Beer, Politics, and Business

The constitutional amendment most celebrated by brewers tends to be the 21st, which repealed the 18th, which enacted Prohibition. The 21st Amendment is so beloved, we have a brewery named for it and (non-bank observed) holidays celebrating it. It’s pretty important in the world of alcohol.  Lately, it seems like another amendment has taken the spotlight in my eyes–the first, but we’ll get back to that.

When you’re at a bar, you don’t talk about religion or politics, right? What about if you’re on Facebook? What if you own the bar? Okay, so it’s not a bar in question, but in the past week or so, I’ve seen responses from two California breweries pop up on my Facebook feed that seem to cross this de facto taboo.

First, Twelve Rounds Brewery of Sacramento became embroiled in controversy when its owner, Daniel Murphy, posted “I am disgusted at all of the people and politicians that supported this anti-Trump event,” to his personal Facebook page during the worldwide women’s marches January 21. There are two important things to remember in this case: 1. He posted it to his private page and 2. It’s the internet; nothing is private. According to this Sacramento Bee article, the post was viewable by Friends and Friends of Friends, which in the craft beer community is pretty much everybody. Scrolling through the comment section where spelling prowess and generous use of the Caps Lock key seem inversely related, I noticed that there was a healthy mix of people vowing never to patronize the brewery again and others who pledged to redouble their support efforts and bring their friends down for a pint. While it’s probably too early to tell long-term, it seems Murphy’s political postings have negatively affected business, since the brewery’s Facebook page has publicly apologized and asked for forgiveness and some investors have backed out.

A little over a week and several disheartening Executive Orders later, the founder and CEO of Modern Times, Jacob McKean, posted this message to all of their social media accounts:

”I condemn the President’s attacks on immigrants and refugees with the force of 1,000 supervolcanoes. I would not be here & Modern Times would not exist if the world had closed its doors to people fleeing anti-semitism & persecution abroad; it would be hypocritical to remain silent now. To our employees, peers, friends, & fans who have immigrated to the U.S. or sought refuge here: We love you, we stand with you, & we will do everything we can to defend you.”

                              Liquid Tolerance

He sent a diametrically opposite message than Murphy, who had previously stated (again, in semi-private Facebook posts): “All Muslims want us dead. Outlaw Islam and get them out of our Country now!” McKean got a bit of backlash and some unsolicited business advice ranging from, and I’m paraphrasing,  “shut up and make beer” to “keep your business and your politics separate if you don’t want to alienate half of your customers.” While I see the logic behind comments like the second one, I commend Mr. McKean for taking a public stand.

Even though I disagree with Murphy’s statements and applaud McKean’s, it’s worth noting a few key differences. At the most basic level, the first is a message of disgust and anger (while uncovered posts from earlier demonstrate Murphy’s Islamophobia, homophobia, and xenophobia, none of which are actual phobias but rather bigoted ideologies), and the second is one of inclusiveness and love. McKean wisely chose his words to condemn the action, not the man behind them, so as not to be accused of hypocrisy in a post about spreading love. It’s crucial to remember that the first post was semi-private and not intended to be seen, and the owner and brewery both had to do some serious backpedaling and public apologizing to save face, while the second was a willful press release that understood the repercussions of posting something not all customers would agree with.

In an environment where not making waves is the safest option, it’s refreshing to see a business show some moral fiber, as Modern Times has done. Brewing is an art, and what is art without passion? Without a strong point of view? The risks an artist is willing to take in his or her personal life ultimately appear in the art itself and Modern Times’ beer is anything but by the books. In any industry where competition can be overwhelming, this type of authenticity stands out–and to me, that’s exactly what defines Modern Times as a brand. Side note: if you think I’m being hypocritical by calling one of these statements a passionate risk and not the other, perhaps you’re forgetting the forethought that went into one and the willful ignorance and damage-control string of apologies associated with the other.

This brings me to my main point of contention, which is with the people who claim that Twelve Rounds and Daniel Murphy are being unfairly attacked for exercising their First Amendment right to free speech. Freedom of speech is not, nor has it ever been, the right to say whatever you want without consequence.  With respect to this issue, the amendment simply states that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. That’s it. You can say racist, misogynistic, Islamophobic, or xenophobic things and Congress can’t imprison you. Luckily, the craft beer community is less forgiving.