Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Politics of Beer

Beer isn't political. But beer companies certainly can be. As soon as I started this blog, I was made aware of several instances in which beer companies had been openly supportive of some very unsavory activities. For example, Miller Brewing was taken to task by the Catholic League for its support of some homosexual advocacy and the appropriation of its logo to an advertisement what was openly offensive to Christians. Thankfully, this particular controversy ended with Miller doing the right thing by publicly apologizing.

The Boston Beer Company, brewer of Samuel Adams products, was directly involved in promoting the incredibly crass "Sex for Sam" publicity stunt hosted by radio shock jocks Opie and Anthony which ended in a couple being arrested for seeking to copulate in a vestibule of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. While the radio station pulled the show and suspended the hosts, to my knowledge the Boston Beer Company has never indicated any regrets over its direct promotion of the sacrilege. My own request to their customer service department for clarification went unanswered. [Update: But thankfully, I'm wrong. Jim Koch did indeed apologize for his participation.]

A reader of this blog sent me information on Sierra Nevada Brewing Company's support for The Womens' Health Specialists, a notorious abortion provider in northern California. Sierra Nevada stood by its support for this death mill, sidestepping the fact that WHS murders innocent human beings with the typical refrain that they do a lot of good things too (see here and here.)

On the other hand, another reader (Ray from MN) noted in the comboxes that:

If you accept nominations, I would like to nominate beers from the Summit Brewing Co. of Minneapolis.The Chairman of the Board is as Catholic, and as Pro-Life going back many years, as they come (well, he is a convert) and their beers are well rated in secular contests.

I am thrilled to hear that Summit is run by a solid Catholic. In fact, I think I will try to contact him for an interview for this blog. Ray is right that Summit products are absolutely top notch (their Winter Skäl and Winter Ale are particularly good) and as a nod toward drumming up more business for them I think I will begin the grueling process of purchasing and sampling a variety of their offerings to be reviewed here (it's a tough job, but somebody has to do it.)

Okay, back to the bad guys. Miller products don't interest me anyway and they ended up doing the right thing, so if you must drink Miller beer then you can buy their products in good conscience (the only pang of conscience one might have is whether it's really fair to call Miller Lite "beer".) But Samuel Adams and Sierra Nevada products are top flight and represent some of my favorite beers. This is harder. What is a Catholic to do? Well, in the face of Sierra Nevada's unrepentant support of a notorious abortion provider, I think they need to face a Catholic boycott. If you agree with me, let them know that you're not buying their stuff any more. The Boston Brewing Company's involvement in one scandal may or may not be sufficient for you to decide that you need to skip their products entirely. At the very least, it puts me on the look-out to see what else they might be involved in. [Update: But as mentioned above, they did the right thing on this one. So that leaves just Sierra Nevada.]

This raises the much larger question of a Catholic consumer's responsibility in the face of corporate behavior that runs directly counter to Catholic moral teaching. In general, I would say that we can't really be responsible for everything that transpires in every company with which we do business. Still, if Catholics en masse got serious about not supporting that which runs counter to our faith, it could make a significant difference in what companies do and don't support.

I'd really like to hear from you in the comment box. Please let us know how you make these decisions. What are your criteria for doing business or not doing business with a company that behaves in ways like these?


Jeff Culbreath said...

Thanks for posting the bad news about Sierra Nevada. I'm all for a Catholic boycott of their products. Now if I could just get our local Catholic school not to have activities at their brewery restaurant ...

More importantly, thanks for the good news about Summit. Until now the problem with promoting a SN boycott was that, for all anybody knew, the alternatives may have been just as bad. But now we know that isn't the case.

Jeff Miller said...

I think the cases listed above would all be remote material cooperation and so it would not be sinful to drink their products unless you liked them specifically because of their support of some evil.

That being said I think it would be a good idea for Catholics to boycott Sieraa-Nevada and I will do so myself - and I do like their brews.

Even with a last name of Miller I will have nothing to do with Miller beer anyway.

As for boycotting Samuel Adams, I was blogging back when that originally happened. I think a boycott then was a good idea. Though I have not heard of them doing anything similar since.

Anonymous said...

I thought that I did remember Boston Beer apologizing for the St. Patrick's Cathedral incident. Sure enough, I found this article:

Thus, I think we can forgive them and move on.

De Liliis said...

I wish there was some online database of which companies support what, to guide Catholics towards supporting companies with Catholic sensibilities and not toerhwise.

PalmHQ said...

And I am thrilled that we can indeed take Boston Beer Company off the "list". Nice find, Anonymous!

Dan Garcia said...

I am extremely disappointed to hear the bad news about Sierra Nevada. For over a year, I sort of got away from my main brew, Samuel Adams Boston Lager, and was buying SN's Pale Ale. It's truly a great American pale ale but upon learning of their unrepentant support for abortion (thanks to the Court Jester and this site), I will no longer buy it. I went back to Sam a while ago and have only occasionally bought SN; not any more. By the way, for the same reason I hope no one banks at Bank of America.

Anonymous said...

"I wish there was some online database of which companies support what, to guide Catholics towards supporting companies with Catholic sensibilities and not."

THAT would be a great idea de liliis! I couldn't agree more.

