We weren’t trying to hurt anyone. At the end of the day, this should be about laughing and drinking good beer and having fun.”
Not everyone is having fun, though, when the beer names are threatening or insulting — something that has been highlighted in several recent media stories — and in April, the Boulder-based Brewers Association decided to take a stand. The nonprofit organization, which represents craft breweries nationwide, updated its advertising and marketing code to say that it wouldn’t allow medal-winning breweries to advertise their award with the BA logo if the name of the winning beer was deemed to be offensive by the member of a new BA diversity committee.
The BA doesn’t typically micro-manage the business practices of its members, but this issue stood out, says BA craft-beer program director Julia Herz. “Especially over the last few years, we have been asked about diversity in beer from a growing number of brewery members and beer community stakeholders,” she explains. “The BA is taking meaningful, purposeful action on a topic that has permeated many industries in our culture, including beer.”
“These are new uncharted waters,” she adds. “Addressing diversity and beer brand advertising stems from the BA hearing from members, media and beer lovers on this topic. As businesses, brewers can and should name and market beers in the manner they desire and beer lovers can support any brands they choose. However, the BA also believes that beer marketing should represent the values, ideals and integrity of a diverse culture. We will not allow use of our intellectual property — trademarks and logos — to promote winning beers that don't meet the ad code.”
Herz wouldn’t point to a specific brewery, beer or medal winner as the impetus for the change, but examples can be easily found. In 2016, not one, but two breweries, California’s Figueroa Mountain and Lynnwood Brewing in North Carolina, that won medals named their beers after versions of the expression, “Once you go black, you never go back,” which could be considered offensive to African-Americans.
"We didn't look at it that way or see it that way," Tivoli co-owner Corey Marshall says, adding that the label was designed by a woman. It's supposed to be reminiscent of a song by ’90s hair-metal band Warrant.
Ska Brewing, meanwhile, sparked some controversy in 2010 because of the image on Mexican Logger, which featured a cartoon of a Mexican man in a sombrero holding a chainsaw and sleeping against a tree. "It wasn't meant to be a stereotypical lazy thing," Ska co-founder Dave Thibodeau said at the time. "We were championing the siesta. We wanted to bring the siesta back." The image is no longer used by the brewery.
In Loveland, Big Beaver Brewing and all of its beers are one endless juvenile pun, though the names — like Shaved Tail Ale and Big Woody IPA — are more crude than offensive. Even the brewery's logo is full of visual innuendo. The owner of Big Beaver didn’t respond to a request for an interview for this story.
“Colorado has lucked out because we haven’t had to deal with this as much as the rest of the country,” Levesque says. But he acknowledges that something that offends one person might not offend another — and that it’s going to be difficult for the Brewers Association to decide which is which. "I don't envy whoever is going to be making the decisions. If they go after some beers and not others, then they are going to get some backlash from the beer community. You will get bickering between breweries about what is offensive and what isn't."