While the mind reels imagining all the ways President Trump will yet change the world, he has already created one unlikely outcome: He’s solidified craft beer as the protest commodity of choice. Throughout Trump’s campaign, a number of the more than 4,000 breweries in the U.S. sold beers—“Dumb Donald” or “Chinga Tu Pelo,” to name just two—whose names reacted in some way to the reality TV star’s candidacy. How did urban liberals take beer, long the patriotic beverage of choice for the red-blooded working man, and turn it into a drinkable form of protest?
Actually, the very beginnings of the craft beer movement were rooted in the idea of resistance. In the late 1970s, small upstart operations like Sierra Nevada were repurposing used dairy equipment to take on large corporate brewers such as Coors and Anheuser-Busch. Sierra Nevada used its underdog status as a marketing tool, gathering support first from its city, then state, then region. (That turned out to be a good strategy: Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman is now a billionaire.)
The idea of a mom-and-pop brewery was still somewhat taboo in the 1970s. President Jimmy Carter signed the bill dropping the federal prohibition on home brewing in 1978, but it wasn’t until 2013 that all 50 states (Mississippi and Alabama were the last holdouts) made the practice legal. These home-brewers were experimental and open-minded about what constituted beer, so it’s no surprise that many shared a similar political philosophy.
Meanwhile, beer behemoths such as Coors sparred with unions—and faced boycotts as a result. In 1977, Coors workers started what would become a 10-year strike over arcane employment policies like mandatory polygraph tests. Small craft brewers could easily position themselves as the community-supported alternative to money-hungry, anti-union bosses like Pete Coors.
Across the pond in England, a similar uprising in the 1970s was also bubbling up—figuratively and literally. CAMRA, or the Campaign For Real Ale, called for a return to real ales; in other words, beer with active fermentation happening up to the moment it’s poured. In doing so, they called out the brutish nature of artificially carbonated keg beer, deeming it fizzy and tasteless. Who else but dullards would chose such an inferior product? The building blocks were there for craft beer to become a signifier of ideas beyond the liquid in the glass. It’s edgy, yet honest. Hardworking, yet refined.
Many figures within the craft beer world could be considered the iconoclastic pioneer, an alternative hero against Big Beer. Among them would be Tony Magee, founder of Lagunitas Brewing Company. Magee is an unabashedly public pothead who made his first batches of Lagunitas on his kitchen stove in the mid-’90s in Petaluma, California. Magee pushed forward the idea of craft beer being a creative expression through his stream-of-consciousness writing on Lagunitas labels, and his tendency of turning his personal experiences into autobiographical beers. For example, when the brewery was shut down by federal agents in a marijuana sting, it released its Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale. When customers complained about a discontinued beer, it answered with Lagunitas Sucks. In that sense, Magee is closer in spirit to Bob Dylan than a Pete Coors.
Magee also made a habit of speaking truth to power, calling out brewers who sold its operations to larger corporations such as Anheuser-Busch—Goose Island, most notably. On Twitter, blogs, and in beer forums, Magee eloquently expounded the virtues of independent businesses while weaving in West Coast progressive ideals, and in the next sentence, he would call out unfair practices of alcohol distributors and his competitors. Magee did all this while shepherding his company into the upper echelons of craft breweries in the U.S. (Ironically, he sold a 50 percent share of Lagunitas to Heineken for a reported $500 million in 2015, a move many craft beer fans found hypocritical.)
There are, of course, others like Magee throughout the craft beer industry, and taken together, their ideas created a set of values that craft beer fans could rally around. Though this identity had no real party affiliation, they were united by a general antipathy toward regulation of the alcohol industry. Message boards, blogs, beer festivals, and podcasts all contributed to furthering what constitutes a “craft beer fan.”
In 2014, Scottish craft brewers (and publicity stunt masters) Brewdog claimed to have released the world’s first protest beer. Appropriately enough, it was called Hello My Name Is Vladimir, brewed in protest of Putin’s anti-gay measures implemented around the time of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The brewery told All About Beer the response was overwhelmingly positive and encouraged more craft brewers to follow suit.
In June 2015, Chicago’s 5 Rabbit Cervecería told Chicago public radio station WBEZ it was backing out of its contract to brew a house golden ale for Trump Tower. As the owner of a Latin American-inspired brewery, Andres Araya felt working with Trump was a betrayal of his community. Instead, he would sell the remaining kegs as “Chinga Tu Pelo,” a Spanish epithet, customized for Donald Trump, that translates to “Fuck Your Hair.” For 18 months, the beer consistently sold out, with a portion of profits going to the International Latino Cultural Center Of Chicago. The brewery canned the last batch before Election Day, though it has plans to launch a follow-up activist beer soon.
After John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight segment in February on Donald Trump’s ancestral name, a number of brewpubs added Drumpf-branded beers to their menus. Most notably, Philadelphia’s venerable Dock Street Brewing launched the “Friends Don’t Let Friends Vote Drumpf” series. Over the course of the campaign, the brewery made four beers in the series—including a “short-fingered stout” (with a low ABV) and a fruited saison ale it dubbed a “pathological lager.”
In June of 2016 Chicago’s Spiteful Brewing made headlines with their “Dumb Donald” double India pale ale. Brewery co-founder Jason Klein made a great point to the Chicago Tribune: The brewery is so small, threats of boycotts by Trump supporters hold no weight with them. (Trump wound up with an underwhelming 13 percent of the vote in Chicago.) This is a key reason protest beers work better than almost any other consumable: the vast majority of breweries are small and deeply connected to their communities, and the brewery likely shares political leanings with its customer base.
After Trump was elected, female brewers in Denver joined forces to brew a protest beer. The result was “Makin’ Noise: A Pussy Riot Beer,” an imperial saison, brewed five different times at five different breweries. Organizer Bess Dougherty told Westword that aging the beer on strawberry puree will give it an intentionally pink look. “It will look like a delicate beer, but it will knock you on your ass,” Dougherty said. The beer will be tapped on Inauguration Day in and around Denver—at Goldspot Brewing, Lady Justice Brewing, 3 Freaks Brewing, Black Sky Brewery, and Brewability Lab. Each location will be making donations to different charities, they say, are at risk under the Trump administration.
In Mexicali, Mexico, Cerveza Cucapá doesn’t have one specific beer brewed to protest Trump, but its marketing stunt from this summer was one for the ages. The company sold T-shirts in Los Angeles that said “I Support Donald” that, in sunlight, changed to say “Donald El Que Lo Lea” (a colloquialism that roughly means, “Whoever reads this is an asshole”). In Chicago, Off Color Brewing will release “Class War,” a little-known Swedish smoked farmhouse beer called Gotlandsdricka on Inauguration Day. The brewery claims vikings drank this 10 percent ABV beer, when they weren’t drinking mead. When asked why they chose to release the beer on Inauguration Day, head brewer John Laffler said, “Vikings didn’t have health insurance either.”
Craft beer has always been a canvas for creative expression, and it’s no surprise the small upstarts are more liable to use it to stir shit. Philosophically, the Venn diagram circles overlap quite a bit. Particularly for small operations with nonexistent marketing budgets, a little controversy can also stir up some much-needed publicity. Still, even as mega-breweries buy up craft brewers left and right, don’t expect them to co-opt the trend anytime soon. Budweiser re-named itself “America” for campaign season (a move protested by numerous ’Murica-themed craft beers); Pete Coors hosted a Trump fundraiser in Denver; and Dick Yuengling gave Eric Trump a brewery tour (and his support) back in October. For real protest, as always, you’ll have to look to the locals.