Trump’s mugshot and “Dumb Donald”: How beer labels are doubling as political discourse

Earlier this month, Ultra Right Beer released a limited-edition $25 six-pack called “Conservative Dad’s Revenge.” On the label, it featured Donald Trump’s mugshot; on their website, the brand advertised that a portion of the proceeds would be used to fight the “communist Fulton County District Attorney” on behalf of the three Georgia Republicans who are being prosecuted as part of the state’s election racketeering case

“This will become the most collectible beer can in American history,” the description of the product further promised.

There’s been a lot of consumer research done in the past about how what Americans drink is indicative of where they fall politically. In 2014, the Washington Post summarized it succinctly like this: “Hipster beers are for Democrats. Lites are for Republicans. And scotch drinkers vote.” 

A few years later, research compiled by DataQuencher in 2018, which was reported on by Good Beer Hunting, found that those who identified as conservative drank more macro beer than those who see themselves as liberal (81% to 65% purchase rate), while craft was favored among liberals (59% to 39% purchase rate).

However, as evidenced by Ultra Right’s new release — as well as a legion of craft products by makers that espouse opposing views — the beer industry is shifting in an interesting way in which a drinker’s politics aren’t just something that drives purchasing decisions. They also belong on the label. 

Some may see this development as performative, but like all political discourse, there’s the hope that one’s message can resonate with the opposition, and where better to start than the beer aisle of a liquor store? 

For instance, in 2016, North Carolina introduced and passed House Bill 2 (HB2) in less than twelve hours. The legislation, which became known colloquially as “The Bathroom Bill,” forced transgender individuals to use restrooms that did not correspond with their gender identity and also rescinded all LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances, prohibited new ones and barred residents from suing for discrimination in state court.

“We didn’t feel like the law that was passed represented us as constituents, entrepreneurs, or business owners,” said Erik Lars Myers, the CEO and head brewer at Mysterby Brewing, at the time. “We wanted to do something in response. But what?” 

The obvious answer was, of course, to brew some beer. Myers and Keil Jansen of Ponysaurus Brewing in Durham organized an effort to craft “Don’t Be Mean to People: A Golden Rule Saison.” The beer, which was ultimately jointly brewed by 40 small breweries across the state, was a protest against HB2. The striking white label said as much, while also letting buyers know that their purchase would support Equality NC and Queer Oriented Radical Days of Summer (QORDS), an organization that leads camping trips for queer and transgender youth. 

“We just felt it was something we wanted to do to show the rest of the world we’re not all like that in North Carolina,” Myers wrote on the group’s now-archived fundraising website

Around the same time, Wedge Brewing Company in North Carolina took an approach that was somehow both more overt and more subtle; on the bottom of the cans of their best-selling  Iron Rail IPA, they printed to phrase “#F**K HB2” in such a way that it looks like a serial number. 

Six years later, in 2022, as the nation was (and still is) awash in book bans, Maryland’s Flying Dog Brewery released its 451 Juicy IPA, a nod to Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” which pretty overtly warns against the dangers of unchecked government censorship. It’s worth noting that Flying Dog is not a stranger to fights against censorship. 

“We’re using this beer to remind people that banning books is dumb.”

The brewery — which has a long-standing creative partnership with Hunter S. Thompson’s longtime creative collaborator, illustrator Ralph Steadman — sued Colorado and Michigan previously over its beer labels being deemed inappropriate for shelves and won both cases. 

“What’s beautiful about Bradbury’s novel — aside from the incredible art from Ralph Steadman — is that the human spirit’s innate thirst for knowledge, ideas, growth, and freedom ultimately wins,” CEO Jim Caruso said in an interview with Craft Brewing Business. “So, in the face of attempts to restrict the content our community can access, Flying Dog will always throw our support behind defending freedom of expression because truth-seeking and freedom of expression are inseparable.” 

When Flying Dog shared an image of the beer on X, formerly Twitter, the case of 451 Juicy IPA was displayed on a bookshelf alongside titles that have been previously and are currently banned including “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl,” “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Clockwork Orange.” 

“We’re using this beer to remind people that banning books is dumb,” Flying Dog wrote. 

Inevitably, as our country has become more overtly partisan, so, too, have the beer labels. They also serve as interesting artifacts in charting Donald Trump’s candidacy, eventual presidency and defeat. 

In 2015, 5 Rabbit Cervecería, a Latin-inspired and Latin-owned craft brewery that was brewing the Chicago Trump Tower’s in-house blonde ale severed ties with the company after Trump made statements suggesting Mexican immigrants were criminals and rapists; in turn, they released a new blonde ale called “Chinga tu Pelo” (F**k Your Hair), featuring a label decorated with an coiffed swirl of yellow hair

In 2016, Philadelphia microbrewery Dock Street Brewery released an IPA called “Friends Don’t Let Friends Vote Drumpf.” A year later, Chicago’s Spiteful Brewing put out a new imperial IPA with Key lime to start a “social commentary on ignorance.” It was called “Dumb Donald.” 

It seemed the tides were finally turning in 2020, when Wisconsin brewer Kirk Bangstad put out his “Biden Beer” in celebration of the then president-elect’s victory. The label description reads: “It’s inoffensive, especially to women. It’s not bitter. It’s best served while taking the temperature down. Guaranteed not to overstay its welcome in your fridge. How do you spell RELIEF? Biden Beer.” 

Inevitably, as our country has become more overtly partisan, so, too, have the beer labels. They also serve as interesting artifacts in charting Donald Trump’s candidacy, eventual presidency and defeat. 

However, as evidenced by “Conservative Dad’s Revenge” and the ongoing  “Chinga tu Pelo Collection,” the country (and its brewers) are still making sense of the ensuing Capitol Riot. Within this environment, even macro-brands that have traditionally avoided stepping into the political fray have become enveloped within it. 

The ongoing Bud Light boycott is perhaps the most salient example. After partnering with transgender influencer and activist Dylan Mulvaney, the brand came under fire from conservative pundits and public figures including Kid Rock, Dan Crenshaw and Ted Cruz. Bud Light stayed notably quiet amid controversy, even as pressure from both LGBTQ activists and conservatives to clarify their corporate position mounted. 

Eventually, Bud’s parent company, Anheuser-Busch, released a non-committal statement. 

“We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people. We are in the business of bringing people together over a beer,”  Anheuser-Busch CEO Brendan Whitworth said in an April 14 statement titled “Our Responsibility to America.”

Can’t we all just drink together? These days, it really depends on who is on the other side of the table — and their beer label. 

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