“None of this is done out of hate, none of this is done out of making fun of it,” Jon Duncan, co-owner of craft brewery Lakeville Brew Crew recently told the South Bend Tribune. “That was to bring awareness to the issues.”
Duncan is referring to the controversial names of his and fellow co-owner Rodney Chlebek’s beers — “Flint Michigan Tap Water,” “Black Beer Matters,” “White Guilt,” “Mass Graves”— which have, unsurprisingly, prompted negative backlash.
The Tribune reports Duncan and Chlebek “want their beer to do the talking for itself,” but many feel the pair have questions to answer.
“The way I look at it — 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,” Duncan said. “If I can bring some attention to that, whether it be negative attention toward me, it still brings attention to that issue.”
With the ever-increasing competition in the craft beer market, however, others in the industry view the contentious names as nothing more than a marketing ploy. Speaking to the Detroit Free Press, Dayna Tran, co-owner of Michigan-based Eternity Brewing Co, questioned the pairs motivation.
“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,” Tran said.
Regardless of motivation, the fact remains that Lakeville Brew Crew could, and likely will, profit from the sensitive issues its misguided names are supposed to “highlight.” For sure, the Brewers Association will not be impressed, after it announced measures to curb such offensive beer names last year. Just how craft beer drinkers will react remains to be seen.[…]
Will beer names bring the right kind of attention to new Lakeville brewery?
LAKEVILLE — Owners of a new brewery opening in Lakeville want their beer to do the talking for itself, but they also don’t mind starting deeper conversations through the names of their craft beers.
With titles including “Flint Michigan Tap Water,” “Black Beer Matters,” “White Guilt” and “Mass Graves,” Jon Duncan and Rodney Chlebek acknowledge the names are likely to create a reaction from people. But, according to Duncan, at least people will be talking about current issues.
“The way I look at it — 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 said. “If I can bring some attention to that, whether it be negative attention toward me, it still brings attention to that issue.”
Duncan and Chlebek plan to release up to eight other beers with potentially contentious names when their brewery, Lakeville Brew Crew, at 124 S. Michigan St., opens in the fall.
Duncan has a reason behind every name. The stout will be called “Black Beer Matters” because, according to Duncan, stouts and porters are the least popular of all craft beers. But “they are good beers and they matter,” he said.
The Russian Imperial Stout will be called “Mass Grave” because, Duncan said, “we all know Stalin has mass graves all over Russia somewhere. Nobody knows where they are, but they are there.”
And the Belgian White beer will be called “White Guilt” because of Duncan’s friends who get upset about the other names.
“If people can come and talk to us about (the names), that would be fine. … None of this is done out of hate, none of this is done out of making fun of it,” Duncan said. “That was to bring awareness to the issues.”
Some marketing professionals, however, are skeptical about whether breweries should start such discussions and point out that there is a fine line between what can be perceived as an honorable cause and what comes off as a marketing ploy.
“A lot of people, especially young people, want to work and support a good local business that also does good work, so it is not at all a crazy thing that he is trying to do,” said Elanor Williams, an assistant marketing professor at Indiana University Kelley School of Business. “There might just be a more direct way to do it. … It’s even tough for giant companies to acknowledge issues and it just often comes off as, well, kind of weird. It looks like marketing instead of caring, and customers can tell the difference.”
Another IU Kelley School of Business marketing professor noted that controversy could undercut the primary goal the brewery: to sell beer.
“People with the best intentions of starting discussions must be very careful about the discussion and not alienation,” said Greg ‘Kitz’ Kitzmiller, a Uline Distinguished Lecturer of Marketing. “If it is going to be offensive to a popular group, you are not supporting your business of selling beer.”
Duncan and Chlebek both believe the taste of their beer will sell itself. Chlebek works as the primary brewer and said he became interested in the trade after a friend introduced him to something other than his once go-to drink of American Pilsner.
“I think I was just impressed with how it tasted different and it wasn’t your run-of-the-mill beer, so I just kept experimenting with my taste buds and flavors,” Chlebek said. “So I liked it so much that I tried to figure out what made it taste that way and once I figured it out, then I just started making (the beer) and I had made them for a few years.”
“What I tell everybody is that Rod makes great beer,” Duncan said. “I’m not here to sell the beer, I’m here to sell a good time because the beer is going to sell itself.”
The idea of the brewery began two years ago, when Duncan, who lives on the south side of South Bend and visits friends in Lakeville, heard rumors that Jack’s Bar was for sale. He thought the town was a great location because it sits between County Roads 4 and 6. So he and Chlebek set their sights on the town with a population of 786 and leased a 4,000-square-foot building across the street from Jack’s in June.
Duncan said the recent re-route of U.S. 31 was more of blessing for the town than a death sentence.
“The new 31 makes it a prime location for us, or at least I look at it that way,” Duncan said. “People will travel for a brewery and Lakeville needed something out here besides the Working Person’s Store and Jack’s.”
The duo plan to make the bar a family-friendly space in time for Memorial Day in 2019, with plans to renovate the upstairs into a game room with televisions and an outdoor area with cornhole and barbeque. Duncan has big dreams for the brewery, pointing to tactics Walt Disney used when the cartoonist created his theme parks.
“Walt Disney knew what he was doing and I plan on making Lakeville the Walt Disney of beers,” Duncan said. “This is all about beer. Yeah, we are going to have fun with the food and yeah, we’re going to have fun with the atmosphere. But it’s a brewery, so it’s all about the beer.”