Beer Label Brouhaha and Gender Marketing

At the 2017 Craft Brewers Conference, the Brewers Association announced that they amended their advertising and marketing code which includes beer label guidelines. Now, beer labels that are found to fit the descriptions below will no longer be honored by name if they win a beer award at the GABF or the World Beer Cup and breweries can’t promote their winning beer using GABF or World Beer Cup trademarked images or texts (labeling your beer a GABF winner, for instance). The Brewers Association would like beer labels and marketing to not:

  • contain sexually explicit, lewd, or demeaning brand names, language, text, graphics, photos, video, or other images that reasonable adult consumers would find inappropriate for consumer products offered to the public;
  • contain derogatory or demeaning text or images.

Being a woman in the craft beer industry, this topic hits home.  At first thought, I don’t love the idea of the censorship of any artwork, and I consider beer labels a form of art. Granted, it is art that is intended to entice people to buy your product, so there is a specific intention behind it. Furthermore, while I applaud the BA for taking this step to damper demeaning and/or derogatory text and images, who is this reasonable adult consumer we have to worry about offending and what is considered sexually explicit? With this in mind, I started doing some research into the matter.

Beer Labels: Sex vs. Sexism

One of the first names that come up when googling “sexist beer labels” is Flying Dog Brewery’s, Raging Bitch. While there are lots of breweries out there that have somewhat questionable names for their beers, Raging Bitch is a good example of the issue that is being raised. When the name was initially banned by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, the brewery owner took the fight to court and fought for 5 years before winning the case under the right to free speech. They ended up proving that Raging Bitch was referring to a dog in heat vs. a pissed off woman. Yes, bitch is a term for a female dog and yes, we all understand the underlying joke that is being made. Even if one can argue about the appropriateness of the name, it’s clear that using the word “bitch” sells. In fact, this beer has been the brewery’s number one selling beer for the last 7 years that it has been in production.

While I am in favor of free speech and Flying Dog’s right to put the word bitch all over their marketing, I also am ultimately turned off by the name and wouldn’t purchase this beer. This is possibly due to my own experiences as a woman and maybe that’s the point. Since beer is by-and-large produced and sold by men, what may be a funny, tongue-in-cheek joke to them, may feel different to women who have experienced being called a bitch first-hand. Now, of course, men are called bitches too, but it’s still meant to demean them by throwing an insult at them which is usually meant for a woman.

Since the craft beer industry is male dominated, there is a general assumption that beers are created and named by men and maybe that’s where some of these beer names run into trouble within people’s perceptions. This assumption is not always true, though, because more and more women are joining the industry as brewers and owners. In fact, when a Fullbright scholar recently accused Midnight Sun Brewery of promoting rape culture with their beer, “Panty Peeler,” it turned out that the beer was created and named by the female co-founder of the brewery and was intended as a symbol of female empowerment.

Of course, not all women are offended by Raging Bitch and alternatively, there are men who are turned off by the name. According to this Washingtonian article, all the women employees at Flying Dog fully support the name. I hesitate to use the word offended for myself, even, since it’s more of a feeling of being turned off by the name vs. being deeply offended.

Either way, the Brewers Association isn’t saying breweries can’t continue to name their beers whatever they want within the guidelines of the TTB. They just won’t announce those names in competitions or have those competitions associated with those names. This doesn’t infringe on anyone’s free speech, it’s more of a “Come on, guys…we can come up with something better than this, right?”

We don’t know how this rule is going to be enforced. Will breweries submit their less controversial named beers? Will they rename those controversial beers for competition? What is the BA even going to determine is inappropriate?

Thorn Street Brewery has two beers who’s names pertain to sex: Foreplay Belgian Blonde and Fornication Belgian Golden Strong Ale. While neither name is particularly racy, they both are obviously connected to sex and they are also names that get a lot of laughs and positive attention from our patrons. While they pass my own sniff-test of “does saying the name make me cringe for women,” we will have to see if they pass the BA’s new standards in the end.

Women Drink Craft Beer Too

There is no doubt that craft beer is still a male dominated industry. Times are changing, however, and more women than ever are joining the industry as well as choosing craft beer as their alcoholic beverage of choice. This is no small number either. Recently, it was reported that women account for 37%  of total craft beer consumption and consume 25% of all the beer in the United States. Furthermore, it was reported that beer has taken the coveted “choice of drink” away from white wine in women ages 18-34.

