Brewery Halts Release Of Beers Called “White Guilt” And “Black Beer Matters”

Published July 20, 2018

"Black Beer Matters" was given the name because porters are an unpopular craft beer, but “they are good beers and they matter."

Indiana Beer Names

Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune
Rodney Chlebek, a co-owner of Lakeville Brew Crew.

You’ve probably had a discussion about politics over a few beers. It’s a pretty popular thing to do. A little less popular? Having those political conversations revolve around the name of the beer you’re drinking.

But the owners of an new brewery in Indiana sparked that particular conversation in mid-July when they publicly announced a list of contentious names for their beers.

The line of beers for the Lakeville startup, Lakeville Brew Crew, included “Black Beer Matters,” “Mass Graves,” “White Guilt,” and “Flint Michigan Tap Water.”

Owners Joe Duncan and Rodney Chlebek quickly received a slew of negative reviews for the tone-deaf names.

“Absolutely appalling. Inappropriate. Rude. Tasteless,” wrote one person from Tennessee on the company’s (now deleted) Facebook page. “This is not the way to bring attention to these issues,” she said.

“I refuse to allow this industry to be tainted by disgusting offensive names,” said Wendell Stalnaker, a sales rep for a craft brew wholesaler.

A West Virginia resident also took the brewery’s Facebook page to say if they thought the names were funny, then they don’t care about the people who went through the issues. “Not only that, buy you wanted to make a profit on it,” she wrote.

Duncan and Chlebek initially defended the beers’ names, telling the South Bend Tribune, “None of this is done out of hate, none of this is done out of making fun of it.”

Duncan also explained the reasoning behind the names. He said that “Black Beer Matters,” a play on the Black Lives Matter movement, was given the title because porters are the least popular craft beers. But “they are good beers and they matter,” he said.

The Russian Imperial Stout was named “Mass Graves” because “we all know Stalin has mass graves all over Russia somewhere,” said Duncan. (While Stalin was responsible for numerous mass graves, he was nonetheless the leader of Soviet Russia, not Imperial Russia.)

Clearly aware of the potential controversy, the Belgian White beer was called “White Guilt” for those who would get upset over the names.

Duncan Chlebek

South Bend TribuneJon Duncan and Rodney Chlebek.

The two men also denied that it was simply a marketing ploy, and could get people talking about the issues.

“The way I look at it,” Duncan said, “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 added, “If I can bring some attention to that, whether it be negative attention toward me, it still brings attention to that issue.”

But people close to the issues weren’t buying it.

“If the intent of Lakeville Brew Crew is to raise awareness of the Flint Water 
Crisis, perhaps owners instead should encourage patrons to donate to the United Way of Genesee County’s Flint Water Fund,” co-owner of Michigan based Eternity Brewing, Dayna Tran, told the Detroit Free Press.

On July 19, Duncan and Chlebek ultimately changed course, retracting the names.

“During this time, we have had numerous conversations about the best way to move forward with the partnership,” they said in a written statement. “The first thing that we had to do was accept that we made mistakes.”

They stated that wanted to move forward with opening the brewery in the fall.

“We neglected to put ourselves in the shoes of other people,” they wrote, adding, “We hope that the public will afford us the grace to move forward while keeping a greater sense of community in mind.”

Next, take a look at these 35 bizarre (and offensive) vintage ads. Then read about the sexist billboard that spurred protests in North Carolina.

Kara Goldfarb
Kara Goldfarb is a writer living in New York City who holds a Bachelor's degree in journalism from Ithaca College and hosts a podcast for Puna Press.
Kara Goldfarb
Kara Goldfarb is a writer living in New York City who holds a Bachelor's degree in journalism from Ithaca College and hosts a podcast for Puna Press.