Buxton and Omnipollo stand by ‘Yellow Belly’ beer’s message after backlash

The founders of UK-based Buxton Brewery and Sweden’s Omnipollo have defended their Yellow Belly beer’s packaging after it caused offence at a bar in the US.

A bar in Connecticut has stopped selling the “anti-racist” beer, which is covered in a wrap designed to resemble the white hood of the Ku Klux Klan, after it was recommended to a a black customer without a warning on its appearance.

An unnamed black man was dining with a friend at the World of Beer on Friday (10 July) when a server recommended a bottle of Yellow Belly to him, priced at US$40 (£31.68).

The collaborative brew was initially developed in 2014 as part of Berkshire brewery Siren’s Rainbow Project Challenge, in which 14 breweries are paired up and tasked with creating a beer inspired by the colours of the rainbow.

Inspired by the political climate at the time,  Buxton and Omnipollo developed an 11% peanut butter and biscuit Imperial stout (brewed with neither peanuts or biscuits), and packaged it in paper deliberately designed to denounce organisations such as the KKK. The bottle itself bears a label which says: “One of the most cowardly deeds is to act anonymously, hiding behind a group. A signifying trait of institutionalized racism.”

Yellow Belly has since developed a cult following in the craft beer world, but was discontinued in 2018 over a trademark dispute with another brewery in the UK.

Although Buxton and Omnipollo have stopped making the beer, it can still be found in some bars and bottle shops around the world, often with a hefty price tag.

In a private Facebook post that has made its way into the public domain, the man’s wife said he was not informed about the beer’s backstory, and not given a warning about its appearance.

“This KKK bottle was brought over without warning about its appearance,” she wrote.

“At best, the server was ignorant, insensitive and tone deaf. At worst…?”

World of Beer has since pulled the beer from its menu, and issued a public apology on Monday (13 July).

The brewers themselves, however, have stood behind the beer’s design, restating it is meant to provoke a response and ridicule organisations such as the KKK.

 

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I am black man, father of three black boys, and in my youth I was both harassed and beaten for being black. As such I personally wanted to write a response to the recent media coverage of our beer Yellow Belly (first brewed in 2014, now discontinued due to trademark dispute). We want to use our craft to talk about the things that matter to us. As a black owned and operated brewery, in the case of Yellow Belly, it was brewed to show a deep concern over racism in Europe, the United States and beyond. A question that has run through the DNA of our company since it’s founding ten years ago. The more specific message was and still is that light needs to be shed on the quiet and creeping racism that is sweeping through Europe and the world, leading to acts of inhumanity. Quote from the bottle of Yellow Belly: To us, one of the most cowardly deeds is to act anonymously, hiding behind a group. A signifying trait of institutionalized racism. This beer is brewed to celebrate all things new, open minded and progressive. A peanut butter biscuit stout with no biscuits, butter or nuts. Taste, enjoy, and don’t be prejudiced. We fully acknowledge that the format is unconventional and taken out of context can be both confusing and unintentionally offensive. As such we hope to engage our audience in this question now and going forward. CEO and co-founder, Henok Fentie #omnipollo

A post shared by OMNIPOLLO®️👄 (@omnipollo) on

“Our collaborative beer was created some six years ago, in an effort to promote and provoke discussion and awareness around the horror of racism, prejudice, hatred and inequality,” Buxton Brewery’s founder, Geoff Quinn, told the drinks business.

“We wished to draw attention to the insidious manner in which increasing numbers of people were prepared to express views of hatred and intolerance, but often, only anonymously, such as from secrecy of the ballot box.”

Omnipollo’s founder, Henok Fente, took to Instagram to deliver his own statement on the controversy. Fente said he accepts the beer’s wrapping can be “unintentionally offensive” when the context isn’t fully explained, but stood by the original message.

“As a black owned and operated brewery, in the case of Yellow Belly, it was brewed to show a deep concern over racism in Europe, the United States and beyond. A question that has run through the DNA of our company since it’s founding ten years ago.

“The more specific message was and still is that light needs to be shed on the quiet and creeping racism that is sweeping through Europe and the world, leading to acts of inhumanity.

“We fully acknowledge that the format is unconventional and taken out of context can be both confusing and unintentionally offensive. As such we hope to engage our audience in this question now and going forward.”

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