So how does the craft beer industry attract more women consumers? While some believe that we need to market beers specifically to women (think about all the ways that beer is marketed specifically to men…) I don’t think that’s the point either. Most beer marketing has no gender bias at all, that’s what should be strived for. In one of the funniest articles about marketing beer to women, Vinepair photoshopped some popular beer labels to show how ridiculous some of these labels are. You can check out the link for all of them, but this was my favorite…


Would men buy the beer on the right? Would they be turned off? Once I stopped laughing, it did raise a good point. Both labels are pretty ridiculous. Offensive? I don’t know, but neither one will win any design awards soon.

In the end, craft beer doesn’t need to exclusively be marketed to women in order to bring them over to the dark (beer) side. Maybe the industry just needs to not alienate them with their marketing. Should breweries be allowed to name their beers any sexist thing they want? Of course, but if they care about tapping into a growing segment of the craft beer population, they may want to rethink some of their marketing strategies. Women don’t need special treatment in order to become craft beer drinkers, they just need a little respect.

All views in this piece are my own 🙂 

– Anna Brigham


four beers in a flight enemies

The Biggest Enemies of Craft Beer

With all the recent talk of big beer attacking craft beer from the inside out, you might think that the four biggest enemies of craft beer would be the big four in macro beer. Nope, the biggest enemies of craft beer are much more subversive, extend throughout the whole industry and in some ways are easier to fight. It turns out, time, light, oxygen and temperature are the four biggest issues facing craft beer and any one of the four can undo all of the hard work the brewers put into making that beer taste delicious.


The fresh-factor is one of the biggest issues facing craft beer when it comes to taste. While there are certainly some beers that are meant to be aged, like barley wines, imperial stouts, Belgian strong ales, and lambics, most other styles of beers are really best fresh. IPAs, pale ales, and ambers are just a few of the beers that fit into the “consume fresh” category. Specifically talking about IPAs, the fresh, bright, hoppy characteristics that we love so much don’t often age well. In fact, hoppy beers will start to lose their aromas and hop presence when sitting in a bottle or a can for too long and the malty sweetness often becomes cloying in an older IPA. Thorn Street Brewery brew master, Eric O’Connor explains it like this, “Hoppy beers need to be consumed the fastest, as the hops drop out and the lack of specialty dark malts which can lend additional balance lead to a sweet and overly malty out of balance beer.”

So how long is too long? For IPAs, it’s best to drink them in the first 60 days. They aren’t going to spoil or become undrinkable on that 61st day, but they also probably won’t be as delicious. During the first 60 days, beer recipes are designed to be in harmony regarding malt sweetness, bitterness, hop aroma, and flavor. After that two-month period, this harmony can fall out of balance. Sometimes the imbalance isn’t horrible or that off-putting, but it’s also not the intended experience from the brewer.

This is why it’s so important for breweries to put “Enjoy By” or “Bottled On” dates on their packaging. Next time you are at your local shop looking for a beer to take home, start checking dates. If it’s a “bottled on” date then try and get ones that were bottled within 60 days of the day you want to drink it. Many bottles and cans still don’t have freshness dates on them so in this case you need to think about where you buy your packaged beer from. If you buy your beer from a liquor store or beer store that is popular and goes through a lot of inventory, you are probably good to go. If you are buying it from a random store in an area where craft beer isn’t that popular, that beer may have been sitting on their shelves for quite a bit of time and it’s best to be wary.


Light is another thing that can stand in the way of optimal beer flavor and is responsible for the dreaded, “skunked” beer. This off-putting flavoring is due to the light-sensitivity of the hops in the beer. In fact, the term “skunked” is scientific in its basis. Chemists from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill studied what makes a beer skunky and found that when they hit three isohumulones (the compounds responsible for the light sensitivity in hops) with enough light, it created a compound called “skunky thiol” which has the same chemical make-up as a skunk’s noxious spray. While brown bottles help the issue somewhat, cans and kegs are really the best way to make sure that light doesn’t change the flavor of a beer.


