Marketing the Rainbow
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The Globe and Mail wrote in 2016: 'If you've got a big thirst and you're gay, reach for a cold, tall bottle of Schmitt's Gay." That was comedian Phil Hartman, circa 1991, delivering the punchline for a Saturday Night Live commercial spoof featuring Adam Sandler, Chris Farley and a half-dozen Speedo-clad men by a pool. The skit lampooned demographic-specific alcohol marketing that sold beer by exploiting male fantasies about sexually available Swedish bikini models. The idea that a beer could be "gay" underscored the bizarreness of gendered alcohol advertising.
Maybe "Schmitt's" was based on Schlitz, the famous Milwaukee beer (est. 1849) that for the first half of last century was the largest producer of beer in the US. They ran a series of ads in the 1950's that always featured two 'best friends' who neglected their female companions, they were 'curious' and ended up smiling gayly to each other. But a gay beer, it was not.
Yet we've actually had "queer beer" in real life since 2011, when Mexico's Minerva brewery launched their labels Salamandra and Purple Hand. Here is an international outlook of Queer Beers.
In 2014 there were rumors about the launch of Europe's first "gay-friendly" beer, Idem: "an invitation to equality and a reference to the concept of identity". It was launched by the small company owned by Espedito Alfarano and his wife ("a strictly straight couple"). Alfarano was seriouis about his beer: he was vice president of the Italian organization of beer tourism and director of the Mondo Birra association, founded in Puglia.
Idem was made in two varieties, both low fermentation: a blonde enriched with orange blossom and pink pepper and a red one with smoked barley malt. The production was quite limited, of about one thousand liters per week, with a distribution that was mostly on a local level. The company promised to only hire out gay employees and to use proceeds to fight homophobia and defend the rights of LGBT. A noble objective, but the beer has gone down into the land of legends.
And then there was Gayle! A fun pun combining gay and ale, this brand was created in Australia in August 2017 after the nation legalised gay marriage and was brimming with proud anticipation. Four members of our intergenerational rainbow family were discussing the inequalities and the hard yards that the LGBT+ community has had to endure over the years and came up with Gayle. They said: "It is more than just a gay beer. Our message reaches far beyond race, sexuality or creed; it’s about embracing diversity, of accepting and celebrating everyone’s right to express their freedoms. It’s one of unity, of family and friends. Our story is a celebration of being HUMAN. Gayle. Brewed With Love." So there you have it: it's not just a drink.... The company supports both large scale international events and local community events to position themselves.
Mexican brewing company Minerva made news in 2011 with their creation of the world's first gay beers. These honey-ales were more for just taste - they were marketed to the gay population, although the company hoped to make their beers a choice for not just for same-sex couples, but for everyone.
Minerva created two beers, called Salamandra and Purple Hand Beer, a reference to a gay rights protest that took place in San Francisco in 1969. The beers featured cool bottle packaging, with a unique attribute: the labels on the bottles peeled off and were meant to be worn as a symbol of Pride.
While the brewery still exists in 2020, the gay beers have disappeared...
Another Mexican brewer, Cerveza Juguete, produces Orgullo, "Pride Beer": "a label that recognizes the urgency of taking an open and clear stance towards diversity, friendship, love and tolerance."
Queer beers? How can a beer be queer, or gay? Like with "gay wines", there are a number of brands that have positioned themselves as particularly gay-friendly. And I do not mean Heineken, Budweiser, Miller or the other big boys who started to target the gay and lesbian consumers in the 90s. The "queer beers" I am talking about are - often, but not always - produced by members of the community. Some donate a portion of sales to LGBT organizations, others were launched with sponsorships of specific events that fall under the Pride umbrella.
Research seems to suggest that gay men aren’t typically the target demographic for beer companies. However, an emerging craft beer and microbrewery market seems to be changing things for the better. Sure, wine, vodka, and gin still crowd the menu at many gay bars, but it looks like beer is making a comeback. You will see that "fruity" is a key word, pun intended.
