There’s nothing the craft beer blogosphere enjoys more than a little controversy. Yesterday, the intertubes boiled over thanks to a little tiff between Clown Shoes and the Director of Special Events for Beer Advocate, Candice Alström. First, let’s review the facts:
1. Clown Shoes, a fairly new ale factory that contract brews through Mercury Brewing Company in Ipswich, MA has a tendency to use slightly lascivious labels on their bottles.
2. One of these labels, the Brown Angel, raised the ire of Candice Alström, Director of Special Events for Beer Advocate and wife of one of the Alström brothers (founders and administrators of the highly influential craft beer website, beeradvocate.com). Candice questioned the use of the Brown Angel label, which features a dark-skinned angel positioned in such a way as to highlight her ample posterior, last February.
3. Gregg Berman, CEO of Clown Shoes, defended the label by noting that it was “meant to be modern, adventurous, and fun. Maybe even provocative.” He also noted that his wife is a “brown woman” who served as the inspiration for the label. He admitted that some people in the industry had voiced concern to him about the imagery and while he thought it was a “vibrant and positive symbol”, he did issue an apology for anyone that was offended.
4. Since then, Clown Shoes has released a Belgian IPA called Tramp Stamp which features a label showcasing a woman with a lower back tattoo and hip-hugger jeans. While similar to the Brown Angel label, there was little backlash to this beer.
5. This week, Clown Shoes revealed their label for an American Black Ale called Lubrication. The label features a robot at a gas station holding a pump handle in the general vicinity of his groin.
6. Candice Alström decided that the Lubrication was the last straw and published a post in the Beer Advocate forum pages entitled “Done with Clownshoes”. In it, she calls Berman a “jackass” and she refers to his company as “classless” and “tacky” while describing his beer as “average at best”.
7. The post unleashed a tidal wave of responses with over 300 comments in the first few hours. While there was some commentary about whether or not the labels actually were offensive, the VAST majority of comments pertained to whether Ms. Alström was abusing her position as a Beer Advocate moderator and employee of the site.
8. In response, Gregg Berman wrote in the Beer Advocate thread that the goal of the Lubrication label was to be G-rated and that he wished Ms. Alström would “approach me privately to discuss your feelings” rather than use a public forum to air her grievances.
9. One other fact that may or may not have relevance depending on your take on the Clown Shoes labels: the label artist for most Clown Shoes beers is a woman, and she pointed this out in a comment on a beernews.org thread about the controversy. She did not seem offended by the Lubrication label, but did admit that she hopes no robots had their feelings hurt by her illustration.
OK…got all that? End of facts. On to the opinion…
This is ridiculous. Just ridiculous. I’m not going to comment on whether or not the earlier Clown Shoes labels are offensive other than to say that I personally don’t find ANY of them problematic. But I’m not a women and I don’t wake up every day firmly ensconced in a culture that objectifies my gender and uses suggestive advertising featuring highly sexualized females to sell products. It’s easy for me to say that no one should be upset about the Clown Shoes labels. But if you’re a woman (or man, of course), and you think they’re offensive, you have every right to.
More to the point, Candice Alström has every right to be offended by the labels. She has every right to feel this way and every right to discuss the issue. The problem is that there are countless other forums Ms. Alström could have used to proclaim her opinion. Instead, she chose to use Beer Advocate, a site that employs her as the Director of Special Events and which is tremendously influential in the craft beer world. She essentially used Beer Advocate as a bully pulpit to unleash a character assassination on a man (and his company) that she clearly finds distasteful.
Make no mistake, this had little to do with the Lubrication label. Everyone who has seen the label has commented that they don’t understand why anyone would find it offensive. Look at the image on the top left of this post. THAT’S what Ms. Alström claims she’s upset by. A robot at a gas station. Sure, the pump is being held in such a way that it could be construed as representing his junk.* But even that’s pretty weak tea. This is a tame beer label no matter how you slice it…only the beer name could really be seen as offensive. And if the word “lubrication” really bothers you, you should probably pedal your giant-wheeled bicycle back to Victorian England.
*I believe “junk” is the best euphemism to use when referring to robot genitalia.
There are FAR worse labels out there. Labels that CLEARLY objectify women. There are beers called Donkey Punch, Badonk-a-Dunkel, and Hop Whore. Yet somehow, Ms. Alström has never questioned the existence of these beers. She seems to only find the output of Clown Shoes to be worthy of her wrath.
