Pacific Gas & Electric pissed off plenty of people when it temporarily disconnected power to nearly a million customers last month in order to minimize the risk of power lines sparking wildfires during high winds. The utility company has been roundly accused of negligence for allowing such power lines to spark years of fires, some of which have killed residents and destroyed homes. One California brewery thought outrage against PG&E was so universal that it could release a beer called Fuck PG&E without repercussions; forceful criticism of the beer name has proved that’s not the case.
Shady Oak Barrel House in Santa Rosa, California, is located in an area severely affected by wildfires—also an area where PG&E employees live. The blowback over its profane beer name proves that tensions are especially high surrounding PG&E’s role in such fires. (Because the beer wasn’t packaged for sale across state lines, it isn’t subject to federal label approval by the Alcohol And Tobacco Tax And Trade Bureau, which prohibits “obscene material” on beer labels.) SFGate reports that a few days after it released the Fuck PG&E pale ale, Shady Oak was inundated with one-star Yelp reviews and angry phone calls. Many of the calls were on behalf of PG&E employees who sometimes put themselves at risk of physical harm in the course of performing their jobs.
“My read on it is that I guess people have inferred something else from what I have actually said and assume that I’m against the employees which are here and are helping us, which we have as regulars, which we support,” Shady Oak Barrel House owner Steve Doty told SFGate.
Shady Oak is hardly the first brewery to take a forceful stance via one of its beer names. In 2015, Chicago-based brewery 5 Rabbit Cerveceria renamed a beer it had contract brewed for Trump Tower in the wake of Trump’s racist comments about Mexicans. The new name: Chinga Tu Pelo. (Run that through Google Translate.) The thousands of people assembled for Great American Beer Festival’s award ceremony this year burst into applause after a session IPA named Trump Hands from Cannonball Creek Brewing Company in Golden, Colorado, won a silver medal.
But the criticism of Shady Oak’s beer name highlights the delicate line breweries must walk in taking a stance with their beer names. When a name is so confrontational, it behooves the brewery to anticipate some blowback and, most crucially, prepare its staff to handle it. It also proves there’s a difference between criticism of the president and perceived criticism of regular people just doing their jobs.