How Come Nobody Criticises That Rosé de Gambrinus Label?

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?

News, Nuggets & Longreads 03 February 2018: Cole, CAMRA, Carlsberg

Here’s everything in writing about beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from anger management to keg konfrontations.

The debate about sexism in beer has been a constant background noise as long as we’ve been blogging but seems to be reaching a head right now, in various positive ways. For example, at Good Beer HuntingMelissa Cole has written a long piece expressing what we suspect a lot of people have been thinking: passionate anger and ‘calling out’ over sexist beer branding clangers is understandable, and often feels like one of the few effective ways to drive change, but is it the best way in every case, and is it sustainable?

All I’m actually saying here is that perhaps we need to stop and think about what led these men, and sometimes women, to not being able to see how this artwork is unacceptable. Are these instances a chance to move the conversation on from merely calling out, and calling names, to a more genuine discourse about why sexist branding is damaging on so many levels? I hope so…. If we can encourage more empathy outside of privilege bubbles, encourage thought beyond what makes you laugh, seeking advice from groups that might be affected by your actions, if we can get acknowledgement that just our own life experiences are not the be all and end all, then that would be a huge start.

By way of a chaser, check out this piece by Alice at Alice Likes Beer reporting on a specific, awkward instance of weird behaviour occurring where else but in the crowd at a discussion about sexism at a beer festival.


Close-up of the CAMRA logo from the 1984 Good Beer Guide.

The Campaign for Real Ale’s Revitalisation project is also reaching a head and as the proposals are laid out and the big vote approaches (members can vote at the AGM, or by proxy) the pros and cons are being explored. Here’s a list of opinion pieces which might help you make up your mind, or alternatively give you ammo to back up what you already believe.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 03 February 2018: Cole, CAMRA, Carlsberg”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 2 December 2017: Brixton, Walkabout, TransPennine Trains

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past week from sexist beer branding to chronic Oztalgia.

First, that brewery takeover news. Well, we say ‘takeover’ but in fact Heineken has actually acquired a non-controlling (49 per cent) stake in south London’s Brixton Brewery. With this, Camden Town and London Fields in mind, it begins to seem that the key to luring in investment from Big Beer is a good neighbourhood-specific brand name. We can certainly imagine Brixton Craft Lager competing for bar-space with Camden Hells in the near future. The general reaction seems to be neutral, shading positive — ‘good for them’ — but this slam from Yes! Ale reflects the counterview: “You may as well be pissin’ straight into the fermenter, Moneybags.”

Meanwhile, Spanish firm Mahou San Miguel has acquired a 30 per cent stake in Avery, a brewery in Colorado, while AB-InBev has acquired Australian upstarts Pirate Life lock, stock and (ahem) barrel. December is a busy time for this kind of activity every year now, it seems, perhaps for as obvious a reason as everyone scrambling to wrap up negotiations before the Christmas lull.

One final bit of reading on this: Richard Taylor of BrewDog writing at the BeerCast suggests that the Pirate Life story might signal how this will play out in future takeovers, with Big Beer winning over reluctant craft brewers with the offer of a separate smaller brewery to play around on making sour beers or whatever. “Hey guys, it’s fine”, he imagines the Big Beer negotiators saying. “We’ll build a new brewery for your core stuff and push it to market. You can keep the old kit and go wild on it. Brew what you like! Go for IT! HIGH FIVE. NOW. HIGH FIVE US LIKE A DUDE. RADICAL!’”

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 2 December 2017: Brixton, Walkabout, TransPennine Trains”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 28 October 2017: Beer Mixing, Blenderies, Strong Stout

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pub writing in the past week, from World’s Fairs to Beer Miles.

First, there’s been a bubbling discussion about sexism in beer for the last month or two, prompted by a series of individual incidents and issues, which Kate Wiles has summarised in this widely-shared article:

Sexist beer labels may not be as prevalent as they used to be – but not a week goes by without an example cropping up on social media. The most recent example of “Deepthroat” beer clearly indicates fellatio on the label. Another, Irishtown Brewing, boasts the tagline “Dublin blonde goes down easy”. These examples are both demeaning and degrading to women. Furthermore, they reinforce the stereotype that beer is a “man’s drink” and that women have no right to it.

Her call is for stronger sanctions against offenders from within the industry itself: “Beers that are demeaning to women should not win awards, receive accreditation or be able to use industry logos.” We’re going to have to ponder that a bit but instinctively think it feels quite reasonable — not government censorship, about which people are understandably squeamish, but a setting out of standards amongst peers.


The New York World's Fair

Gary Gillman continues to mine the archives for interesting titbits. In the last week he has highlighted two especially juicy items:

  1. An 1850 catalogue from an English brewer which contains a detailed run down of the beer styles of the day — an astonishingly clear, helpful guide to what people were actually drinking then, and how those types related to each other.
  2. Details of the faux-English pub at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City — a topic that we’ve been meaning to get round to ourselves at some point, fascinated as we are by the UK beer industry’s push to export the pub concept worldwide in the 1960s and 70s.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 28 October 2017: Beer Mixing, Blenderies, Strong Stout”

That Sexist CAMRA Leaflet

Earlier this week, Rowan Molyneux flagged the existence of a Campaign for Real Ale leaflet designed to help recruit young members but which uses women merely as decoration.

We can’t say we were outraged by it, but we were certainly dismayed. CAMRA, like it or not, is these days an organisation of similar status to the National Trust or the RSPB, and we can’t imagine either of them doing anything so crass.

The main problem is that it confirms what many people suspect: that, despite making some of the right noises, behind the scenes, CAMRA isn’t fully committed to the idea of making the Campaign more welcoming to women, or at least hasn’t given it much more thought than you might expect from Alan Partridge or David Brent.

If you can’t see why the image on the leaflet is problematic, try to imagine them ever using an image of a bloke in an equivalent costume, in a similar pose.

We’ve turned off comments on this post to encourage people to have their say over at Rowan’s, where an interesting discussion is ongoing, and where there are updates on the withdrawal of the leaflet.