The naming of and promotion surrounding a new release from Gold Coast brewery Black Hops has come in for fierce criticism, described as sexist and even "rapey" in nature and, according to one brewer that has contacted The Crafty Pint, represents "a new low for Australian craft beer".
The beer, created by female staff member Ali Cat, one of the nominees for the Best Beer Tender at next week's Beeries in Brisbane, is called Pussy Juice, a peach NEIPA (the name has now been changed). In the first two hours after artwork for the beer and a highly suggestive accompanying poem was posted on the Black Hops Facebook page, it had gone viral, attracting dozens of shares, well over a hundred comments – both supportive and critical – and sparked heated discussions in groups throughout the beer community.
UPDATE: The post has been taken down and Black Hops has issued an apology, which you can read in full here.
UPDATE 2: Black Hops has since published a second statement that goes much further than the initial one. Read it in full here.
In the initial statement, the brewery owners say: "As a new business, it’s been a lesson for us. We certainly weren’t trying to create anything viral or any kind of deliberate negative press. Anyone who knows us knows that we are all genuine supporters of the industry, women in the industry, diversity in the industry and also having a bit of fun in the industry. Today we got the balance wrong, and for that we apologise.
"We’ve taken the post down and also taken the decision to not sell the beer under this name."
The second statement ended with a promise "to attempt to work towards becoming leaders in this industry for all the right reasons."
There's more from the brewery at the foot of the article.
Marie Claire Jarratt, who wrote a feature for this site on the topic of sexism in the beer world earlier in the year, says: "The article I wrote was intended to point less towards overt sexism and more towards subconscious – unconscious? – bias, something that alienates women in the community through the use of imagery, labels and advertising, amongst other things. This is a perfect example of exactly what I meant by that.
"I don't think any explanation is needed as to why it could be viewed as offensive. Funnily enough, I'm not all that offended by the name as such, as a gay woman who hears that term a lot in the community. What I am offended by is that it's obviously out there to cause a stir and even more obviously targeted towards men, given the caption 'mind out of the gutter, boys'.
"We should not advertise on the basis of gender, especially at the expense of another gender. I do understand that the beer was made by a woman, I am unsure if she was involved in the naming choice, but if she was I am disappointed that she does not stand with us as an ally and that she would be willing to make such a joke, at the expense at all the women in the industry – including those who have come before her and have endeavoured to do the right thing to progress our image in the industry, not act to revert it."
Luke Robertson at Ale Of A Time has published a post likening the approach to "making jokes the quality of a cheap porn mag from the 80s".
And Two Birds Brewing, Australia's first female-owned brewing company, has posted to its Facebook page with the message: "When we first launched in 2011 as Australia's first female-owned brewery, it was in an environment where beer was thought of as for men, with women mostly used as props or disregarded as a willing part of the market.
"Since then, we've worked hard to break down those barriers, support and inspire women, and show that women are a valid - and needed - part of the beer industry. To see other breweries use language and imagery that sexualises, denigrates or limits womens' potential is always disappointing, and we hope that most people will call it out for what it is – sexism. Whether it's a woman's idea or not, there needs to be respect and understanding of the greater issues at play.
"It is possible to have fun and be sassy with beer in a way that doesn't continue to exclude women from the industry, (if you don't believe us, try our Free The NEIPL and see for yourself) and that's what we plan to keep on doing, now and for years to come."
Given the craft beer world likes to hold itself to higher standards, this base appeal to sexist attitudes seems, at best, a badly misjudged attempt to (successfully) create a viral buzz that the fast-rising brewery may well come to regret, no matter how many people "get" the joke.
UPDATE: With the brewery taking down the post and renaming the beer, hopefully this now becomes an opportunity to discuss again serious issues affecting women both in the beer industry and in society as a whole.
Statement from Pink Boots Society
Pinks Boots Society is a global organisation that represents women working in the beer industry. The Australian chapter issued this statement today:
The Australian craft beer industry, on the whole, is wonderful. Consumers love it for the diversity in choice and, fortunately, the diversity is starting to be more seen from within. While beer is very much still a male dominated world, we are seeing more women working in related industries and consuming beer than years gone by.
Unfortunately, today we saw a throwback to the old times, when women and their sexual worth was somehow an acceptable marketing practice. A brewery chose to release a beer with a provocative name accompanied by some deliberately immature and degrading commentary.
There was a great opportunity here to celebrate one woman’s contribution to our industry, instead that brewery chose to take that recognition down an entirely different path.
The reasons she was chosen to release her own beer is not the focus of their marketing for this beer – we should be celebrating her contributions instead of having this tired discussion.
We write this not just as women working in the industry, but also as beer professionals. We want to see our industry grow. How are women meant to feel accepted in workplaces if we accept communications such as this?
How can we expect female consumers – the greatest growth opportunity for breweries – to choose beer over other drink choices when they see this kind of marketing?
We know not everyone is willing to understand our position, but we will continue to call out these decisions. The need to have scantily clad women in branding, sexual innuendo in words and other demeaning actions is no longer something that we will quietly stand by. It is degrading. It is tacky. It is simply not needed. We as an entire industry should be setting higher standards than this.
Zoe Ottaway Vice President
More from Black Hops co-owner Dan Norris
We asked a few questions of the brewery. Here are Dan's responses in full:
What is the story behind the beer, its naming and the artwork and the Facebook promotion surrounding it?
It was a staff beer for our taproom team leader AliCat. It was a play on words in a few different ways. We share everything we do on Facebook. I am personally excited about the design stuff we are doing so I always share our decals and cans etc on social media.
Was the intention to create something that would go viral (as some of the other shares would suggest)?
Absolutely not. We give the staff more or less free reign on these staff beers. We make a few cartons and a few kegs and they get to share them with their mates. It's supposed to be a perk. Our team work around the clock for us and it's one small way we thought we could reward them.
Did you consider that this imagery, words and approach could cause offence?
When we came up with the idea we thought it was a fun play on words. In hindsight I can see how it could cause offence. We are a young business and we've obviously missed the mark on this one. We've learned a painful lesson.
Initial response is that this adds to potential degradation of women and adds to their objectivisation. What are your thoughts on this?
It wasn't our intention at all. But I can understand people are upset so we've taken it down.
Given craft beer as a whole looks to hold itself to higher standards than society as a whole, do you feel this example undermines that and instead plays on dated sexist stereotypes?
I feel we made a mistake and we have learned our lesson. We apologise for that mistake. We didn't intend for it to be sexist at all.
You can read our article on sexism in the beer industry here.