Also, I agree with the statement about forgiveness. Take Sam Adams off the boycott list, but as a priest once told me, "There is a difference between forgiving and forgetting." They bear watching for their future actions.

Anonymous said...

If you're looking for another good Catholic brewery, how about the Spoetzl Brewery of Shiner, Texas?

Those folks make a nice beer I think.

James Garrison said...

I had thought of exploring the Sierra Nevada brews, but now, I figure I won't. I've been happy to be able to get Summit here in Chicago, and I just liked them for the beer, that the chairman is a pro-life catholic is gravy at this point. I liked their "Grand" which they renamed "Pilsener".

Thanks for the info.


Cassandra said...

I'm shocked you're going to let Miller off the hook for their old "token apology to pacify objections gambit."

This isn't the first time they've been sponsoring pervert events and I can assure you they aren't going to stop any time soon.

Corporate america is out of control. All the more reason to support smaller breweries and micro-breweries where the management is much more likely to be accessible to customers.

PalmHQ said...

Actually, although I'm not a big fan of the Catholic League, I was taking my cue from their stance regarding Miller and its apology. But if there has indeed been a pattern of this sort of thing from Miller then I could easily change my mind.

And your suggestion to deal as much as possible with smaller, more accountable businesses is a good one. And that applies to more than just beer. There are many reasons why it makes a lot of sense to buy locally as much as possible.

Cassandra said...

David said.. if there has indeed been a pattern of this sort of thing from Miller then I could easily change my mind.

A little googling for Miller and GLBT should satisfy your question on that. It's not just been festivals and events that someone might (weakly) argue are merely social gatherings, it's been the sadomasochistic events like International Mr. Leather. (I would warn people about being careful what pages you might open if you investigate. You'd be surprised at the images that might get downloaded. I wouldn't do it at work).

Donahue is an obnoxious loud-mouth. While it would be good to have an organization to unite serious Catholics in protesting such sacrileges, the expression "with friends like those who needs enemies" comes to mind. I'm afraid with the assimilation of Catholics into the mainstream culture, outrage has gone the way of the League of Decency.

The problem with the Catholic League's acceptance of the apology is that it's not in keeping with Catholic moral theory. Miller must not only apologize but must make restitution such as it can. The League should demand that Miller make public reparation to the Sacred Heart. Since a Catholic would have to undergo "sensitivity training" if he offended the LGBT crowd, Miller management should be required to attend a catechism retreat with say, Fr. Corapi, so they'll learn why that might be offensive to Catholics.

I read an article perhaps 10 years ago that made the (solid IMO) case that morality in our culture would come to be dictated by corporate America. What's good for business will dictate what corporate America will require from those expecting to work for them and with them, including vendors.

On a morbid humorous note, I just caught a news blurb explaining why Kennedy went to NC to have brain surgery. According to the correspondent, the surgeon there "is on the cutting edge" of brain tumor treatment.

Anonymous said...

Are you folks serious? Do you not think you're taking this too far? This only shows me why catholicism continues to become less relevant every day. I never liked Summit that much anyway...

Mpls Simpleton said...

As a close aquaintance of Mark (Owner of Summit) I doubt he would accept any sort of nomination from hateful homophobes.

PalmHQ said...

No worries, Simpleton. There aren't any hateful homophobes here at CBR.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Catholics should stop using gas powered vehicles, since oil is the root of many unholy activities. GO BOYCOTT!!!

PikaPikaChick said...

The moment Summit Brewing Company starts touting any kind of anti-choice or pro-religion (ANY religion) is the day I stop drinking it. It would be a pity, as their EPA and IPA are in my top 5 list.

Isn't it enough that good beer could be a religion in and of itself?

Tim J. said...

"This only shows me why catholicism continues to become less relevant every day."

Is that why atheists spend so much time, ink and breath trying to shout down the Church? 'Cause it's irrelevant?

Cassandra said...


It's always amusing to read about simpletons who accuse Catholics of being homophobic for merely speaking the truth. It reveals the simpleton as a hateful anti-Catholic bigot.


While it is generally not incumbent upon a Catholic businessman to "tout" Catholicism in his daily business, it is incumbent upon him not to deny it. One can certainly see from your profile why you would be opposed to Catholic teachings and would even boycott an explicitly Catholic business. Surely then you would also understand why a Catholic would want to boycott businesses supporting things offensive to Catholics? Consistency and fairness would dictate that.

Scott said...

Maybe Catholics should stop using gas powered vehicles, since oil is the root of many unholy activities. GO BOYCOTT!!!

Thanks for an opportunity to explain Catholic teaching. The problem with Sierra funding an abortion mill is that it is an example of formal cooperation with evil on their part. That is, they are not only help abortionists, they approve of abortion. As Jeff Miller said however, it is not necessarily sinful for a Catholic to drink them as the proximity to it is remote, but it is close enough that it is seemly and just for a Catholic to boycott it.

In the case of oil, it may very well be that our use of oil as well as various people in the oil business support evil things. But again please recall Jeff Miller's second response above--it's remote cooperation with evil. God bless you.

Anonymous said...
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rsalko said...

sierra nevada was my favorite beer.
but i wont drink it anymore. Jesus will be happy with my decision. I hope he will bless my homebrewing if its ment to be, because my first attemps are not good.