A reader recently emailed me to ask that I not mix politics and beer in my writing. (I had referred irreverently in a recent column to the Blue Angels as “killer jet planes.” I told the reader, who signed his note with “m bama,” that I would make no promises.
Casual banter, after all, is laden with politics, as are so many elements of our lives. Music is political. The internet is political. Actors, and their films, are political. Food is political. Facebook is political. Riding a bike is political, as is driving a big car. Carbon dioxide, for crying out loud, has become political, at the machination of the conservative right. Politics saturates the human world, and I can’t, in good faith to reality, pretend that beer and politics must never cross paths.
Their paths, after all, have been crossing for years, especially in the Donald Trump era. When the billionaire ran for president, the game of naming craft beers emerged as a popular vector for opposing his campaign. Trump, by the fall of 2016, had already revealed his values and agenda: He had boasted about groping women, gushed over his gaudy hotels, bragged about — so it seemed — his success in avoiding paying taxes and proposed the U.S.-Mexico border wall — and brewers noticed. The illustration on a bottle of Dumb Donald, a double IPA from Spiteful Brewing Co., in Illinois, featured a line of progressively evolved hominids ending with a modern, upright human. The stooped and portly primate in the middle of the evolutionary queue wore a suit and a mop of combed, orange hair.
Shortly before Trump’s inauguration, Marin Brewing Co., in Larkspur, released an IPA called Not My President, echoing the sentiments of millions of aghast, shell-shocked Americans. On the day of Trump’s inauguration, Michael Roper, owner of Hopleaf bar in Chicago, declared on Facebook that his venue was a “Trump-free zone.” According to a story in the Chicago Tribune, a few customers said they wouldn’t be coming back, but Roper said he didn’t care. He said that acting politically — at least at that time — was second nature and impossible to avoid.
“This business is an extension of me,” Roper said. “I created it myself. It’s like my house. — I invite people in — and it’s a little disingenuous to completely wall off your beliefs and separate your business world from your personal life.”
A year after Trump was elected, Marin Brewing released Dotard, a double IPA whose name quotes the illustrative insult Kim Jong-Un, supreme leader of North Korea, hurled at Trump in a North Korean government news statement in September 2017. Merriam-Webster defines “dotard” as “a person in … a state or period of senile decay marked by decline of mental poise and alertness.”
In 2015, Trump made grossly bigoted declarations of Mexican immigrants.
“They’re bringing drugs,” Trump said. “They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
In response, 5 Rabbit Cerveceria, of Chicago, withdrew its blonde ale from service at Trump Tower, where it was being served as the Trump Golden Ale. The brewery delivered the unserved portion of that beer to local restaurants and bars, and renamed it Chinga tu Pelo – “F–k your hair” in Spanish.
News is breaking as I type this of multiple bombs mailed to public figures — including journalists — frequently targeted by Trump’s verbal aggressions. Trump has explicitly encouraged and applauded violence numerous times before large crowds, and it is no stretch to attribute to him some responsibility for this domestic terrorism. President Trump has also presented himself as a bitter enemy of the media and free press, throwing the insult of “fake news” at many news outlets. If brewers wish to exercise the right to free speech — even if they mock the current president — nobody outside of a fascist regime can stop them. As a writer I’ll be right behind them.
Alastair Bland’s Through the Hopvine runs every week in Zest. Contact him at email@example.com