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Lakeville Brew Crew courts controversy before the first keg is even tapped

Tim Nelson
July 16, 2018

The world of craft brewing is awash in goofy and groan-inducing names. From lazy puns to cheesy inuendo, there are plenty of perfectly good beers whose names make you cringe every time you place an order at the bar. But a new Indiana microbrewery has managed to come up with a set of names so tone-deaf that they’ve somehow managed to alienate and anger beer fans before their taproom even opens.

According to reporting by the South Bend Tribune, Lakeville Brew Crew, a new brewery set to open in Lakeville, Indiana, this fall, has settled on some beer names that feel specifically chosen to stir controversy. Among them will be “Flint Michigan Tap Water,” “Black Beers Matter,” “White Guilt,” and “Mass Graves.”  

Though maybe not a direct affront to political correctness, the names certainly read as tasteless. But co-owner Jon Duncan thinks any such outrage is misplaced. “The way I look at it—with the ‘Flint Michigan Tap Water’—if you’re going to get mad about that beer name, you should focus your anger more toward the people that are letting that happen to Flint,” he told the Tribune. “If I can bring some attention to that, whether it be negative attention toward me, it still brings attention to that issue.” How selfless!

Duncan’s justification for “Black Beers Matter” feels even flimsier: He says the name is based on the fact that stouts and porters are less frequently offered by craft brewers, but “they are good beers and they matter.” I would probably try to make that point by just brewing a good stout that doesn’t make light of a movement against racial injustice and police brutality, but it’s a free country I guess. The inclusion of “White Guilt” almost signals that Duncan and fellow co-owner Rodney Chlebek know their beer names will be perceived negatively, which should’ve been a clue not to use them in the first place. “Mass Graves” is just about Stalin’s gulags for some reason.

Though he clearly believes that any publicity is good publicity, Duncan’s likely overlooking the potential for discerning customers (especially millennials) to make ethical consumption decisions about their drinking and encourage others to do the same on social media. The move also risks alienating other members of the close-knit brewing community, including the distributors who dictate where Lakeville’s beers ultimately get stocked. The early reviews on Lakeville Brew Crew’s Facebook page suggest that both potential customers and fellow brewers aren’t on board with the beer names, and opinion seems to be divisive at best.

The argument that simply giving a beer a highly questionable name like “Flint Michigan Tap Water” advances some sort of social good rings hollow as well. There are plenty of more tactful and impactful ways for a brewery to raise awareness about the ongoing water crisis in Flint. Donating proceeds to a relevant nonprofit, or perhaps launching a collaborative beer in partnership with a Flint-area brewery who’s had to deal with the lack of drinkable water firsthand are two more meaningful ways to do good. They also took roughly five seconds of thought to come up with.

Of course, nobody’s sampled any of these beers yet, so maybe Lakeville’s brews somehow end up being so delicious that ethical concerns fly out the window after the first sip. It’s also possible that Indianans simply don’t care about politically correct beer names. This is a state that made Mike Pence governor and gave Donald Trump 56.8% of its presidential votes, after all. At the very least, the fact that another north Indiana brewery known for some misogynistic beer names and raunchy labels ended up closing its doors earlier this year surely can’t be considered a good omen.

Lakeville Brew Crew has backed itself into a corner. They’ll likely have to demonstrate a legitimate commitment to making excellent beer and putting support behind the causes they mock in order to survive. While I wouldn’t say I’m actively rooting for them to fail, I’d like to hope they have the good sense and the creativity required to pick some better beer names by the time their first keg is tapped—if they even make it that far.

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