Pints With a Side of Politics: Why Beer Is Becoming Political

March 09, 2018

By Joshua Bernstein, March 09, 2018

Many Americans could’ve used a beer on Friday, January 20, 2017, the swearing-in date for the 45th president. Donald Trump’s future plans and proposed bans frazzled nerves, begging for a beer’s soothing touch. Brooklyn’s Threes Brewing had a salve: Courage, My Love, a fragrant lager released concurrently with the inauguration, a beer full of hops and hope.

The beer was a hit, and, this February, Threes rereleased Courage on draft and in cans, adding a the same twist. Ten percent of proceeds were earmarked for the ACLU, plus a portion of sales from the release bash, which features a cocktail called Don’t Despair. The latter contained mezcal from female-run Yola, which promotes Oaxacan women’s economic independence.

“We’re going to stand up for what we believe in,” says cofounder Josh Stylman. “We’re not a political organization, we’re a beer company. But if you can’t defend your own values and virtue, then what are you?”

There’s a democratic ethos built into the DNA of breweries and beer.”

Politically speaking, the country is as divided as a pizza pie, each American slice separate. Passions are running at a fever pitch, and the battle over right and wrong is being waged in unexpected arenas such as breweries. They’re making beers that stand for what they believe in.

“Some people might want a little liquid courage to be open to learning about the vast inequities in this country and to stand up for civil rights,” says Danielle Silber, the American Civil Liberties Union’s director of strategic partnerships.

In the election’s wake, the ACLU saw a groundswell of support from hospitality companies, notably breweries. For one week, Cincinnati’s Rhinegeist earmarked 10 percent of its Truth IPA sales to the ACLU, while Seattle’s Rooftop Brewing crafted the Beer Trumps Hate IPA and raised more than $5,000 for regional ACLU and Anti-Defamation League affiliates. Off Color, a Chicago brewery, saw smoky Class War as a liquid rebuttal to President’s Trump’s attacks on immigrants and foreign travelers, donating a buck for every bottle sold to the ACLU.

“At 9.5 percent it should leave you well prepared for the brave new world we’re heading into or at least blissfully despondent,” Off Color’s website notes, adding that it’s “brewing for the proletariat.”

“It’s a craft of the people, by the people, and for the people,” Silber says of America’s modern brewing scene. “There’s a democratic ethos built into the DNA of breweries and beer.”

The ACLU is not the only nonprofit receiving brewery support. Berkeley’s Fieldwork Brewing partnered with a chapter of the Pink Boots Society, which supports women in brewing, to make the strong March On! blonde ale. Fieldwork donated to local Planned Parenthood offices, as did Shmaltz Brewing when it released She’Brew double IPA.

“To me, it doesn’t make sense for independently owned businesses like breweries, which are also community gathering places, to be agnostic on politics, especially when we’re talking about life and liberty and freedom,” says cofounder Emily Bruno, the director of business operations at Denizens Brewing Co.

The brewery is located in Silver Spring, Maryland, a fast metro train from Washington, D.C.’s simmering political cauldron. Before launching Denizens, Bruno worked for the National Women’s Business Council, while her wife and fellow cofounder Julie Verratti did time at the U.S. Small Business Administration—and recently announced her candidacy for Maryland’s lieutenant governor, running alongside Alec Ross.

“We’ve always been involved in the political process,” Bruno says.

The dog-friendly taproom is decorated with Black Lives Matter signs and regularly hosts campaigning politicians, including a meet-and-greet with Ross and Verratti and a Chelsea Clinton appearance during the 2016 election. Moreover, on social media, Denizens highlight worthy political causes such as the March for Our Lives demonstration, organized by students in response to gun control. To support the cause, Denizens will donate a portion of its proceeds from the weekend of March 23rd to groups seeking solutions to gun violence.

Being face-to-face and having a beer together is a great way to get to an understanding.”

Supporting such hot-button topics can be a mixed bag for the bottom line “We’ve certainly offended some folks and lost customers, but we’ve gained loyalty from folks who see their values reflected in our establishment,” Bruno says. She adds that the goal isn’t to divide but rather to unite people around shared common value—preferably over a pint.

“Being face-to-face and having a beer together is a great way to get to an understanding,” she says.

The ACLU’s Silber believes the modern taproom, bright and accommodating to friends and family alike, is an ideal for opening minds to more than a new beer style. “If these are places where people are going to blow off steam or gather with friends and colleagues, why can’t it be a space where you can empower one another to reconnect with democracy?” she says.

For its on-premise part, Threes hosts the quarterly Whole Hog for a Cause, a pig roast that donates proceeds to worthy causes such as Esperanza, an alternative to incarceration for youths caught in the court grinder.

“We’re a small but ambitious and well-intentioned company. We try to use whatever platform we have to make a difference in issues that we care deeply about,” Stylman says. “We think we’re just scratching the surface about what we can do both as a company and a community.”

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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