Way back in March, when the world was plunging headlong into a pandemic, people were strangely concerned about one thing: toilet paper. Irrational panic shoppers that we all are, Americans were clearing out Charmin supplies at an alarming rate. The Washington Post dubbed it the “great toilet paper panic of 2020,” while Reuters reported on “toilet paper trophy hunters” bragging on Twitter about scoring a few coveted rolls “in the wild.”
Maybe it was the cumulative impact of all those hours of terror-scrolling news feeds in isolation, but something about the absurdity of the situation resonated. In a time when we were all clearly in deep shit, the lack of Quilted Northern was something we could still laugh about, albeit grimly.
Artists painted murals depicting characters like Smeagol hoarding toilet paper, bakers posted their toilet paper cakes on Youtube, and craft brewers started offering toilet paper-themed cans. Proclamation Ale Company debuted Can’t Spare a Single Square, Collective Arts Brewing released Ultra Soft IPA, and Evil Twin came up with not one, but two: The Hardest Thing About Finding Toilet Paper Is I’m Always So Spoiled For Choice and This Deli Needs a Bigger Toilet Paper Section.
Of all the things to hoard—it was so bizarre. It reminded me of the fanaticism of people waiting for certain beers.”
“Of all the things to hoard—it was so bizarre,” recalls Ryan Thibault, creative director at Collective Arts Brewing. “It reminded me of the fanaticism of people waiting for certain beers. On a lark, I created a mockup and it was a lone can sitting on an empty shelf in a grocery store that was dressed like a roll of toilet paper.”
Collective Arts Brewing normally sorts through roughly 2,000 artist submissions every three months in order to choose its can designs. Since toilet paper didn’t exactly feel on-brand for the brewery, Thibault assumed his colleagues would simply laugh at the gag and move on. Before he knew it, though, the design had circulated internally and taken on a life of its own.
“It felt tongue and cheek enough that we decided to create an actual product out of it,” Thibault says. “We figured it had to be the sort of beer everyone wants to get their hands on, so, of course, it’s a super murky New England-style IPA. Copious amounts of oats result in an ultra-soft, almost fluffy texture.”
While this may be an especially outrageous example, it’s hardly the first time that brewers have decided to get topical. During the impeachment hearings (remember those?), IPAs and sours packed with peaches and cheeky political branding flooded the shelves. The nature of microbreweries allows them to churn out beers fast enough to respond to the news cycle.
It’s sort of low-hanging fruit in the realm of social commentary, because it just shows how ridiculous we are.”
In the case of Ultra Soft IPA, it’s a move that paid off. Made in collaboration with Stillwater Brewing, the resulting hazy double IPA has already raised considerable funds for the Bartenders Benevolent Fund in Canada and the United States Bartenders Guild’s Bartenders Emergency Assistance Program. The beer’s debut Instagram post has already received more engagement than any other in the brewery’s history.
“It was a little bit risky but it was rather sophomoric and we knew that,” Thibault says. “After all of us had a good chuckle, we thought it was worth sharing. It’s sort of low-hanging fruit in the realm of social commentary, because it just shows how ridiculous we are.”