While oxygen is both a friend and an enemy to beer, the process of oxidation can be damaging when it’s introduced after early fermentation. Oxidation can cause that dreaded “stale beer” taste and is most often detrimental when it occurs during packaging. Before that, if oxidation occurs, it will be caught by the brewing team and not packaged at all. Air doesn’t act alone when it comes to oxidizing beers, however. Temperature also plays a major role in oxidation and the resulting stale beer.


Last but not least, temperature can be a killer of good tasting beer. The 3-30-300 rule has been conventional wisdom in the craft beer world for some time. While who commissioned the research is somewhat hazy (Ninkasi just says “a brewery,” while Mad Tree Brewery says the info comes from macro beer), the science is real and what was uncovered was that when it comes to storing beers, in 3 days at 90°F  you would get the same age-related flavor development as you would in 30 days at 71°F and 300 days at 33°F.

The best thing to do is keep your beer cold. While you can’t control how the beer is stored before it gets to you, and in fact, it’s likely it has already been up to room temperature a few times, you can only do so much when it comes to being vigilant. Some aging of the beer is expected and adjusted for in brewing recipes. Higher temperatures will just speed up that process past the, “oh this taste different but still good” to “WTF happened to this beer?” Just please don’t leave your beer in your car as this is a surefire way to skunk it. Furthermore, be wary of stores that have their beer on shelves where sunlight hits and warms them higher than 70 degrees on a daily basis. Based on the 3-30-300 rule, beer should probably not be kept at room temperature for more than 30 days if freshness is a factor in its flavor.

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask

If you want the freshest beer available, drink at the source! Luckily, for most of us here in San Diego, we live within a few miles of a brewery. There is nothing better than freshly kegged beer, so don’t be afraid to ask the beer-tender which beer on tap was recently kegged.

Likewise, a good rule of thumb when you go to a bar or a restaurant is to ask the bartender which kegs were tapped recently. Although this doesn’t always mean its the freshest keg, it gives you the best chance of not getting an old beer.

To recap, drink your beer as fresh as possibly, keep cold, buy cans when possible, and if you want the best beer experience, walk down to your local brewery for a fresh pint.

Beers in pint glasses from independent breweries

Why Independence Matters in Craft Beer

The opening remarks at the 2017 Craft Beer Conference were strong and foreboding with the message being that big beer is here to take over craft beer and independent brewers cannot let that happen. Earlier this week, Bob Pease, CEO of the Brewers Association, spoke at the first general session of the CBC with both passion and concern. “We are pioneers and disruptors of the old order and not surprisingly, the old order has countered with an assault on craft brewers’ values with a deliberate effort to erase a differentiation that exists between small and independent craft brewers and global forces.”

Independence Matters

This is both a national beer issue and one that hits close to home here in San Diego.  With the 2015 sale of beloved San Diego craft brewery, Ballast Point, to beverage giant, Constellation, the less-beloved-but-still-stings Saint Archer being bought by MillerCoors as well as the soon-to-be-opened San Diego 10 Barrel Brewing brewpub, owned by AB InBev, the SD craft beer community has a lot to say on the topic.

We started writing about the 10 Barrel topic last February with, The Issue With 10 Barrel Brewing in the East Village. The crux of that blog piece was this, “It’s not that we don’t want another brewpub in San Diego, it’s that we don’t want a brewpub owned by a company which reportedly plays dirty and actively engages in actions that hurt the craft beer market as a whole.”

This sentiment still stands, and recently, Brandon Hernandez, from Societe Brewing Co, wrote a great piece about the topic entitled, 10 Barrel Is Not Local Beer. The piece is absolutely worth the read, and Brandon echoes how many San Diego craft brewers feel about the topic. There is little doubt, though, that 10 Barrel will do well here in San Diego. Even if the local craft beer drinkers don’t patronize the establishment, there will be plenty of tourists, out-of-towners, and people who just don’t care, to fill 10 Barrel’s roof-top deck in the East Village. This brings us back to Pease’s point about differentiation, “For the sake of beer, we need to tell our story and keep the steering wheel for beer in the hands of the small and independent brewers,” he implored. “We have a responsibility to tell our story.” How are people going to know which breweries are independent and which ones are owned by global conglomerates? One way is by independent breweries telling their stories.