Note: and yes, the big boys dress up in all kinds of rainbows and LGBT settings too. After all, there is money to be made. This is a huge change in attitude from 30 years ago, when the organizers of the earliest beer tents at Pride festivals not only failed to secure sponsorship, but had issues finding a company willing to supply beer at all. When they finally found one, a certain level of discretion was expected. The beer had to be served in unmarked cups out of unmarked draught taps and there could be no advertising. But by 1995 beer companies would engage in bidding wars over the exclusive rights to stock the beer tent bars at Pride events. And almost two decades later, gay beers were born. Or rather: Queer Beers, because that sounds more poetic.
The funky Danish brewery Evil Twin, founded by the equally funky sounding Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, is specialized in India Pale Ale (IPA). In collaboration with Omnipollo they launched Rainbownade in 2018, an IPA brewed with grapefruit, passion fruit, mango, raspberry and blueberry.
Queer beer from Manitoba! Queer Beer is the specialty brew brainchild of Half Pints Brewery and Pride Winnipeg, has made exclusively for the Pride Winnipeg Festival since 2011. The beer is brewed as a Helles, which is a German Pilsner. It has a mild taste, with a slightly fruity aroma derived from the hops. "It’s the perfect match for the Pride Winnipeg Festival, but just as fabulous for any other warm sunny day."
Picaroons Traditional Ales from Fredericton, New Brunswick brought us Pride Sally Pride: an American Pale Ale (APA) brewed with Amarillo hops and natural apricot extract in support of Fredericton Pride.
The Ridge Brewing Company made "Pride Beer" from their Cause Collection, a light, refreshing Berliner Weiss.
Calgary-based micro-brewery Cold Garden Beverage Company wanted you to Taste the Rainbow in 2018,
a "Skittle Ale with guava and passionfruit" - the next year it was "a Watermelon Mint Skittle Ale".
And then there was the collaboration between Port Rexton Brewing Co. and homebrewers Queer Beer NL all in celebration of Port Rexton Pride!
In 2020 Andina Brewing in Vancouver released Orgullo Blood Orange Pale Ale. "Your family here at Andina could not be more proud to present to you our newest beer release. Orgullo is about celebrating our LBGTQ+ community, the front line health workers, those facing injustice in a racially systemic world, education, bravery and of course, Love. Now more than ever we must stand together and support our communities. We are PROUD to introduce the Orgullo Blood Orange Pale Ale."
The number of queer beer initiatives in the US is countless. Many local (micro) breweries hooked up with the LGBT community to produce a limited edition can or bottle, often for Pride. Some are LGBT owned and operated.
The Hillcrest Brewing Company in San Diego was founded in 2011 as "the first openly gay brewery in the world". While it was never the owners’ original intent to become the first to develop a brewery catering to the LGBT community, news of its branding helped raise its profile beyond San Diego County. The owners stepped up and adopted @QueensofBeer as their Twitter handle. “We are queer and we love beer,” read the description on their Twitter feed. The website now seems to present a bar & restaurant, rather than a brewery.
Bell’s Beer celebrated Pride with Sparkleberry, a raspberry Belgian-style Tripel Ale. It was originally brewed to celebrate Bell’s presenting sponsorship of Kalamazoo Pride in 2013. “Our celebration of diversity is no secret, but this can says it front and center. No matter who you are or who you love, all are welcome at Bell’s,” said Laura Bell, CEO of Bell’s Brewery. “We want everyone to get their sparkle on and celebrate what makes us all unique and special. Beer has traditionally brought people together and we proudly continue and honor that tradition with this fun beer,” she added.
Since 2016 Fremont Brewing has brewed Seättle Kölsch, a "2-Row Pale malt and White Wheat with Huell Melon and Loral hops" each year for Pride month. "Pride, it’s not just about the rainbows, unicorns, and glitter; it’s about celebrating queerness and standing up for the safety and self-determination of the LGBT community. Really, it’s all about love. Our goal with this beer is to create and foster a community for LGBT people and friends in the craft beer world. Be proud of who you are, who you like, and what you drink. A portion of the proceeds of this beer go to funding organizations supporting and fighting for the LGBTQ community. Here’s to Pride, here’s to you."
