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.

    1. Shame on you. JVR and fam­i­ly don’t appre­ci­ate the sec­ondary mar­ket of their beers.

  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.


    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…

    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. Thing is, the art­work for the Rosé de Gam­bri­nus label also exists in a sec­ond ver­sion involv­ing a blue dress, com­mis­sioned to the orig­i­nal artist in the ear­ly 1990s after their then US dis­trib­u­tor insist­ed he could not car­ry the orig­i­nal label.
    The tale is report­ed here :

  7. 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.

  8. 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…

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

Comments are closed.