I learned of a political beer initiative the other day. It is called Coule Pas Chez Nous!, and it is a collaboration beer by an advocacy group of the same name partnering with 20 Quebec breweries. Some of the proceeds of the beer will go to fund the group’s campaign to stop the Energy East Pipeline. The beer, the organizers say, is also intended to raise awareness of the risk to Quebec’s rivers by the proposed pipeline, hence the tagline “A beer for our rivers”. It is a limited edition beer that will be sold in various outlets around Quebec. Here is a story about the beer. And for those of you that speak French, here is the campaign’s website.
I am going to stay a million miles away from any debate about whether Energy East is a good or bad idea – this site is not the vehicle for such a discussion. But the beer does bring two questions to my mind that I do ponder.
First, what is the role of beer in advancing a political cause? Most of the time breweries shy away from strong political stands for fear of offending a segment of their consumers. And most often when they do engage in community-based activities it is of the feel-good variety. Of course, we see breweries take stands in their own interest – over beer policy, taxation and the like – but that is more self-interest than political stance.
So this beer is unusual. Should these breweries be making such a public statement? As someone who is fairly interested and engaged in politics, my first inclination is to think “sure, it is their right”, but as I think about it a bit more I feel more mixed. How would I feel if TransCanada (the company proposing the pipeline) partnered with a brewery to brew up a pro-pipeline beer? Same issue, but now with a big corporation rather than a grassroots advocacy group. Or if a pro-death penalty organization created a beer to raise awareness for their campaign to bring back the death penalty? This is something I personally oppose and so I am using it as an example of an issue that would rub me the wrong way. Does it change my opinion?
On the surface I think I could still say it was their right, and simply avoid purchasing that particular beer. But there is an unease in my mind that won’t go away. Something just doesn’t quite sit right with me about private companies engaging in politics in that way. I think we naturally come to see our local small craft breweries as members of the community – and it a significant way they are. We come to know them as people. But, at the end of the day, the brewery itself is a for-profit company. Sure, the people behind it might be good people, but I think there is room to question whether the company (as opposed to the owners of the company who have every right to speak their minds, donate to causes, etc.) should be engaging in this activity.
Now, I come from a place as someone who, for example, supports banning union and corporate donations to political parties. I think democracy is for people, not companies. So take my musings in that context. Is a brewery, no matter how small and how much we like the people running it, all that different than some other business? I am not sure it is all that different.
My second question has to do with Dieu Du Ciel. The participating Quebec breweries are mostly brewpubs and small, locally-focused operations. So for them, the business downside is likely quite minimal. However, Dieu Du Ciel is also involved. I am not particularly surprised by that – I have met the owners and they are quite open and vocal about their politics (which I am fine with). But, DDC sells beer in Alberta (and other places). How might taking an anti-pipeline stance (in this case) affect their sales here?
In practical terms, I anticipate not much as most consumers will never hear of this one-time Quebec beer. However, follow my theoretical. Say you are an unemployed oil industry worker. You like craft beer. You hear about DDC’s stance on Energy East and their participation in a group opposing it. Do you stop buying their beer?
I can’t answer that question as I am not in that situation. But I can see how something that personal might affect consumer choices.
I bring this up just to raise questions. I have no clear answers in my own mind – which means, I suspect, the same may be true for many of you. Makes for good conversation over a pint or two, that is for sure.