Threes Brewing made Gender Neutral Beer (yes, you read that correctly) in honor of 2017 NYC Pride. A
pale lager with lemon zest, it also supported The Human Rights Campaign.
The DC Brau Brewing Company and The Washington Blade teamed up on a specially branded can of Brau Pils for the Pride celebrations, starting in 2017. About 700 cases of Brau Pils were re-packaged as PRIDE PILS, with proceeds benefitting local LGBTQ youth empowerment program, SMYAL and The Washington Blade Foundation. The designs were chosen through a contest. The 2019 designs honored Marsha P. Johnson.
The Marz Community Brewing Co. in Chicago introduced Gay IPA (featuring a smooth mouthfeel with notes of pineapple, grapefruit, papaya, and oranges) in 2018. Proceeds are donated to three Chicago organizations whose mission is to support LGBTQ communities.
The SF LGBT Center and DoTheGay raised funds in collaboration with The Local Brewing Co. for a few years, starting in 2018, to create Gay Beach. "Named for a storied and somewhat (in)famous section of Dolores Park, Gay Beach is a super summery tropical blonde with Belgian pilsner white wheat malts, Hallertau Blanc hops, and notes of pink grapefruit, lime, and apricot."
Gay Beer (first launched in December 2018) announced itself during 2019 New York World Pride. Brewed for Loyal Brands in partnership with Butternuts Beer and Ale in Garrattsville, New York. It is defined as an “easy-drinking golden lager made with a unique combination of malt grains and German hops”. The beer was created to start conversations and make connections, according to co-founders Jon Moore and Jason Pazmino, both part of the Brooklyn queer community.
10 Barrel Brewing Co. is "a proud sponsor of the PRIDE movement and we take great joy in celebrating the diversity and equality within our communities!" To highlight the 2019 Pride Month they created LGBTQ-IPA. It’s a juicy, tropical, full flavored Hazy IPA. Portions of all sales benefiting organizations in their respected cities.
The Almanac Beer Co. launched Love Hazy IPA: Pride Edition for 2020 Pride Month. LOVE is brewed in support of the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center.
And the list goes on: Kiitos' Big Gay Ale, Asbury Park Brewery's Pride, Saugatuck Brewing Company's Lager of Love, Drake's Brewing Company's Pryed IPA, Shipyard Brewing's Hoppy Pride, Coney Island Brewery's Pride 365 IPA, Circle Brewing's Fanny Pack Kolsch, Wasatch Brewery's Live and Let Live and the really funny Virginia Beer's Friends Of Dorothy Pride IPA, etc. etc.
This article was last updated on May 17, 2021.
This is How, a novelty brewer from rural Sweden poetically said: "We are all colors united, we are an army full of love. Our passion is ignited, by that rainbow up above. We are young, we are old. We are timid, we are bold. We break barriers on a daily and let love unfold. We stand united, proud and tall. Our mission: unconditional love for all." And then they made Beer Moment #50: Queer Beer, How To Dance Under The Rainbow, an American Blonde Ale (2019).
The Australian Sex Party (who knew it existed?!) launched Queer Beer in 2016, brewed and bottled in collaboration with UBrewIt to celebrate and raise funds for its campaign in favour of marriage equality. An Australian-style pale ale featuring malted wheat and a concoction of fruity hops. “Rumour has it you can even taste a touch of rainbow,” the party's federal secretary Nevena Spirovska said. Profits from every Queer Beer sold went directly to Kaleidoscope Australia – an organization dedicated to advancing the human rights of LGBT+ people throughout the Asia Pacific Region.
