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 🙂 


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