June 25, 2011

A Modest Proposal: No More Tarts, Devil Chicks, or Mermaids

One of the areas where craft has succeeded is in attracting to beer more female drinkers: women with refined palettes (generally, women do have better tasting range than men), those with sympathy for the craft and community-friendly nature of craft breweries, or just random fans of hoppiness that also happen to have two X chromosomes.

This is a good thing for the craft movement, and it helps that our beer industry is more focused on actual things, and less focused on busty lifeguards, referees, or whatever it is the macros have decided constitutes "marketing" this week.

But we are hardly blameless. Every now and then, I go on a bit of a tirade about how lazy designers at lazy breweries use sexily depicted ladies as some type of personification of their beer. I have said I think this plays to a frathouse element that is at best limiting one's appeal and at worst doing damage to craft beer as a whole.

And here are some examples of what I am talking about:

Every year, Bridgeport Brewing brews a beer called the Stumptown Tart, and puts on it some type of scantily clad pin-up woman in a color that implies the flavor of the beer.
It's not as bad as it could be, given the classic look of the woman (which they hold pretty constant), but why are we doing this? The word "tart" is a synonym for promiscuous woman or a prostitute... it is not a nice word, and I don't see why we had to jump to a woman for it. It's like the need to associate "blonde" (as in the type of ale) with a busty woman with blond hair; it's just lazy. I get that this beer has brand equity and it's not going anywhere, but I cringe every time this label shows up.

What's that? You're unaware of more sexual innuendo?
Red Ryder! Get it? RYDER! Ride her! And she's got red hair! Label text even talks about the beer like it's a feisty woman who wants to have sex with you (Really, she doesn't. Because she's not real).

Seriously, stop it. Your designer, Barret Thomson, is talented. Don't squander good work on a cheap joke.

Then there's the whole she-devil thing:
I used Trade Route Brewing Company because it displays less talent than normal, but there are lots of breweries that use the devil-chick motif. It's not even that it's always bad. Look at Rapscallion Brewery's:
Not exactly a Raphael, but she looks like a lovely, intelligent young devil who enjoys beer and clearly understands the importance of proper glassware. And the brewery is called Rapscallion, for crying out loud, so it has to have some mischievous connotations. If it were just her, I think we'd all be fine.

But this is overdone, okay? We've had enough. Putting flames on your label, horns over boobs, and using the word "bitch" in red font is the epitome of lazy marketing. Do better.

Then, we have mermaids.
First, an image of a naked lady with a fishtail in the actual beer may not make people want to drink it. Second, yes, this is bad design, with the bright pink and childish renderings. But the important thing here is that, like with the devils, this has been done too many times for it to ever be as clever as you think it is. No, the reference to Dolly Parton does not make this somehow funny.

Now, of course, all things can be done well.
Tony Beard is awesome, and this actually is a great piece, in spite of the fact that it uses the bad-girl cliche, the mermaid cliche, and the busty blonde cliche. The reason it works is because of details. The mermaid actually resembles a real person, with tattoos and piercings. Yes, she's unrealistically hot and shoving her chest at us, but at least she could be a real person. There's some respect for the subject and viewer there. Do I wish they hadn't given it a stupid name? Of course, but at least there's a there there.

And the Smuttynose Star Island Single is a great example of how to use photography and fantastic themes together to create good art.

Admit it, this is pretty cool.
But again, just because someone talented did it well, that doesn't mean we need to see a lot more of it. There are too many mermaids, devil chicks, and strumpets on labels out there. It's old, it's lazy, it's boring, and it's chauvinist.

I call for a moratorium on all of these things, along with the freshman year Halloween parade of "sexy" angels, and the much-addressed blondes-as-blondes idea, which is so lazy it refuses to use a synonym. Before we can have any more of this rote, mindless marketing, I say we must see the following things on craft beer labels:

  • A fat devil (male or female)
  • A merman (photographed or drawn, but without a trident. Poseidon definitely doesn't count)
  • A female figure with glasses and a book (no, I do not mean a "naughty librarian")
  • Scantily clad men clearly designed to be manwhores, illustrating your beer's loose morals and willingness to bend the rules
  • Any IPA or Imperial Stout marketed primarily with the color pink
  • A lack of the word "sassy," "naughty," "playful," or "teasing" on any label for an entire year

When all that has happened, perhaps naked-she-devil-prostitute-mermaids will be new again. Or perhaps enough time will have passed that people will realize they can do better. Either way, some time off can't hurt any of us.


  1. "No, the reference to Dolly Parton does not make this somehow funny."

    The Dolly Varden is a fish commonly found in Alaskan waters.

  2. You're only skimming the top (or should it be bottom) of this issue. Cheers for pointing out the lack of originality in this practice. Also, cheers for the suggestions. Sadly, I doubt any male-dominated brewery will take you up on those, but it would be cool to see a woman-owned brewery objectify men a bit.