There is currently a story coming out of Nova Scotia about a beer where the name and the can artwork is, and should be, stirring a bit of controversy. This beer from Tusket Falls Brewing, called “Hanging Oak”, depicts a tree with a noose, which I shouldn’t have to explain is problematic. Trying to put out some damage control, there was an attempt to pass it off as historically relevant, which didn’t help their case.
It’s not the first time a beer label has caused an uproar, and unfortunately, it won’t be the last. Beer names, labels, and the marketing side of the industry has always had to navigate a line of being noticeable while not offending, and while many breweries choose to give that line a wide berth, others make the ridiculous error of seeking out where that line has moved to on a regular basis.
While the beer industry has become male-centric, beer would not be what it is today without millennia of influence from women. In a complete lack of acknowledgement of that fact, breweries time and time again release beers with labels that depict women in suggestive or inappropriate poses, use derogatory terms, and perpetuate the vocal attitude of some in the industry that refuse to acknowledge their disrespect.
The same can be said about the depiction of many minorities and historical atrocities by the industry. Beer is meant to be a social beverage, yet it has done a fair amount to exclude many segments of the population. Even when not excluding those segments though, there is a lot more that could be done to welcome those groups, as silence is no substitute for making up for past wrongs.
Beer drinkers have typically been painted as uneducated, unrefined, and boorish, and the behaviour of some in the industry doesn’t help anybody’s case against those claims. It also doesn’t help the industry move away from the obvious white, bearded male bias, and this is coming from a white, bearded male.
I’m not saying don’t be funny, or edgy, or thought provoking, but at the end of the day, it’s not that hard to ask yourself if the decisions made are going to cause problems. Every day, breweries around the world, successful breweries, put out new products and campaigns that manage not to offend anyone, but there will always be room to grow and become a voice for the better. Inclusiveness needs to become a regular and active occurrence, as inaction seems to lead us down this road on a much too regular basis.