Beer and politics. Do the two belong together?
We talked beer and politics last week on Episode 28 of the Life Behind Beer podcast so we thought we’d continue the discussion with more cousins this week. The discussion stemmed from reading this article from the Chicago Tribune. The article explored some of the more recent ways breweries have become involved in politics, for example, by donating percentage of sales to a political cause or making beer brands that mock political figures.
Iron Horse Brewery’s outlook has been that beer is apolitical and we don’t get involved unless it will directly impact our livelihood. That being said we do encourage engaged citizenry. We asked some of our cousins for their thoughts on the article via a Q&A.
What are your thoughts on the article?
“I think it’s great that people are expressing their opinions and views. Some of it is the good kind where they are talking about differences in opinions on how we can make our country better, some of it is just insulting which apparently can be good business if you live in an enclave of similar opinions. However, I don’t think it does much to elevate the conversation, which I think could be safely argued would be a good thing at this particularly low point.” — Greg Parker, owner and gm at Iron Horse Brewery
“I find the article to be interesting and another example of how strong the voice of the people can be in today’s digital age. Movements have been around for hundreds of years but without the help of the internet and all the digital vehicles has it been able to create noise so fast and effective.” — Dane Williams, CRO
Breweries are taking a stand on certain political issues. In your opinion it good or bad to do so?
“I think it can be good. The unfortunate risk associated with doing so is the current tribal mentality of partisans. It used to be that we would use the socratic method for argument, I tell you my perspective, you listen, you challenge my assumptions. Then we switch. Heck, through the process both arguers may refine and evolve their perspective. It seems to me people seldom listen anymore and instead view an argument as an opportunity to score points, make the other person look like a bad person and further entrench in preconceptions and that seems to be a large loss for society. For some reason we stopped believing that most people are acting out of a desire to create a better culture, albeit from different ideologies and perspective, and now the belief is if you are on the other side you are evil. It makes any sort of political position of a brewery fraught with risk if you don’t operate in an area with a highly dominant political ideology.” — Greg
“I think it comes down to the vision and makeup of the brewery. If an organization or brewery is firmly connected to a social, environmental or political cause, they have every right to use their platform to be heard. I also feel that it comes with a great deal of risk and responsibility. When done right it can both catapult the message of the cause and in some cases the bottom line…but on the contrary it can alienate the business and have negative fiscal effects. We’ve seen examples of both in the Pacific Northwest in the past 8 months.” — Dane
“I don’t think a brewery should take a stance on politics unless it is directly affecting the brewery. I think it shouldn’t matter if you are republican, democrat, independent or whatever way you swing. You want people to love the beer for the beer not your beliefs, right? Keep it about the beer I think.” — Brooke
Do you think consumers pay close attention to a brewery’s politics?
“Sure, politics are the new soap opera. I think people pay attention to the wrong politics, however. What can we possibly do about the federal government? Vote every 2 to 4 years for our representatives. What can we do in local politics? Get on a local governmental committee, run for school board, volunteer for local activist organizations and more. I think we need to get off the political drama opium cycle and get busy locally where it can make a difference.” — Greg
“Absolutely. In today’s age, consumers are hyper-focused in all aspects of the products they interact.” — Dane
“Right now more people probably pay attention to brewery politics, and not just breweries politics but any company standpoint of their politic belief.” — Brooke
When has IHB gotten involved in politics?
“I railed hard against the privatization of spirits in Washington. I was very confident that it would not lead to lower prices for consumers, which was promised and as I predicted, did not. Although, that was not really my primary concern, in fact the increase in spirits price could have conceivably helped beer by making it a better relative value. My concern was for the degradation of the tied-house-laws that was a part of the initiative.I am happy to report that there hasn’t been much trickle down effect on removal of tied-house-laws but we have seen a few instances of creep and the history isn’t done being written. This legislation was not a direct threat to beer so there were folks who advised me from taking a stand, but I felt strongly enough that the voters were being duped and the potential long-term effects to the craft brewing industry was worth the risk. Looks like it was all for naught.” — Greg
What do you think? Do beer and politics belong together? Should breweries get involved?
I think you have an opportunity to learn and share about some politics, local/regional government action about agriculture (source of materials), water, environment etc. As it affects your business and community. Stay away from raging national stuff.
How are your employees treated? Same for those who work in your supply chain. That tells me a lot about your business and the values that decisions are based on. I get political action where it impacts your business, such as clean water or laws on distribution and access to your product.
The privatization law was paid for by Costco, the country’s largest retailer of wine and spirits. I was with Greg on how lower prices weren’t going to happen.