How Come Nobody Criticises That Rosé de Gambrinus Label?

The Cantillon Brewery in Brussels.

We admit it: the rhetorical “Where’s the outrage?” winds us up.

What it so often means is, because you forgot to mention This, you must now shut up about That, AKA ‘whataboutery’ — a means of shutting down rather than adding to an ongoing discussion.

In relation to beer we’ve seen this argument rolled out a few times lately as part of the renewed discussion around sexist beer labels. Here’s the latest nod in that direction (a very mild one, it must be said, and hardly malicious) which directly prompted us to post today:

At this point, we chipped in: people do talk about this label. We’ve seen them do it. We were involved in a Twitter discussion about it ourselves just before Christmas  prompted, of course, by someone asking “Why is nobody complaining about Cantillon’s classic Rosé de Gambrinus woman getting touched up on a bench?”

It also featured in this widely shared 2015 list of sexist beer labels from Thrillist; was mentioned in passing by Natalya Watson in a well-read blog post in January 2017;  has been picked up by Mike from Chorlton Brewing on a couple of occasions, e.g. here; and it has frequently come up in discussion at Beer Advocate and RateBeer. People have noticed it and aren’t 100 per cent comfortable; it has not sailed beneath the radar.

But, yes, it’s true it isn’t one of the top beers on the hit list, and we can’t find any really impassioned posts by any of our fellow beer bloggers calling for that particular label to change or be removed from shelves.

In fact if you go back far enough you’ll find various people sticking up for it and, indeed, citing criticism of the label as evidence of humourless puritanism. Here’s Jay Brooks of Brookston Beer Bulletin, for example, writing in 2006 about US censorship of the RDG label: “I cringe every time I think what prudes we are as a nation and how ridiculous we must seem to the rest of the civilized world.” Here’s the one that will probably most surprise people, though: Melissa Cole saying something quite similar a decade ago. It’s so at odds with Melissa’s current stance that we felt compelled to ask her about it via Twitter DM:

I was wrong. I also didn’t realise it was a pattern of wider misogyny in the naming of the beers at Cantillon, I only found out what Fou’ Foune meant relatively recently and given that they are happy to change their mind for commercial reasons in the US, how about they change their minds for the sake of coming into the 21st century too?

I was probably also a bit worried about taking aim at one of the ‘untouchables’ as well. At that time I had taken about six months of quite serious stick and was being denied information and quotes by a cabal of brewers who were closing ranks and trying to keep me quiet by making it very difficult to do my job – fortunately most of them have now retired or folded.

I’ve never claimed to be a perfect person or a perfect feminist (if either of those things actually exist!) and I’m happy to say I got that one wrong and I’ve been quite happy to be vocal that it needs changing recently partly because I don’t worry about being bullied any more and partly because, even if people do come at me, I feel I’ve got a far better way to communicate my points these days – a decade of challenging issues of inequality in the industry, even imperfectly, will do that for you!

The bar has clearly moved and the boundaries are continuing to change. Things that seemed fine a decade ago, or even a couple of years back, have acquired an unpleasant stink. The Rosé de Gambrinus label isn’t violent or sweaty; it’s so soft it seems almost abstract; and the beer doesn’t have a baldly suggestive name to go with the picture. In 2018, though, none of that quite washes, and we suspect there will be more direct criticism of Cantillon in the next year or two. And, yes, we suspect Cantillon probably were given a bit of a pass because they are cool, interesting and mysterious in a way microbreweries in middle England rarely are.

But it does seem to us that we’re reaching a point where there are (per Melissa’s very honest admission) no longer any untouchables, and rightly so, at least in part because of people asking “Where’s the outrage?”

In the meantime remember, if you think this label or that is particularly nasty, there’s nothing stopping you from writing about it. You don’t have to wait for Melissa or Matt Curtis to do it.

* * *

Having said all that, there are plenty of good reasons why British commentators might choose to concentrate on British beers. First, this is our turf and we feel entitled to a say in what goes on here, whereas it feels somehow presumptuous to put pressure on brewers operating in different countries or cultures.

Secondly, as consumers and commentators in this ecosystem, we stand a faint chance of influencing the decisions of brewers and retailers, so it feels worth the bother. Or, to put that another way, the folk at Castle Rock might just care what we and others think, whereas we doubt the aloof enigmas of Cantillon, who can’t brew enough beer to meet global demand, give a flying one. If someone did want to pressure them, how would they do it? When Cloudwater drops a clanger its Twitter feed blows up; Cantillon isn’t on Twitter, and is barely on Facebook.

Finally, there’s the fact that Rosé de Gambrinus might as well not exist in our world. We don’t remember the last time we had it or saw it for sale, and if we did we probably wouldn’t want to pay the asking price. For us, and probably for many other, it simply doesn’t come to mind. Teignworthy Bristol’s Ale or Castle Rock Elsie Mo, on the other hand, are beers we have actually encountered in a pub in the last month.