Big Beer Responds

Not only do we need to tell our story, but we also need to speak up about the real issues that the craft beer industry is facing due to pressure from Big Beer. Recently, Jim Koch, the founder and CEO of Sam Adams (Boston Beer Co.), published an op-ed piece in the NY times echoing the CBA President’s sentiments, titled “Is It Last Call for Craft Beer?”

While usually craft beer railing against Big Beer probably doesn’t even make it on their radar, Koch’s piece elicited responses from both MillerCoors and AB InBev. MillerCoors responded with a blog piece that takes a bunch of personal shots at Jim Koch while also patting themselves on the back for “leading the charge” in bringing excitement into the beer industry when they “introduced Blue Moon Belgian White, now the country’s largest craft brand, more than 20 years ago.” Um. Thanks?

The writer says Koch’s fears are unfounded because craft beer growth has been so great over the last 15 years. Let’s be clear, craft beer has seen impressive growth, but that’s in spite of Big Beer, not because of it. Furthermore, it has only been the last few years that the big boys have seen their numbers drop enough to take craft beer seriously and then they decided to take action by buying up craft breweries and distributors alike.

As reported by Fortune, this was AB InBev’s statement on Koch’s op-ed piece, “We understand Boston Beer sales are hurting right now and it is easy to blame the bigger brewers. But with 5,300 breweries out there, the numbers don’t stack up, and we only see positive, exciting things ahead for our industry and for craft in particular, certainly not its demise!”

What an uplifting message from AB InBev. A message that they can get behind because they have been buying up craft breweries and beer distributors at an alarming rate over the last few years. The better that craft beer does, the easier it is to make money off of their “crafty” brands. Not only that, but throwing numbers around like 5,300 breweries sounds good, but when AB InBev still controls more than 45% of the U.S. beer market, and alongside MillerCoors, Constellation and Heineken they control 81% of the U.S. market, that number doesn’t mean as much. Furthermore, with the acquisition of Karbach Brewery this past winter, Ab InBev now owns 9 craft beer brands and owns and operates at least 18 wholesalers across the country.

What’s the Big Deal?

Here in CA, it’s hard enough but at least we can self-distribute. Sure we have to compete with Budweiser’s pay to play tactics (which they were just fined $400,000 for by the ABC), but what about states where breweries have to use a distributor and AB and MillerCoors happen to own both distributors in their small state?

This is what’s most concerning; Big Beer buys up wholesalers that will then only sell their products and they also have a full stable of craft beer available to sell to bars and restaurants at lower prices than their independent craft beer competitors. This makes it incredibly hard for independent breweries to compete in the marketplace. It’s not good for the craft beer industry as a whole when it comes to offering beer choice to consumers.

This is why independence matters and why it’s important for craft brewers to tell their story. For most independent brewers, it’s the story of blood, sweat, and beer. The story of friends with a dream and pouring their heart and soul into every brew. It’s about the money spent on beer going right back into the community and helping a small business thrive. It’s about quality, craft beer and the renegades that brew it. Sure, Big Beer has the money and with strategic buy-outs, now has decent craft beer, but independent brewers have authenticity and roots in their communities and in most cases, a clear conscience when it comes to who ultimately benefits from consumers buying their beer.



donuts and beer tasters

Donut and Beer Pairings: The Hole Truth

Donuts and beer?? Yes, please! While some might scratch their heads at pairing beer with sweet treats like donuts, it has turned out to be an incredibly winning combination here at Thorn Street Brewery. It helps that we collaborate with the best donut spot in San Diego, Nomad Donuts, a shop that puts out an impressive array of incredibly creative donuts. On any given day, you can get inspired donut creations like Brown Butter Popcorn, Watermelon Tamarind Chili, and Blood Orange Creamsicle. The chef behind this donut madness is Kristianna Zabala, a pastry chef who took the leap from restaurant to donut shop and has never looked back.

The first pairing we did with Nomad was in April 2015 and it sold out quickly. We ended up doing two sessions to accommodate the incredible response and we learned two things from that first pairing. The first was that people loved donuts and beer together and the second thing was two sessions meant a 7-hour event for our staff and Brad Keiller, the owner of Nomad Donuts, which was just too long. We decided to do one session per future event and have the pairings a few times a year to spread out the donut-love and are now on our 6th pairing together.

