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Denver’s Pussy Riot Beer Series Set to Make Statement Inauguration Day 2017

Denver’s Pussy Riot Beer Series Set to Make Statement Inauguration Day 2017
Kara Loo and Kelissa Hieber
Avg. Reading Time: 5 min

Above: Brewers and supporters gather on January 2nd, 2017, to brew the 3rd installment of “Makin Noise: A Pussy Riot Beer”. From the left: Shel, project supporter, Bess Dougherty of The Grateful Gnome Brewery, Jax, project supporter, Kim of The Guardian Brewing Company, Kate, Betsy and Jen, all from Lady Justice Brewing Company.

“Makin’ Noise”

On December 28, 2016, a group of five female brewers convened at Goldspot Brewing Company and set out to accomplish something a bit unprecedented, even by today’s craft beer standards. Combining their collective talents, they brewed the first beer in a four-part series dedicated to the protest of hatred and intolerance. The ladies are calling these beers “Pussy Riot beers,” an ode to the famous Russian punk rock protest band, and thus created, for batch #1, an Imperial Saison recipe with strawberries. The brewers decided on the style because Saisons and fruit beers are generally considered milder, lighter styles. However, the Imperial quality will make it “look like a delicate beer, but it will knock you on your ass,” says one of the brewers and creative leads of the project, Bess Dougherty.

The second beer of the series was brewed on December 30 at 3 Freaks Brewing Company and the third was brewed on January 2 at Lady Justice Brewing Company. All are versions of the Imperial Saison recipe. Intentionally, they’ll release the four beers on or around Inauguration Day in support of equality, celebration of diversity and solidarity with fellow women and other oppressed communities. The beer is not inherently political per se, but it does support causes that its creators feel are under threat in our new political climate. As you might imagine various communities have reacted in a spectrum of ways, from jubilant and supportive, to incredulous, indignant or angry.

This project and its various reactions, particularly the outrage, provides us all a platform for discussion. What goes into a beer name? To what degree should/can a beer stand up for a cause? Why do women get to call foul on certain sexualized beer names while giving their own beers names like “Pussy Riot”? Turns out there is a wide range of opinions and perceptions on the topic, many of which we at PorchDrinking hope invites open and respectful discussion.

A Few Quick Thoughts on Naming Beers

Let’s pause on the Pussy Riot beer series for a minute, because I think it’s useful to break down the process of how we even arrive at this arguably controversial title in the first place. Craft beer names and artwork initially can seem completely out of left field, right? How many other companies expect its marketing department to birth a unique, flowery name every time a new variety of their product hits shelves? Imagine going to the store and buying “Arrogant Bastard Toothpaste,” or maybe a couple varieties of aged cheeses, “Pliny the Elder Cheddar” and “Pliny the Younger Cheddar.” I would at least look at that package and think, “OK, someone got a little carried away naming this cheese.” Yet these names have been normalized in beer to the point that it’s an expectation to pick up a six-pack of “Clown Shoes Undead Party Crasher Imperial Stout” without giving much thought to where its colorful name derives. Perhaps, that’s partially why certain breweries have let some pretty sexist and offensive names roll off their production lines in past years.

Actually, if someone wants to make these cheeses I'm all in.
Actually, if someone wants to make these cheeses I’m all in.

Consumers just aren’t that shocked anymore. Or, as some would say, “it’s just not a big deal.” Yes, the beauty in our community is that we’re a fun-loving bunch that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Unfortunately, crossing the line into offensive territory really is distinctly different from making a harmless joke. Some may not even realize they’re being offensive at all because this behavior is also often normalized.

Apart from pure artistic and culinary inspiration, the other side of naming a beer has to do with marketing considerations. Will people gravitate toward and remember this name? Will they think it’s funny? Will it make them want to drink my beer? These are the types of considerations that are often at the forefront of the naming process. Thoughts like, Will this beer name be well-received by each of my consumers, black or white, woman or man, young or old, disabled, religious or otherwise? are often last in line (if they happen at all), and most especially if that person is a hard-working brewer with a million other concerns other than naming the beer. But in this day in age, in a world where there are more females than ever working in the brewhouse, craft beer drinkers are more racially diverse by the year and the post-2016-election climate is full of people taking a firm stance, this consideration is necessary and really needs to become more than a last thought for all of us.

Beer Names Should Respect, Not Objectify, Women

These musings bring me to my main point. There is a critical difference between a beer name that refers to women in a sexualised way and one that empowers women while rejecting anti-woman agendas. It’s not that it’s wrong to refer to women’s body parts in a beer name, but the question that should be asked first is “why?”

The original Pussy Riot, as I mentioned, is a guerrilla-style female punk protest band based out of Moscow. If you aren’t up-to-date on them they’re worth digging into from both a “current events” and “artistic expression” aspect. To many, they’re symbolic women who have fought and paid the price for disrupting the status quo and questioning governmental decisions via their protest through art. In a similar vein, these female brewers of Denver are using their craft and First Amendment rights to stand up to government policies and figures they believe are unjust. “The goal is to effect change through art with whatever tools you have. We are brewers, so our tool is beer,” says Dougherty.

the-protest-band-pussy-ri-011
Pussy Riot, wearing their signature performance balaclava face masks, from Facebook

When a beer name explicitly refers to sexual acts, women’s body parts or clothing, or somehow implies that the drinker(s) will be more inclined to engage in sexual acts after drinking the beer, we must question why that name came about. Is it only funny to men? After all, it seems highly unlikely any beer name would reference a pair of men’s underwear, yet several beer names to date have included innuendos to women’s panties. Women will (and have the right to) feel alienated by names that talk intimately about their bodies when all they’re trying to do is go out and enjoy a beer. If everyone isn’t laughing maybe the joke’s just not worth it.

Additionally, as an industry, craft beer must learn to mature beyond these types of sophomoric jokes that demean, demoralize and degrade women, minorities, and worse. Beer has quickly grown to become a billion dollar industry. We must begin to hold our fellow industry members responsible for raising our standards if we wish to be taken seriously.

I am a woman with close relations to my local craft beer community. I love this community for all its best qualities, the open-mindedness, it’s dedication, heart, soul, and most of all, preservation of the ability to see someone across from you at the bar and strike up a genuine conversation over your common love of beer. I like to think of it this way: if that person next to you at the bar seems hurt, angry, or frustrated, isn’t it only right to at least hear them out politely? If, on the other hand, they seem empowered, happy and proud, let’s do our best to see their side and maybe even cheers their glass.

If you’re interested in supporting the project, please visit the 4 participating breweries (Lady Justice Brewing, 3 Freaks Brewing, Black Sky Brewing, and Goldspot Brewing) on or after Inauguration Day to purchase these beers, and tell your Denver friends to do the same! Proceeds from the beers are going to the ACLU, Conservation Colorado, Planned Parenthood, and One Colorado.

Editor’s Comment: After doing a quick Google search for “Tighty Whities Beer”, because men don’t wear panties, we found a beer series that does, indeed, reference men’s underwear thanks to Cedar Creek Brewery’s Tighty Whities Series. Then there is the picture of a man pooping his pants on the can (not like that, I mean the label of the beer can) of Brown Note from Against the Grain Brewery. If you want to get more obscene and reference male genitalia, well there is Engine 15 Brewing Co.’s Nut Sack Brown Ale. This is all to say, there are plenty out there making fun of fat lazy men in dirty underwear who value their beer more than life’s better priorities. However, that doesn’t make it right (or wrong), you be the judge and cheers; the next round is on me – figuratively, of course.

 


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