Michigan's Microbrew Scene is Stocked with Some Edgy Labels

But when does clever cross the line?


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To beer or not to beer? While craft brewers aren’t exactly Shakespeareans, it takes a creative bunch to name a brew. They welcome the opportunity to come up with a clever name while working out a new recipe.

You could simply name a beer after its style, but “Brand X Pale Ale” doesn’t have marketing punch — and it’s not as much fun as say, Royal Oak Brewery’s “Kurt Brownnegut.”

But brewers walk a fine line. Seemingly funny names have been either misinterpreted or caused offense to segments of the populace, including some that have been interpreted as insensitive, misogynistic, or cruel.

It’s a high-visibility issue and The Brewers Association (representing 4,000+ U.S. breweries) has updated its guidelines to restrict the marketing of beer names and labels that are deemed sexually explicit, lewd, or demeaning.

It poses a few questions. Like if Maryland’s Flying Dog Brewery can have a “Raging Bitch,” then a “Dirty Bastard” from Michigan’s Founders Brewing shouldn’t be a problem, right? So far, it’s not.

Founders Brewing, on the other hand, had to temporarily change the label of its Breakfast Stout a while back. The original image depicted a child eating from an oatmeal bowl, but Michigan law prohibited minors on alcoholic beverage labels. (Designers got in a last shot, placing the bowl at an empty chair, with a note on the refrigerator saying “Left the crib for a bit, call me if you need me.”)

Short’s Brewing Co. has also faced label changes. They created a beer called “Hangin’ Frank” for the City Park Grill in Petoskey. It was based on folklore that after his suicide, the former owner’s ghost haunts the bar. Some called out insensitivity over the issue of suicide. Others claimed the color of Frank’s hand on the artwork was an allusion to racism. Short’s rebranded the beer, opting for the text-only “ControversiALE.”

Short’s “Aphasia” had a similar backlash from speech pathologists, since the term refers to the condition of slurred speech due to brain damage. Short’s ceased distribution and donated $2,500 to the Michigan Speech-Language-Hearing Association as a gesture of respect and support.

Other names and/or labels from Michigan have raised some eyebrows. Consider Atwater’s “Dirty Blonde,” Right Brain Brewery’s “Naughty Girl Stout,” or Founders “D*** Kicker Malt Liquor” (abbreviated as “DKML” on the bottle).

Kuhnhenn changed “Panty Dropper” to “PD,” but kept it’s slyly named “Fluffer” (look it up!). And while Great Baraboo Brewing Co. has “Huge Melons,” Saugatuck discontinued its “Hop on a Blonde.”

Not everything is about sex, though. Consider a few recent gems, such as Drafting Table’s “Only Fools Russian,” Great Baraboo Brewing Co.’s “May the Schwarzbier With You,” Greenbush’s “Juicebox Hero,” Rockford Brewing Co.’s “Complete Nutter Madness,” Tibbs Brewing Co.’s “For Richer or Porter,” and Woodward Avenue Brewers’ “It’s So Kölsch in the D” …

We could go on, but it’s nearly beer o’clock.

Suffice it to say that as long as breweries keep brewing, names will be named. Not all will be successful, but they’ll keep driving consumers to purchase — and at times, to social media to complain.

 

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