One of the coolest things about pairing with these guys is the process and thought that goes into each donut. It all starts out with the week before the event. Kristianna comes into TSB with her boyfriend and food partner, Fernando Alatorre, a chef from Mr. A’s, which incidentally is where the two met. Her son, Kingston, never misses a planning session either, always excited to eat BBQ and drink some house-made root beer. While Kristianna has been making waves in the dessert world for some time, including a win on Sugar Showdown earlier this year, she is also an accomplished chef outside of desserts. Recently, she has participated in a Filipino Flavors dinner at Jsix, was the guest chef on Meatless Monday at Cueva Bar and took part in a multi-chef collab dinner at Council Brewing.

When asked, Kristanna actually says this is her favorite part of her job. “Collaborating is the best part. You get to work with different flavor profiles and different styles, whether it be beer or product that we are using or collaborating with another chef.”

We all sit down with two full tasting trays full of whatever 14-16 beers we have on tap, some BBQ from Grand Ole BBQ Y Asado, next door, and then the fun begins…

tasters of beer to prepare for nomad donut pairing

Working their way through the beers, Kristianna and Fernando are in turns both hilarious and deep thinkers when it comes to planning the pairings. They rapidly discuss their ideas, taking into consideration not only what’s happening in the food world at the moment but also seasonal flavors and local ingredients.

“I always bounce off ideas off of him,” Kristianna says “He’s my counterpart for all my beer pairings; helping balance flavors and pair the beers.”

First, she figures out which beers she wants to use in the donuts and then they discuss which beers go best with that donut. But what’s the hardest part?

“After trying so many beers, it gets hard, the palate gets tired,” Kristianna explains. “The hardest part is pairing something that is not as sweet and trying to bring out the flavor of the beer with the sweetness of the donut.” In fact, the tired palate dilemma is easily solved with a trip to the BBQ joint next door since the smoky, savory meats really help to clear up any leftover taste in between beers.

The two chefs are intense. They take the pairings seriously and push each other on their ideas, talking fully through every flavor note and taste that comes from the beers and how it will affect the donut combination. At one point in the night, Kristianna looked over at Fernando and says,

“Listen to this…I know you are going to be like, why are you doing this to yourself, but maybe we should do a mini Scotch egg.”

The idea is bomb, but the work and finesse it will take to pull off 100 quail Scotch eggs is no joke. After some discussion on logistics and where to source eggs from, Kristanna states, “Well, I’m fucking doing it!”

Fernando laughs, unsurprised, and wonders aloud how much he will be helping out early Sunday morning. After the three pairings are set, it’s time to wrap up this party. It’s 9 pm and we have been talking, planning and laughing for 2 hours straight.

“Are you ready for this?” Fernando asks Kristianna with a twinkle in his eye.

She shoots back with supreme confidence,”Are you ready? I’m ready for anything.”

Want to taste the magic? There are still a few tickets left to this pairing coming up this Sunday at 12:30 pm through Eventbrite.




Gangster or investigator or spy silhouette on natural wooden wal

Big Beer Caught In Murder Plot!!!!

Tom Kiely thinks it’s going to be just another Tuesday of slinging craft beer when he steps out of his Toyota Corolla XRS to beat the pavement in the sleepy, seaside town of Pacific Beach. Little does he know that his very life will depend on his keen sense of danger, his skills with a hand-made tap handle and an empty keg of beer.

The rumors have been spreading for weeks in the San Diego craft beer industry that the deaths stacking up all lead back to one company; Budweiser. Big beer is big business, and after some time of the beer Goliath swatting away the craft beer gnats, maybe they decide to take additional steps to silence the dissenters. Wiretaps, strange men lurking in the shadows, this story could go all the way up to the top! Where does this trail of bad beers end??? First, let’s take a look at where it all begins…

The first victim is Steve Garcia from Chula Vista’s 3 Punk Ales. He is found murdered in a gutter in South Bay, with a bloody “B” scrawled on his forehead. The bodies begin piling up, as reps from three other craft breweries go missing and then later are found with the tell-tale, bloody “B.”