I don’t think the Lubrication label had anything to do with it…it’s that Candice Alström has a grudge against Gregg Berman stemming from last year’s Brown Angel imbroglio. Look…Aleheads may be listed as a “Friend” on the Clown Shoes website (so is Beer Advocate, by the way), but we don’t actually know Mr. Berman. Maybe he’s a complete douchebag. And Maybe Ms. Alström is a saint. And maybe there’s some behind-the-scenes stuff that, if made public, would make everyone side with her and shun Gregg Berman like a leper.
But from where I’m sitting, with the facts we have right now, Candice Alström looks petty. She looks like she’s abusing her power. She looks like she’s trying to destroy a man’s business…his LIVELIHOOD…because of a personal vendetta.
Like I said, if it’s really just all about her being offended by the Clown Shoes beer labels, I have no beef with her. Some things offend me that don’t offend others (like Everybody Loves Raymond). But she crossed a line by using Beer Advocate to voice that opinion. If she wanted to come on Aleheads to say such a thing, fine! We’re an op-ed site that has absolutely no influence on the industry. Or if she wanted to just put it on a personal Twitter account or her own blog, that’s OK too. By leveraging her position as a moderator and employee at Beer Advocate, she overstepped her bounds. In the comment thread, she claimed that it’s unfair that she can’t use the site to discuss her opinions like everyone else. That’s NOT unfair…that’s exactly how it should be. She has powers and privileges that other users don’t. In fact, many users noted that any time they started threads bashing a brewery in the past, those threads were “locked out” by the Alström brothers…and some users outside of Beer Advocate have even claimed they were banned for such threads! But Candice’s thread was never locked out (until it dragged on to an absurd length and Jason Alström finally shut it down) and she certainly wasn’t banned.
Beer Advocate is a wonderful resource and has done more to promote craft beer than practically any other site on the web. With that power comes a heaping helping of responsibility.* Beer Advocate should serve, as their name implies, as an advocate for beer…not as a forum for employees to spew vitriol against their least favorite breweries. That’s for stupid, unpopular sites like ours.
*As you might suspect, Jason and Todd Alström were quick to defend Candice. I actually don’t have an issue with this. Even if I had a problem with something a family member did, I’d probably still jump to their defense. It’s just the way it is when you’re dealing with family. That said, I was a little surprised by how taken aback the Alströms were to the comments attacking Candice. Surely they must understand why the Beer Advocate users were outraged that one of the site’s employees was using their forums to bash a brewery? They must be aware of how much water they carry in the craft beer industry and how that influence puts them and their family under a microscope. I would expect them to defend Candice, but I didn’t think they’d openly complain about the “off-topic” comments in the thread. I think the discussion occurring in the comments was very worthwhile. The site users were questioning the professionalism of the site administrators. That seems like a worthy conversation to me.
I don’t think Gregg Berman has anything to apologize for. Beyond the fact that the Lubrication label is thoroughly tame, he has the right to put anything he wants on his beer labels (subject to approval by the TTB, of course). Neither do I think Candice Alström needs to apologize for finding said labels offensive. What she DOES need to apologize for is using Beer Advocate as a forum to voice her opinion. I would hope that the Alström brothers will IMMEDIATELY put into practice a new rule that bans all Beer Advocate employees from using the site to attack a specific beer or brewery. Personally, I don’t even think the employees should be involved in rating or reviewing beers and breweries anymore. Let the public do that…there are thousands upon thousands of reviewers on the site now. Let the masses dictate which beers and breweries are worthy. The Alströms have done a remarkable, amazing, wholly laudable thing by building up Beer Advocate. But their opinions carry far too much weight on the site and in the industry now. They need to use that power to serve as thoughtful, deliberate moderators…not as the ultimate arbiters of what is good and bad in the craft beer world.
I know it’s just another tempest in a teapot and probably not worth the amount of words I’ve written to get here. But I’d hate to see a hard-working man’s business impacted by the angry words of an employee unethically using her employer’s influential name to damage said business. I feel very strongly that Candice Alström is in the wrong here and I hope she publicly apologizes for her misstep. Perhaps she and Gregg Berman can settle their differences over a nice bottle of Hoppy Feet. A guy sitting on a chair with his clown shoe-bedecked feet propped up on a railing? Ain’t nothing offensive about that.
Plus, the Hoppy Feet is freaking delicious. And really, isn’t that what it’s all about?