This week, the beer news website I edit published an article about women who brew while pregnant. The article was spurred by 10 Barrel’s Portland pub brewer Whitney Burnside’s birth of a healthy baby the day before publication (I guess the article was gestating for some time, as well). Two other brewers were interviewed for the article, and it presented a view of the compounding challenges of being both a woman and pregnant on the brew deck, and was presented in a fairly neutral voice; the article received rare praise on the Instagram account @worstbeerblog. It was the first article of its kind that I’ve ever read.
I realize that I’m referencing somewhat obscure social media events rather than reporting actual news; this is a blog, after all. Bear with me as I navigate these 21st Century jellyfish-infested waters.
Two days later, Flat Tail founder and brewer Dave Marliave pulled out the big guns when he saw a semi trailer in Corvallis emblazoned with his brewery’s slogan (Dam Good Beer), but bearing the 10 Barrel masthead. Flat Tail does not own any semis that I know of. The Facebook and Instagram posts hit the waves with a flourish of renewed disdain for the Bend-based brewery, which was bought by AB InBev in 2014.
Obviously, the flimsy but common link between these two events is 10 Barrel. Some months ago, I posed a grammatical question to the Beervana Facebook group regarding the pronoun used when talking about a brewery. I was surprised to hear so much backlash against calling a brewery “it.” There were some compelling arguments, mainly having to do with “breweries are comprised of people.” I relaxed my obsession (which was instilled in me by my first Northwest Brewing News editor, Alan Moen, who insisted that a brewery is “it”), but still feel that a brewery (which is also a collection of tanks, a spreadsheet of taxable barrels, and a business license – you know, non-people objects) is an “it.” It is a thing and a place.
The diagram I’m attempting to draw is about the dichotomy of the people who work for a brewery and the semi-collective (or totally despotic, whatever) decisions made on behalf of the [Brewery Name, LLC].
Whitney is a human brewer. Apparently, she is a “she,” a “her,” and/or a “they” based on personal preference and the number of people in the room. I don’t think there’s an argument that a sentence should read, “10 Barrel brewer Whitney Burnside brewed up her annual batch of Wolfsbane Weizenbock.” [not an actual beer] But run it up the corporate ladder: “10 Barrel released their annual batch of King of Beers Berliner Weisse,” (ha ha) and we have a problem [aside from that also not being an actual beer]. How many breweries comprise 10 Barrel? Well, several. Does it matter in this instance? No. We are referring to the “royal” 10 Barrel (ho ho), which is an umbrella name for everything in the 10 Barrel kingdom (and hee hee); not the brewers who mashed it.
As a writer, overcoming the inevitable awkwardness of using “it” instead of “they” as appropriate takes time and thoughtful consideration of diction. English, as she’s writ these days, is as mutable as the weather so why even bother amirite? No, i not rite (read in Cookie Monster voice).
“Three Sheets Brewing have opened a taproom in downtown Albany.” Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? You’d never write or say it that way. I’ll offer that as proof that a brewery is “it.” It has. Further, substituting “the brewery” for the name of the brewery connotes an “it”; nor would you say, “the brewery are…”
Coming to the defense of brewery as people during the online discussion, Alworth put his paw on my head (to which I very nearly cried uncle); yet he previously wrote that “There is No 10 Barrel” because it is owned by AB InBev. Or they are. I’m sure I read somewhere that people can’t be owned. This is an important distinction.
Other arguments in favor of “they/them” referred to AP style guidelines rules for gender non-binary persons or those of unknown gender; no reference to business entities there, so not really an argument (in English, at least; in Spanish a brewery, cerveceria, is feminine. Take that, male dominated industry!). My favorite, and probably the most compelling argument, suggested that “they” is a use of metonymy or synecdoche (closely related rhetorical terms, wherein a related part of the whole is used in place of the whole. “The suits are picking up the bill.” or “All hands on deck!”) In this instance, “they” would refer to all or some of the people who are part of the brewery. My only quarrel is that “they” is too vague. I’d rather: “The fermentors are churning out barely enough Sticky Hands to quench the public’s thirst for it.” Here, we know that the actual fermentors (tanks) are not actors, but are contained within the brewery context enough to not stretch the imagination. You could say, “The brewery is churning out…” or, “Matt is churning out…” and mean the same thing, except that subsequent references to those variations would use different third person singular pronouns! See, respectively: “It can barely keep up production.” / “He can barely keep up production.”
Beyond the trite semantic obsession, we arrive now at the intersection of Compassionate Humanism and Corporate Insouciance, where fenders have been mangled by ill-coordinated traffic lights. Insurance agents have been alerted and are looking for a scapegoat. Do we accuse Whitney, Ian, and Tonya of pasting signage to the semi trailer and driving it through Corvallis? Of course not! It is 10 Barrel’s oversight, and it was, for the most part, its (because “their” would implicate individuals who weren’t part of the decision) childish response to Flat Tail’s peeved grouse (with assistance from 10 Barrel founder and seller-out Chris Cox, whose giant bags of money definitely give him the right to act before thinking).
A tangent: Flat Tail’s pitchforking is not the first time it’s raised its voice at AB InBev (see photo). Some levelheaded friends of mine say it’s not helping Flat Tail’s cause to be so gruff, that the extent of its positive marketing is limited to the people who already know and care about the brewery and the issue. My response is that, as in our current political state, the center has inched to the right, and that it’s healthy for businesses and business owners to get loud when their values (and, in this case, slogans) are being exploited. I’ll tie it up here:
The vitriol against bought-up breweries has waned. The marketing has done its job. “Nothing Will Change,” right? Wrong. The scene has changed, and many, many people snatch AB InBev and MillerCoors’ ex-indie products off of grocery shelves without a qualm. The scene changed because the acquisition and intended success of those brands led them to acquire more shelf space than they had before. The businesses have changed; better safety standards, higher wages and benefits for employees, dedicated and well-funded marketing teams, and expanded brewing operations befitting a growing enterprise are proof positive.
Dick Cantwell and Steve Luke left Elysian after the buyout. They left, but Elysian, it kept going. Maybe the more personable pronoun left as well.