An Open Letter to one Mr. Jim Caruso of Flying Dog Brewery, because actions speak louder.

(In response to recent news regarding Flying Dog Brewery’s termination of their Brewer’s Association membership: https://www.brewbound.com/news/defense-free-speech-flying-dog-terminates-ba-membership)

Dear Mr. Jim Caruso of Flying Dog Brewery,

My name is Kaleigh Leingang. I am a 24-year-old journalism school dropout who found her way to the beer industry by accident.

I am small and insignificant in comparison to you, the CEO of a successful brewery. You may very well glance over this letter, roll your eyes, and stop right here. Whatever you decide, I have a duty as a woman who works for the beer industry to speak up when something is not right.

I am terribly afraid to inform you that you have grossly misunderstood the point of the Brewers Association’s updated Marketing and Advertising code if you are calling the new policy a “thinly veiled side door to censorship.”

From what I gather, you’re upset mostly with the following:

“Beer advertising and marketing materials should not: …..
i. contain sexually explicit, lewd, or demeaning brand names, language, text, graphics, photos, video, or other images that reasonable adult consumers would find inappropriate for consumer products offered to the public;
j. contain derogatory or demeaning text or images.”

It’s just a guess that this is the clause you are most concerned with, considering one of your most popular brands is a beer called “Raging Bitch.” I’m sure you’ve recognized that this is clearly a beer name that a reasonable adult consumer (FYI: women fall under this category too) may consider inappropriate. I know, I know, I’ve read all about you defending our first amendment rights (which is great, go ahead and put questionable content on a bottle of beer, just don’t whine when a significant population of consumers or fellow industry mates have opinions about it), that your female employees don’t care about the beer’s name, etc.

Let’s be honest here: no one uses the term “raging bitch” as a compliment, or even in reference to female dogs anymore. Chances are, you might call a woman you deem unsavory a “raging bitch” faster than Lassie can save you from the well. You might even call me one by the end of this letter, and I’ll have you know it’s my pleasure to be of such ironic service.

The policy might affect Doggie Style and Pearl Necklace too, although the BA seemingly placated to you by saying they take no issue with any of your brand names. I’m personally less affected by these brands, but I’m sure the sexual public will agree that while they may be acts two consenting adults agree upon behind closed doors (or on their kitchen counter, or in the shower, or on the coffee table, etc.), the brand name is still sexually explicit. You might agree as well.

If I’m calling it like I’m seeing it, your company has terminated its membership with the BA because you feel threatened. From my personal experience, men (especially men in a position of power) who feel threatened in some way have a tendency to defend what they feel entitled to to death. They’ll grab desperately at any concept that may make sense for their argument. In this case, you may feel entitled to the full benefits of the BA’s competitive entities, so you’ve chosen an argument near and dear to your (and my, and America’s) heart: your inalienable First Amendment rights.

“Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech…”

On paper, your attempt to persuade your audience that you feel so violated looks great. You use such compelling words:

“If you’ve suppressed my ability to communicate my marketing message to my potential consumers, you are anti-free enterprise. It’s appalling to think that the brewers who sit on the board of directors and the BA management are interfering in the industry, trying suppress free enterprise and suppress craft brewers from communicating their marketing message to their consumers.”

Great work. Bravo. You’ll get the other men who want boob jokes on their beers to rally with you, for sure. I especially love that you shame the BA, too, making it seem like they want to put a damper on your freedom to express your rather eye roll-worthy “marketing message.”

Do you think they sat around a table and said, “You know what would piss the men off this week? If we didn’t award sexism/racism/violence/jokes told by teenage boys anymore! We are so evil!”

It’s diabolical, that you think the BA took a stance against demeaning, derogatory, or lewd branding to suppress your take on individuality. Are you really that obtuse, or do you actually think we live in a fantasy land where industry women or women who consume are awarded the same respect in craft beer as men? If it’s the latter, I invite you to walk a mile in my shoes. With your rather thin skin, you’ll make it 800 feet at best.

But wait, there’s more. You forgot a very important part of the “freedom of speech” clause. Here’s what you forgot: “Congress shall make no law…”

Congress. The first amendment addresses the government, not an organization like the Brewers Association, which is a not-for-profit trade association that has no authority to say you can’t sell a beer with a name like “Raging Bitch.” You do a great job of sounding so concerned for the other 5,000 some breweries who might reconsider “a clever, witty [brand] name that might have a double entendre.” Don’t worry, I’m sure the TTB will let you all continue producing brands with such thoughtful, comedic names like “Raging Bitch,” because the TTB is run by the government.

For a man who is so well practiced in defending the first amendment, I’m almost offended you forgot that the BA is not the government. The BA will let you have your labels, you just can’t use intellectual property associated with World Beer Cup or GABF awards if your marketing does not adhere to policy. Simple. That’s the BA exercising their Freedom of Speech, to say that marketing messages that contain sexist/violent/racist/sexual or otherwise distasteful content are inappropriate in our industry. They’re not making decisions for what consumers see on the shelves — they’re just not awarding you for your efforts (or lack thereof, if I may say so).

To be honest, I’m very okay with the fact that the sexist men in the industry will no longer have beers with demeaning brand names or images recognized at BA award ceremonies. The updated policy sounds a lot more like the BA is getting with the times (meaning: sexism is no longer being tolerated, as are middle-school level sexual innuendos) and recognizing that a highly-respected organization should not associate with unprofessional behavior.

You, on the other hand, defended the right to be awarded for the use of sexism (as well as an adolescent’s understanding of sex) as a marketing tool for your company under the guise of free speech, which is a misleading interpretation of the First Amendment. Your actions, by terminating your BA membership on these grounds, speaks with much more volume to the rest of the industry than your defensive, “but-I-wanna” attitude towards the new Marketing and Advertising policy.

In other words, your bark is worse than your bite. Enjoy your right to free speech, which you exercised beautifully with your exit.

Cheers, 
Kaleigh Leingang

P.S. “Offensive to whom?” Really? Why not just say “I know you are but what am I?”

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