Silence and Secrets Have No Place Here

Anonymous sources are not unusual. In many cases, they are vital.

The contacts made by journalists, and the information they provide, are often pivotal for the success of the Fourth Estate. While Deep Throat is among our country’s most famous examples, there are daily reminders in all forms of media of men and women who circumvent risks and obligations to provide insight into the world around us we may not see, or share personal stories that can be too threatening to safety and well being.

But in some rare instances, anonymity is provided as a favor. The stakes aren’t as great and, under deadline or perceived necessity, names are retracted to appease. Maybe a story doesn’t seem as complete. Generally, this practice is frowned upon.

Among the many reasons why someone’s name needs to stay secret, the threshold was apparently crossed recently when an employee at Indiana’s Route 2 Brews didn’t feel comfortable talking on the record about overtly sexist branding created by the business.

As silly as that sounds – a marketing and sales director refusing to talk publicly about their employer’s marketing and sales – it was compounded by the willingness of the Indianapolis Star to provide anonymity to a source that created the names and labels for brands like “Leg Spreader ESB.”

Liquor store shelves are crowded. The labels are meant to stand out. They aren’t meant to offend anybody, attack anybody or imply anything, she said.

“It’s just a name,” the Route 2 employee told the reporter, in secret. “Probably for every one person that has something to say about it, 100 other people are like, ‘I’ve got to try that beer. With a label and a name like that, that beer has got to be good.’”

Unpacking these statements leaves quite a bit to be desired, and it’s not just decency or empathy. To be clear, this person who will not attach their name to the product they are hired to represent, believes that Stacked Double IPA and an ESB that directly pokes fun at consumption and willingness to engage in sex, are marketable specifically for their outlandish names and designs.

Maybe it’s true we don’t have to make good beer anymore.

But above all else, anonymity requested and provided should tell us all we need to know about Route 2 Brews and the values they hold in terms of responsibility, whether related to consumption or society. That is to say, they have none.

The Brewers of Indiana Guild, which has previously refused to acknowledge questionable behavior by its dues-paying members, barely spoke up when offered an opportunity for the story.

“Just as we can’t go into breweries and force them to make better beer or brew differently, we can’t force them to make better marketing decisions,” the Guild said in a statement. “We can, however, offer educational opportunities and resources to help them do so in the hope that this will eventually change the culture of the industry for the better.”

They went on to point out the free market will decide the fate of these beers and breweries, as consumers can let their voices be heard with their dollars.

Once again, we wade into the shallow end of this argument of acceptance, afraid of getting too close to the deep end. Even still, issues persist, as highlighted in December:

“For us, we make a lot of excuses in beer,” Laura Bell, CEO of Bell’s Brewery told John Holl on the podcast After Two Beers. “The first lesson I learned in brewing was that if you can’t take it when men hit on you, especially men that are your distributors or suppliers or whatever, you’re not going to make it. So grow a thick skin, toughen up, you have to tell them to back off. But if you can’t do that, then maybe this isn’t the industry for you.”

These problems are not unique to beer, nor are they hidden day-to-day. The social responsibility we have toward one another is now questioned regularly. Thick skin and short attention spans are put at a premium.

But addressing diversity and what that means – in action, practice and benefits – is not an issue for which this is acceptable.

In one month, members of the brewing community will gather in Washington D.C. for the annual Craft Brewers Conference, another chance for leadership in all its forms – grassroots or organized at the top – to raise a voice. “Speaking” through how you spend your money is a valued capitalistic choice that has tangible impacts, but so does actual speech.

Silence and secrets have no place here.


Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

header image via flickr user r2hox


4 thoughts on “Silence and Secrets Have No Place Here

  1. Well put. I hope the free market does do its job.

  2. Take 2 (Take 1 was mercifully scrubbed.)

    Glad to see you’re fighting the good fight, Bryan.

    1. Too many producers and consumers appear all too willing to use free speech as a fig leaf for outright sexism. (And if someone were to question how I came up with the general figure of “too many,” especially on the production side of the equation, my response is simple: one or more = too many.)

    2. Too many commentators and even actors (the Brewers’ Guild of Indiana) resort to tired platitudes like “let the market decide.” Unfortunately, “the market” (generalized, but also vaguely anthropomorphized, and granted the power to decide) hasn’t, to the best of my knowledge, taken an ethics course of late. For what it’s worth, as an individual who comprises part of the generalized market but who has also spent some time reflecting on the ethics of my consumption patterns, I do not purchase beer from breweries whose labeling practices are out-and-out sexist. And I’ve convinced friends not to purchase beer from those breweries. (There’s a grey area here worth discussing, to be sure. I am, after all, a fan of Rabelais. But to paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart, “I know it when I see it.”)

    [For what it’s worth, I find it ironic that ethics is often brought into play when it comes to the narrative of “the dogged artisanal craft brewer” vs. “big beer,” or when it comes to the ethically-freighted discussions surrounding “buy local,” yet ethics seems to have fallen out of the discussion about sexist branding.]

    3. Not enough of us in the beer community (I’m intentionally dropping the modifier “craft” from this formulation; that said, the “craft beer community” would be an obvious place to start, given that more than a handful of us in the community self-identify as “progressive” in some way, shape, or form) … Not enough of us in the beer community — males in particular, but not only males (to assert as much would be to suggest that only males can solve the problem … an inherently sexist idea if ever there were one) … Not enough of us in the beer community are doing our part to tackle sexism head on.

    4. I’ll leave the semiotics of labeling aside for the moment. Suffice it to say, the signifier/signified relationship is complex and multi-valent. What might be “just a name,” “just a word,” or “just an image on a label” to one person or group of people might have an entirely different set of meanings attached to them for another person or group. And we need to be aware of this. For those who don’t get it, I’m trying to make you aware of this.

    I wrote about the issue of sexism on Tempest way back in 2013, but it looks like it’s high time I sharpen my pencil to help ensure that this remains a sustained critique of sexism and other odious habits of thought — especially in our current political-cultural climate. I’ve got your back on this one, Bryan.

    1. The idea that sex doesn’t sell is ludicrous…do you still consider it sexism when women exploit the same “virtues” to sell to men (and no, I’m not talking prostitution – just take a look at pop-culture in general…hell even Disney)…It’s so annoying when you “progressives”, as you call yourself, feel you have the moral authority to espouse BS that doesn’t apply…reading comprehension check shows that the “source” the author was so disgusted with was a woman…by all means, if you are offended by the labeling and marketing, then exercise your free will and don’t use your hard earned money to support their business, but spare the rest of us your indignant rants about morals and sexism bc we don’t care. Most of us look at that label and say, hmm they’re throwing a scantily clad woman on the label must mean they are trying to detract from the fact they make a sh!tty beer…

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