Poor Choice of Beer Name of the Week: Belgian Congo Pale Ale

19 May

From John Edwin Mason (a blogger of some sort) via the fine folks at Wrongingrights:

Belgian Congo Pale Ale?  Or perhaps you’d like some Nazi Dachau Brandy?  Or some Soviet GulagVodka?

I’ve been alternating between anger and despair every since I found this ad on the back page of C-ville, my home town’s “alternative” weekly.  As absurd — as impossible — as it sounds, the Devils Backbone Brewing Company, of Roseland and Lexington, Virginia, is marketing an ale that celebrates a colonial regime that was responsible for the deaths of 10 million people, a crime that some argue constituted genocide.

It’s hard to know what the people at the Devils Backbone Brewing Company were up to…

It’s possible.  But how, then, would we account for the ad’s tag line:  The Horror?

That tag line tells us that whoever designed this ad knew about the crimes of the Congo.  Knew that Joseph Conrad had written about them in his great novella Heart of Darkness.  Knew that Conrad had put the words “The horror!  The horror!” into the mouth of his character Mr. Kurtz, the colonial agent who decorated his outpost with the severed heads of his African victims.

Heart of Darkness is fiction, but it’s fiction based on Conrad’s experiences in Leopold’s Congo.  The book, Conrad once said, “is experience… pushed a little (and only very little) beyond the actual facts of the case.”

If we’ve eliminated ignorance, how do we make sense of the people at Devils Backbone Brewing Company and their ale?

At the very least, they’ve decided to attract attention in one of the most cheap, cynical, and distasteful ways I can imagine.

At worse — and, under the circumstances, this is plausible — they are indeed celebrating genocide.

It seems unlikely that Devil’s Backbone Brewing Co. would make a beer for the purpose of celebrating genocide. Still, poor form Devil’s Backbone.

John Edwin Mason was able to get a response from the head brewer at Devil’s Backbone, which is worth a read only because its all a bit silly:

1) I named it because I was interested in the hypothetical “what if” premise of a pale hoppy beer the Belgians would have brewed (right or wrong for their “infamous” colony) that could have survived a tropical journey.  It was born of historical (revisionist) curiosity that has since morphed into a more contemporary Belgian-style IPA.  Even though I was aware of the terrible legacy of the colony, I was first and foremost interested in the technical aspect and not the cultural weight of Belgians involvement in the Congo.

2) “Belgian” added to the name was meant to help identify what vein of beer it is, for example : “Belgian IPA” or “Belgian Witbier”.  Belgian beers are complex and varied but often share the thread of being somewhat fruity in nature (from the unique yeast strains used).  “Belgian” being added to “Congo Pale Ale” was not meant to make light of the brutal colonial horror but to help describe some of the beers flavor to the consumer.

And for the beer fanatics out there, Belgian Congo Pale Ale can be found at the Whole Foods in Vienna, Virginia and has a highly respectable 4.06 rating on beer advocate (though only 7 reviewers).

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One Response to “Poor Choice of Beer Name of the Week: Belgian Congo Pale Ale”

  1. Chelsea May 19, 2012 at 6:24 pm #

    Perfect example of this dynamic: http://jezebel.com/5905291/a-complete-guide-to-hipster-racism

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