A few months ago I wrote a blog post discussing sexist marketing in beer and I called out–and chatted with–some Ontario breweries about marketing efforts I felt objectified women.
In the interim, there have been some changes worth noting. Whitewater Brewing, the Ottawa Valley area brewer who makes “Farmer’s Daughter Blonde,” has quietly updated the branding for that can and appears to have renamed their seasonal “Farmer’s Daughter’s Melons” to the decidedly less cringe-inducing “Watermelon Blonde.”
Niagara Brewing Company, the makers of “Amber Eh!,” an American-style Amber that features a semi-naked female lumberjack on the can, took the less strategic but still effective approach of responding to my repeated inquiries by simply blocking me on social media. I guess that works.
The other breweries mentioned have, to date, continued business as usual; including continuing to use the cans that I discussed.
As first reported here in August, Garnet Pratt Siddall, the then-newly-appointed chair of the Ontario Craft Brewers who spoke candidly with me for my article about sexist beer in the industry, has been terminated as the CEO of Collingwood’s Side Launch Brewing Co.
I’ve also confirmed with the OCB that she has likewise subsequently resigned as the chair and director of that organization. It remains to be seen who her replacement will be and, as such, it’s unclear whether the de facto figurehead of Ontario’s only organization advocating for small brewers will share Siddall’s interest in making changes related to offensive marketing.
Interestingly though, one of the most promising changes to come about since my article, and apparently as a result of it, comes not from Ontario, but rather from Nova Scotia.
Shortly after my February 2017 blog post, I started getting emails from Jeremy White. White is the founder and “alesmith” of Big Spruce Brewing in Cape Breton and also a member of the Craft Brewers Association of Nova Scotia (CBANS). CBANS is made up of 34 member breweries across Nova Scotia and their stated objective is to act as the unified voice of the craft beer industry to government and the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC — essentially their LCBO). White, and by extension CBANS, were inspired to take action in response to the tendency for beer names, labels, and beer marketing to skew toward the distasteful and offensive and, after a series of emails, White decided to actually do something about it.
Accordingly, at their annual general meeting, after what White calls “some spirited debate,” CBANS passed the following motion:
Whereas the Nova Scotia craft beer industry strives to uphold the fundamental principles of inclusiveness and equality to all in the carrying out of day to day activities, be it resolved that the Craft Brewers Association of Nova Scotia formally encourages members to operate equal and supportive workplaces, and to pledge zero tolerance of discrimination in their marketing practices.
White tells me that it is the intention of the association to now form a working committee to see about turning this into a policy statement or bylaw.
I also spoke with Emily Tipton, part owner of Boxing Rock Brewing and President of CBANS, about the motion passed at their most recent AGM. “Members unanimously endorsed the notion that discrimination in any form has no place in the Nova Scotia craft beer industry,” she says. “This motion sends a strong message to the beer industry and our consumers that we will strive to ensure our operations, both on the brewery floor, and in our marketing, are free of discrimination.”
“For me,” White added, “doing something about sexism in industry marketing was crucial because I’d feel I was letting my wife and family down if I did not. My wife Melanie is my partner in everything including Big Spruce. I have a two year old daughter. I just felt I could not stay silent about this and look them in the eye and feel I was doing everything to promote equality and zero discrimination in my industry.”
White also adds that, over the summer, Big Spruce grew its work force to 13 employees, and five of those employees are women. He also notes that, of five senior management positions, three are held by women.
“Let me be clear,” he adds “the reason we preach this is not only because it is the right thing to do, but because women bring a great, dynamic perspective to our business.”
For Tipton, the motion seems to be simply an extension of the ethos of the industry in her province. “The Nova Scotia craft beer industry prides itself in being a progressive and tolerant industry and we know that in order to eliminate discrimination in any industry we must do so with a collective effort,” she says. “This motion is designed to organize the industry unanimously behind this very important objective.”
In the United States, in April 2017–and quite certainly not in response to anything some Canadian blogger had to say–the Brewers Association likewise issued a statement on its pursuit of diversity and issued a new code of conduct that included specific items related to sexist and offensive marketing. This decision, as you might expect, was fairly roundly met with enthusiasm–with the notable exception of Maryland’s Flying Dog Brewery, who promptly quit the BA after the new code was announced, with Flying Dog CEO Jim Caruso calling the BA’s decision “nothing more than a thinly veiled side door to censorship.”
Flying Dog makes a beer called Doggie Style Pale, an oyster stout called Pearl Necklace, and are perhaps best known for their Belgian IPA, Raging Bitch, a beer with a label that features a drawing of dog with visible labia. Caruso called efforts to enforce some standard of decency on BA members, “anti-free enterprise” noted that the idea is “interfering with their competitors’ business” and called it “thinking for consumers.”
I asked White what he thought about imposing restrictions on what a brewer can and can’t say about their own product. “My personal opinion is that yes, a brewery can say what they want or market as they choose,” he says. “However, they should never be permitted to do so in the name of Nova Scotia Craft Beer, and they should have to realize that in so doing the public deserves a right to debate their position. Personally I feel any objectification is wrong.”
And I most certainly have to agree with White. Brewers certainly are entitled to sell their product any way they see fit, but if they want to belong to a trade organization or an advocacy association, they should be held to certain standards in order to continue being part of that organization. Indeed, to my mind, that should be one of the main tenants of any such organization. In my experience, people like Flying Dog’s Caruso, who cry censorship or–increasingly as of late, bemoan an abundance of “political correctness,”– are mostly people pissed off they can’t keep saying dumb and offensive shit. Caruso, in my opinion, like other brewers who might follow suit, has chosen juvenile, offensive jokes over membership to an organization that advances the industry and, to me, this is short sighted and ignorant.
What exactly will be the end result of similar action in Nova Scotia remains to seen, but White is encouraged by the response thus far. “What we do about this, and how we determine what crosses the line, is now up to the board and a possible committee that we intend to set up, but I am optimistic about the opportunity that stands before us. The one or two instances of where I personally feel Nova Scotia breweries are crossing the line right now represents a chance for them to do the right thing. What better marketing opportunity is there than that?”
For now, their efforts remain only a statement of intent, approved by the members, and actual action is yet to follow. But, hey, that’s certainly better than a lot of other jurisdictions and if there’s going to be a sea change in Canada’s beer marketing, it may as well start in Nova Scotia.