While Tom Kiely is concerned about his fallen beer-brethren, he also knows he has a job to do and that is to sell beer. He knows that if he can’t get Thorn Street Brewery beer out to the masses, big beer will win. He also knows that he has a giant target on his logoed t-shirt because he senses that he is next on the hit list. Mostly because someone private messages him through his Grinder account that he is next on the hit list, but also his gut tells him and a man of Tom Kiely’s character always listens to his gut…his big hairy gut.

But why would Budweiser be out to get Tom Kiely from Thorn Street Brewery? To clear tap handles of course. The rumors begin circulating when a new Budweiser rep, H.J. Peiswatter, starts telling local establishments that TSB is responsible for their recent ABC bust, up in Orange County. This rumor starts from a TSB blog that covered the bust, which takes its info from an ABC press release. The fact that the ABC investigation has been going on for more than a year before it is reported on by TSB or that there are no connections between TSB and bars in the L.A. area is lost on them, as are consumers’ tastes. But coincidentally, or perhaps not, that’s when the bodies start piling up. Is this new Bud rep really a beer salesman? Or perhaps he is something more sinister. With his freshly shorn face, khaki slacks, flip phone, and glass eye, he certainly stands out immediately from the other beer sales reps in San Diego.

Lucky for H.J. Peiswatter, he is on the right track. Tom Kiely, in fact, is a snitch and it all starts back in the Boston burbs. During his youth, Tom Kiely is heavily influenced by skittles, Pepsi, and his father. Starting out as a hairy young man who only gets hairier, Tom Kiely has a history of making friends with shady characters. In fact, one time his father, seeing the direction that his son is heading, tries to warn Tom about a young buck he befriends, saying, “He’d sell you down the river for a tube of pimple cream!!” Little does his father know, it will be Tom who sells this very same friend out for a bottle of Proactiv; because that shit is expensive.

This leads to a lifetime of snitching for Tom Kiely. From ratting out kids who walk on the grass when the signs says, “Please Stay On Walkways” to informing the Baha Men who let the dogs out, Tom Kiely rises to fame on his penchant for whistle-blowing and his fierce Boston accent which only seems to get stronger the further he moves from Boston. But is it Tom that snitches on Budweiser to the ABC? Even for Tom, it would be a stretch to snitch on L.A. bars because if there is one reason Tom snitches, it’s for personal gain and there is no personal gain in snitching on L.A. bars.

Back to the dark and temperate Tuesday night with Tom Kiely. He has just finished selling three kegs of Relay IPA to an unnamed bar in PB and is whistling an ominous tune while walking back to his trusty Toyota Corolla XRS or as he affectionately calls it, Tom Cruiser. Just then, he hears a voice coming from the shadows. “Snitches get stitches.”

Tom Kiely’s luxurious chest hair raises immediately. After years of getting jumped for being a rat, he has a sixth sense about these things. Out of the shadows walks a clean-cut, H.J. Peiswatter, staring ominously and wearing a“Budweiser Rules” shirt. Tom Kiely immediately knows he’s in trouble and he hurls the empty keg he is carrying (because TSB picks up their empty kegs in a timely manner) at H.J. Peiswatter and runs. The Bud rep takes up the chase and the two men run haphazardly through the alleyways of PB for about a block before Tom becomes too winded to continue. 

The only thing left in Tom’s possession is a beautifully, hand-crafted, wooden tap handle bearing the words “Rock the Pale Ale.” With a laser-like focus, he squares himself up against the nearly-hairless Bud rep and launches the tap handle at him. 

The tap handle smacks H.J. Peiswatter in the middle of his gleaming forehead and he says, “Ow! That hurts!” Tom Kiely rests his gaze on H.J. Peiswatter’s glass eye and says,

“Just as you hurt the local brewing community when you engage in pay to play schemes.”

H.J. Peiswatter pauses for a minute, looking confused, and says, “You know, Tom Kiely, I never looked at it that way before. You’re right, and I’m sorry.”

“I forgive you.” Tom Kiely says. Both gentlemen shake hands and walk away and the hero, a winded, tired, and lightly shat himself, Tom, gives a small fist-pump in the air like the ending of a John Hughes movie. What happened to the dead beer reps? It turns out that they were targeted by a pro-wine cult from Temecula and the “Bs” stood for “buttery,” but that’s a story for another day.

P.S. Don’t be a Hugh Jass Peiswatter!

Happy April Fools

from Ralph