It’s here. It’s queer. It tastes a lot like, well… beer, actually! This is how German brewery BRLO presented it's contribution to the queer beer collection. They added: "See, the fact is if you’ve been drinking BRLO before this, you’ve already been drinking some queer beer seeing how BRLO is made up of all colors of the rainbow! So we brewed a big gay beer to point out that, you know what – our beer doesn’t care who you go home with and neither should anyone else." The Queer Beer was available as a limited edition for Berlin Pride 2019. Part of the proceeds were donated to Queeramnesty.de.
The Booth Brewing (started in Korea in 2013 and moved to the US in 2017) raised a glass to Pride with the release of two new beers in 2018: LGBTQ Smoothie IPA and Fun Follower Witbier. For the first, they used the letters of the alphabet soup acronym for the ingredients in the beer: (L)iberty and (G)lacier hops, (B)lackberries, (T)art cherries and (Q)uinoa create what Booth called an IPA “packed with fruitful flavors, a creamy mouthfeel and well-rounded aromas.” The other new beer was “designed to delicately complement the spices of any Asian cuisine". All proceeds were donated to LGBTQ groups.
The company had already created an LGBTQ beer in South Korea the year before.
In 2019 South Korean beer maker Oriental Brewery Co. (OB) posted an advertisement supporting sexual minorities on the occasion of the 20th Seoul Queer Culture Festival. In fact, OB has become one of the top corporate supporters of sexual minorities among South Korean companies. Cass, their flagship lager beer brand, said on its social, “By turning 20 this year, confidently root for your color, YASS!” Korean netizens generally responded positively.
"PROUD is not a label, it's a statement. We're not a large, multinational brewer. We're the original queer beer for good. We wear our rainbow with pride, not for effect. We celebrate queerness all year round (not just Pride month). We give back to our community to build ourselves together. Every time you choose our LGBTQIPA, you send a direct donation of 20p to our charity partners. No percentage of profits, no corporate jargon. It's simple yet powerful. PROUD is who we are, and what we do."
Bedlam Brewery in East Sussex launched Wilde ECPA, (a superlight, unfiltered East Coast Pale Ale explodes with bags of Passionfruit and Guava character), "designed to chill on the beach or summer festivals and Pride celebrations". Just a pity that their rainbow was more than 6 colors...
On the Isle of Wight Goddard produced Island Pride in 2018, with a percentage of all sales will go directly back to the Isle of Wight Pride Charity.
Every year Borg Brewery makes a new queer beer for the Reykjavík Pride Festival, turning things upside down - or at least the label on the bottles and cans. They called it NR. 77 ÁSTRÍKUR (in 2020, other numbers in previous years: 18, 43, 51) and state "Parade with this proud sponsor of Reykjavík Pride in hand, sparkling in all the colors of the rainbow, while banging your own pretty drum."
In 2014, to coincide with the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Scottish craft brewery BrewDog gave us a ‘not for gays' beer in protest at Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay laws. They have even sent a crate to the Russian leader himself. The limited-edition ‘Hello, My Name is Vladimir’ beer features a Warhol-esque impression of Vladimir Putin wearing make-up on its label and the satirical "*not for gays" small print across the bottom.
The next year they launched “No Label,” a “non-binary, transgender beer” that was made using a variety of hops that change sex prior to harvest... The founder of outspoken BrewDog said its new “transgender” beer was not a gimmick and was a genuine effort to help the LGBT community. “We’ve worked with the charity Queerest of the Queer to put this together. They co-designed the packaging, they worked with us on the project, we’re donating all the proceeds of sales of this beer to charity.” But the beer provoked some backlash in the LGBT community. Stonewall was “concerned about the language” in the campaign, saying it could “undermine” the community. BrewDog has a history of using high-profile PR stunts to boost its business, doing everything from driving a tank through the City of London to dropping taxidermied cats from a helicopter. The brewery also ran into trouble over a promotional video that critics claimed mocked transgender and homeless people.
In 2019 Seven Bro7hers in Manchester ("We are Guy, Keith, Luke, Dan, Nat, Kit and Greg and we are seven brothers from Salford who have four sisters and our own brewery") offered us Salford Pride Session Beer.
