Thursday 18 February 2016

Flower Power : Hopping Mad About Queer Beer

One of my articles during Advent was about the transgender properties of various evergreens. At the beginning of November another cross-gender plant hit the UK headlines. This time is was a variety of hops that was used to make what was labelled as the “world’s first non-binary, transgender beer”.

The Scottish brewer BrewDog launched a new beer going by the name of No Label in November in its newest pub. Situated in the gay haven of Soho, London, the brewers said that premiering the new beer in that location emphasised that “just like humans, beer can be whatever the hell it wants to be, and proud of it.”

What makes No Label beer “transgender” is that it is made from hop flowers that have changed gender. Just like the evergreens mentioned last year there are male and female plants. In hops it is usually only female plants that produce the female flowers that are used in brewing. This is because they are larger and more developed. Very often brewers remove all male plants because they have smaller seedless flowers and are sterile.

When female hop plants start to grow male flowers it is often a sign of distress. Just like the evergreens it may be a means of conserving energy and nutrients.

The No Label beer is brewed primarily from the smaller male hops flowers from a variety of hops called Jester. This recently developed variety was developed and “patented” by Charles Faram and Company, hop merchants of Worcestershire, who claim Jester is prone to “altering sex” naturally.

The new beer was developed with the intention of appealing to the lgbt community, even though some sections of the community have criticised BrewDog over their perceptions of transgender issues.

BrewDog caused controversy last September when they began running an advertising campaign which many found to be transphobic. The ad featured, amongst others, a couple of bearded men dressed as female sex-workers posing seductively in a window. The criticism wasn’t universally negative but the boss of BrewDog revealed his less than understanding nature by criticising his critics online in a less than understanding manner. He referred to people who signed an online petition as “armchair clicktavists”.

When No Label beer was launched the UK’s leading lgbt charity Stonewall gave it a mixed reception. They questioned BrewDog’s interpretation of “non-binary” and “transgender beer”. At the same time they welcomed BrewDog’s intention of donating all profits from the sale of No Label to a London-based organisation called Queerest of the Queer. BrewDog had been discussing the beer with Queeerest of the Queer for a while before it was launched. Naturally, Queerest of the Queer has nothing but praise for No Label. But things are not quite as philanthropic as it seems.

Queerest of the Queer is not a registered charity. It is a commercially-run entertainment organisation which produced festivals for lgbt performers to showcase their talents. In turn, Queerest of the Queer is a collaborative project involving three other commercially-run entertainment organisations. I don’t want to sound cynical by saying that BrewDog’s involvement is purely commercial, being as No Label will be sold at Queerest of the Queer events, but when you look at the figures lgbt charities will benefit very little.

BrewDog says that all profits from the sale of No Label go to Queerest of the Queer. In turn, Queerest of the Queer says on its website that they donate 10% of their own profits to the Albert Kennedy Trust, a charity that deals with homeless lgbt youth in London. They do not mention if they too will donate the 100% they receive from BrewDog will go to the Albert Kennedy Trust or any other charity. In effect, only 10% of the profits from No Label will actually go to charity. Queerest of the Queer hasn’t said where the other 90% might be going.

Whether the No Label beer, and the controversy, will continue or fade away only time will tell. I’m not an alcohol drinker, so I have no reason to buy a bottle, but I’m sure many of you do drink. At the end of the day it’s down to the quality of the beer, even if only 10% of the profit actually reaches the charitable causes the brewers want to be seen to support.

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