UPDATE (18/5): Since this article was first published, following discussions between GABS, Beer Agents For Change and Blackflag, the name and branding of the beer is being updated. More in this statement from the GABS team:
After having the opportunity to further investigate Beer Agents for Change concerns raised directly with GABS on "BlackFlag's Barely Legal." beer and its potential inappropriate connotations. GABS has subsequently discussed the matter directly with Beer Agents for Change and are pleased to advise that they absolutely heard and shared the concerns raised. GABS have since acted on the request to kindly reconsider serving the beer under that name and associated branding.
They have afforded Blackflag brewery the same opportunity to address the issue by withdrawing the name and any associated graphics and demonstrate a willingness to learn and do better by presenting the beer in a more responsible manner that is inclusive to sensitivities of all consumers or the beer would not be served at GABS. Blackflag have embraced and welcomed the opportunity, they will be changing the name and focusing on the quality beers made by their brew team.
GABS shares the belief that it is crucial for all businesses to uphold responsible practices that align with the values and sensitivities of all consumers and by taking action to work alongside beer agents for positive change on this specific issue, all parties have demonstrated how direct positive dialogue, on any topic, between industry leaders can help us all grow together.
The original article follows...
The name and branding of a new release from Blackflag Brewing, which is set to appear as a Festival Beer at this year's GABS, has come in for criticism from inside and outside the beer industry.
The 18.1 percent ABV quadruple IPA is called Barely Legal and, in social posts which have since been taken down, was accompanied by a decal mimicking the logo of the world's largest porn site, Porn Hub (see above in a screenshot provided to The Crafty Pint).
It has been accused of being "insensitive and offensive", of potentially impacting on the safety of minorities, and of "creating a space where women are made to feel unsafe."
After initially being picked up by women in the beer industry, writer and broadcaster Clementine Ford has since posted a number of videos to her Instagram account, where she has more than 230,000 followers. In those, she highlights the role alcohol can play in sexual assault, the message this sends about attitudes towards women, and of sexualising young women.
In a statement responding to questions from The Crafty Pint, a spokesperson for Blackflag said: "The idea behind the beer name was around the alcohol volume. 18.1% was the resulting ABV which led us to drive the ‘just over the legal age’ barrier for (in Australia) becoming an adult. The name, which has been released for sometime, has come with no issues. We designed the imagery around what is a known brand after you turn 18."
In terms of the chosen imagery – since withdrawn – they said: "The aim was to attach to an image that is known by people when they turn 18. We designed a few different images around the pretence of when you become an adult (see below). Getting a shitty tattoo, clicking on to buy beer online, going to a bar (or someone search your internet history). A version of a rite of passage story that we all have talked about and may have had."
The statement added: "Our view was the journey of being 18 – a celebration of different phases and journey of time. It was this excitement in life we reflected on."
Offering "many apologies", the spokesperson added: "But no ill intentions were considered. We were just aiming at taking the piss of turning 18.
"We had several images ready for the beer release. Considering that this has dropped like a lead balloon, we will absolutely go with one of the other images. Beyond the business of beer, we aim to have a good time. We don’t want to offend, ostracise or exclude anyone or anything. It’s supposed to be a laugh of a journey we take on being 18, a new adult."
The GABS team has also issued a response to questions from The Crafty Pint:
"GABS released the name of the Blackflag Festival Beer across all channels over 4 weeks ago and had absolutely no negative feedback at all, until our office received one email yesterday.
"Our Festival Beers process is head up by one of our incredible female team members. We are oversubscribed with application by hundreds of amazing breweries, most of whom are small independent operators. GABS Festival Beers are an opportunity for brewers to try something one off and extremely creative for their fans.
"When a brewer registers an expression of interest, concept beer, all she gets is the name, style, ABV and notes, as below. We do not require or receive any artwork at the time.
"The process followed would then be to pick beers based on styles, abv, flavour, complexity and uniqueness to ensure there is a range on offer that meets all types of consumer pallets as the explore the world of what is possible with beer. The names, which are often as creative as the brews, are also checked for profanity. When the BlackFlag application was accessed, it was felt that it met all requirements. A huge 18.1% quadruple IPA, which is a unique and big beer by anybody terms.
"As our team were only looking at the name and notes, it was only looked at in beer terms. The name was consider an innuendo reference to the ABV and the fact a person can only start their beer drinking journey at 18. The notes matched the fact it’s a very big beer that you don’t drink every day and would possibly mention to your friends.
"GABS is a small independent business and an all-inclusive advocate of craft beer, our board and team are female dominated and we are proud supporters of Pink Boots. We have received only two emails, both from members of the same group, raising concerns the beer name 'could be interpreted' differently to what it may have been intended, which are being addressed. Our head of Festival Beer is distraught by this potential interpretation of the innuendo in the name as, with the information on hand, it was never a consideration. We would like to revert any further related concerns directly to Blackflag Brewery Co or ABAC."
The beer and the issues it has raised echoes other incidents from recent years, and comes almost two years to the day after the craft beer industry both here and overseas had what was referred to as its "#MeToo Moment". Sparked first in the States by stories and posts shared on Brienne Allen's @ratmagnet Instagram account, it led to widespread calls for change.
In Australia, this led to the launch of Beer Agents For Change – now Drinks Agents For Change – whose founders were among those The Crafty Pint had spoken to for a series of articles looking at sexist behaviour, sexual harassment and assault.
Last week, they published the results of their second Industry Diversity Survey, which you can view here. One of the areas it looked at was harassment outside the workplace, with 22 percent of respondents reporting they had been harassed at beer events due to their gender, and 17 percent reporting they had faced sexual harassment at beer events.
Today they released a statement regarding the Blackflag beer.
It reads: "Drinks Agents for Change is actively advocating for the safety of our community. It is crucial that businesses actively evaluate their products and their potential impact on society. The name and label of the Black Flag Brewing GABS beer ‘Barely Legal’ is insensitive and offensive. It creates a culture where sexism and sexualising minors is not only accepted, but celebrated.
"This ultimately impacts on the safety of minorities, in this case women and minors. We are trying to educate the industry that there is no such thing as 'just joking', there are potentially very real and dangerous consequences to other people of these actions. We want the name to be changed, we want a review of process to ensure this doesn’t get repeated and we want the beer industry as a whole to educate themselves on the serious consequences of their actions in this space."
Group co-founder and industry consultant Jayne Lewis told The Crafty Pint: “I’m disappointed. It’s frustrating. You’re told you’re not alone, but no one is willing to stand up and support.
“What I can’t get out of my head is how it makes no sense – how people think that this is even acceptable.”
Statement from the Independent Brewers Association (May 18, 2023)
The IBA takes these matters very seriously and as a result has commenced discussions with the relevant parties to ensure the matter is addressed immediately and is not repeated in future.
It is a breach of our Code of Conduct and so in response, the IBA Board will follow the guidance of that policy. While there is a strong code in place for alcohol advertising, these issues still arise and because we want to ensure that we are always part of the solution we will look at providing more training and resources for our members.
The IBA celebrates inclusion and diversity in all its forms in everything it does and will continue our advocacy efforts towards building an inclusive and respectful beer industry.