To celebrate the collaboration with Salford Pride, they threw a "a fun and fabulous party at the Seven Bro7hers Brewery". 10p from every can of Salford Pride Session Beer went directly to Salford Pride and the annual LGBT Pride event - The Pink Picnic. They also donated all the proceeds of one keg of Salford Pride Session Beer directly to the cause. And who would not want to have a drink with SEVEN BRO7HERS?
Mikkeller brewery had a brilliant campaign in 2017. In collaboration with the Chinese microbrewery Great Leap Brewing, Mikkeller came up with a beer that probably irked certain beer drinkers in Russia and the US. In support of the embattled gay community in Chechnya, its limited ‘Excuse Me While I Kiss This Guy’ IPA featured a label image depicting Russian president Vladimir Putin making out with his US counterpart Donald Trump. “Only four bottles (out of 120 in total) will go on auction with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the Russian LGBT Network in support of Chechen gay rights – this is an IPA that makes an impact!” Mikkeller wrote on Facebook.
Cerveza Mica developed Love Diversity Beer for World Pride Madrid 2017, "a new beer to celebrate LGTB pride". They wanted to add to the celebration of diversity with the simple gesture of "toasting it", as witnessed by its labels: "A toast, a kiss ". The launch was supported by an advertising campaign that included special promotions during these days in Madrid, print advertising, outdoor advertising, social media and activations with the press and prescribers.
Though Czech President Václav Klaus made statements attacking Prague Pride, his office director, Ladislav Jakl, whipped up a batch of “gay beer” in honor of the LGBT festival in 2011. The name was BuQicák: it had a four-percent alcohol content, a pink color and a sweet taste and the news server Prvnizpravy.cz reported. “It can apparently be drunk warm..." There are a few nods to gays in the beer’s creation:
1. “Bukvice,” is Czech slang for a gay man, akin to “faggot,” while “burcák” is a fermented wine that’s usually served in in August. Combining the two words translates (loosely) to “faggot wine”— or “queer beer.”
2. “Teplý,” Czech for “warm,” is also a slang word for a homosexual - hence the reference to serving BuQicák warm.
3. The letter q is rarely used in the Czech language, so the use of a capital Q in BuQicák is likely a nod to the Anglo term “queer.”
Jakl had previously said he was against “presenting sexuality in this form”. It was unsure if he and his buddies were seriously joining in the celebration, making fun of the festival, or just trying to make a cheap buck. But it was right in line with Prague Pride’s inaugural theme: “Drink Beer, Be Queer.” (Seriously, that was the slogan.)
First off: you can't just make gay jokes about your product. When Nick Warming, director at Southern Bay Brewing in Australia posted on social media that there was no fun in alcohol-free beer, which he then called "gay lemonade", the backlash was so strong that he had to resign. An expert said: "“This was incredibly tone deaf. Not only was this post homophobic, it also shames people who do not want to drink full strength beer. There should be a place in the beer community for anyone, regardless of tastes.”
The reactions were so strong because the company had just been reprimanded for a meme, which stated “There’s nothing wrong with you that me drinking six beers can’t fix”, was promoting binge drinking.
The ominously named Oedipus brewery brought us "Mannenliefde" (Men's Love) in 2012. The accompanying video or slogans would not indicate that this would have anything to do with man-to-man love, but a subsequent very pink campaign image, and the description on the website may want you to reconsider: "beer is for everyone. We have love for each other, love for brewing and a serious love of sharing our beer with everyone. Mannenliefde is a brew to free beer from predominant ideas about beer as a masculine drink, it’s about openness and vulnerability and diversity." Indeed...
Brewery Hoop in Zaanstad released Mon Cherry special beer for the (virtual) Zaandam Pride celebrations in 2020. It was followed up by a new and improved version (more red fruit) in 2021: all "to improve the visibility of LGBT in Zaanstad".