* * *

There’s also, of course, an argument for not mentioning particular breweries at all. There’s not much here that can’t be discussed in terms of general principles, is there?

15 thoughts on “How Come Nobody Criticises That Rosé de Gambrinus Label?”

  1. Coincidently, I’ve sold some old lambic beers on the European sites of eBay recently and received good prices. I’d got ready a bottle of Rosé de Gambrinus for the next round of sales but might hold it back a longer. If the label changes the old bottle will no doubt fetch a higher price.
    Are Cantillon concerned about the label? Quite probably not. From my observations in France and Belgium recently, attitudes to sexism are what many in the U.K. would call ‘stuck in the past’ and others would describe as ‘relaxed’. I’d imagine there would be similar attitudes in Spain and Italy. it will be interesting to see how quickly views of what is acceptable changes in continental Europe.

  2. The criticism of the label I understand, however to call the Van Roy family or the staff at the brewery aloof is very far from the mark – I have always found them very friendly and engaging.
    Also – no they cannot brew enough beer to meet demand – this is due to climate change, lambic beer can only be brewed within a very limited ambient temperature range and quite simply this has vastly reduced the quantity of beer that can be produced as weather patterns have changed. They would love to brew more – it simply isn’t possible whilst sticking to the pure lambic tradition which the family is unmovable on.

    I highly recommend a visit to the brewery (very close to the Eurostar terminal) it is one of the best ways to experience the history of brewing happening in front of you.

    Rob

    1. An addendum to this – if you do find yourself at the brewery (or many bottle shops in Belgium, tbh) you’ll find bottles of ‘core range’ lambic from Cantillon, 3 Fonteinen etc. to be readily available, at very reasonable prices. It’s certainly one of the better beery tourist destinations to visit, in my opinion.

  3. Michael Jackson in the 2003 edition of his Great Beer Guide says of it, “Some regard the cartoonish label as indecent or sexist, but it perfectly captures the joie de vivre under the surface of bourgeois Belgium.”

  4. This was a topic back in the 90’s, just as it was for Verboden Vrucht. And then we moved on.

  5. In a similar vein would a beer such as Twickenham’s Naked Ladies be considered as sexist?

    Here’s the inspiration for the name…
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Naked_Ladies

    I’ve read online comments calling it sexist but I’m not convinced. Though I accept the name does lend itself to comments such as “we’ve got naked ladies on the bar tonight” etc

    Anyone have any thoughts?

    1. Paul — I’d say it is. They’ve surely given it that name because it’s a bit naughty and attention-grabbing, though they might deny it. The test you’ve mentioned there is quite a good one: would a sleazy idiot be able to make a point of embarrassing a woman working behind the bar while ordering it?

      1. I asked my partner the same question and she said pretty much the same. It can be difficult to determine where the line is drawn sometimes so I guess safety is the best option.

  6. I went back into the Wayback Machine and found my review from 2007. I certainly took the label as an issue but was tepid and maybe hypocritical in my own reaction. Interestingly, it was banned in the state of Maine at the time. So there was some rejection.

  7. So maybe the label is dodgy, maybe it isn’t.

    But we should be careful not to extrapolate from this and tar the whole company with whatever brush you have picked out of your paint pot.

    I was there at the end of January, for 5 hours, with 4 mates, and the atmosphere of relaxed inclusivity was so natural, and clearly part of the DNA of the place, that many establishments in the Uk could do with it being bottled (with appropriate label of course).

    There was, roughly, a 60/40 male/female split across punters and staff (over a 100 people across the afternoon). And everybody was involved, as equals, talking about one thing : the (extraordinary) beer. No shouting down, no funny comments, no asking-the-male-of-a-couple what he thinks rather than his other half.

    And to top it all off the senior female member of the JVR clan came and gave us 5 rather well-oiled British chaps a warm and congratulatory send-off at the end of the day.

    The Rose de Gambrinus label didn’t get mentioned once, by anybody, just how amazing the beer was.

    That said…

  8. I don’t find this label sexist for just one reason: it does not try to look for atention by showing a woman as an object (sorry for my english). It’s a woman enjoying her sexuality with a glass of beer (or at last that’s what it seems), in a form of a diffuse watercolor. It’s not about a couple of boobs in a label trying to hide the infamy of the beverage behind the glass.

  9. Campaigns have definitely focused on pump clips, one sexist clip on a bar can send clear message that venue sees it’s self as for the lads , projecting message the beer isn’t for women and subtly encouraging treating bar staff as eye candy
    . Head to a local bottle shop with hundreds of bottles and a couple of questionable labels has far less impact.

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