There’s a short list of breweries responding appropriately when challenged over poor marketing but Garage Project’s decision to discontinue the label and name of Death From Above, and perhaps stop brewing the beer altogether, is a positive reaction, and outcomes to an unfortunate episode.

You could argue that Garage Project took a little too long to react seriously  to the critiques over the name and label imagery. The beer has been around since 2013 and when faced with criticism (some of which was contrived) GP’s initial stance was to explain their point of view and hope that was enough. But defending yourself by describing what you intended is a long way from understanding how others feel. It’s like making a really bad racist or sexist joke that falls flat and then saying “I didn’t mean it that way …”

When you realise you’ve caused harm and hurt you can’t keep up the pretence that your intention is defence enough.

Art is one area where you could defend provocative or inflammatory images and while Garage Project pride themselves on their label art, the bottom line is that they’re selling beer and in this case the label and artwork is part of the marketing, not a cultural or political statement.

Perhaps in the four years since Death From Above was first released, GP hadn’t really understood the problem, or perhaps they needed someone to paint the picture so clearly they couldn’t help but see.

The Facebook post from Tony Dancer which sparked the change articulates the heart of the matter.

“I have recently come across one of your beers labelled ‘Death From Above’. This Indochine pale ale boasts Vietnamese inspired flavours, such as mango, lime, Vietnamese mint and chili, replicating a Vietnamese mango chili salad. Accompanying these flavours, you have named this beer ‘Death From Above’, with images of napalm-dropping helicopters flying over what appears to be a Vietnamese landscape on the label. On your website, the description of this beer ironically states that, “This is a beer of harmony, not of conflict.”

Garage Project, what would compel you to create such a blatantly racist, triggering, and insensitive label? Why would you pair a Vietnamese inspired beer with a label that depicts a scene that killed and maimed 100,000 Vietnamese people? Not only was napalm spread across Vietnam during the Vietnam War, but the devastating effects can be witnessed to this day.

Upon reflection to this question, I came up with only two plausible answers: 1) either this label comes from a place of pure sadism and hatred towards the Vietnamese people, or 2) you are completely ignorant of what napalm is and of its effects….

Beyond pure ignorance and sadism, the only way I can fathom someone creating such a label is if you were spreading awareness of the ongoing effects of horrendous war tactics such as agent orange and napalm, with an aim of donating the proceeds to victims of war in Vietnam. If so, great work! …but I would still suggest changing the name and logo to something less triggering and insensitive.”

 

I’m of an age where I can remember the Vietnam War clearly. We were living in the US on  military bases in the late-60s, early-70s and our family knew people who had lost loved ones in that horrific war. It was a common sight to see people wearing bracelets bearing the names of soldiers missing in action.

And I was the same age as Phan Thi Kim Phuc, when the nine-year-old appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1972 running naked and terrified down the road as the jungle behind her and other children burned following a napalm attack.

Whenever I’ve heard discussion about the Death From Above label, it’s that image which springs to mind. But until now I never fully comprehended how the label could act as trigger, or the harm it can cause, to so many people who were caught up in that conflict directly and indirectly. I feel incredibly sad about the whole thing, not least my ignorance and tacit acceptance of the label.

Garage Project brewer and co-founder Pete Gillespie responded thoughtfully to Dancer’s Facebook post and accepted it was time to change the name and label As in the past, he explained the name as a reference to the motto of the US Army Airborne Division who feature in the movie Apocalypse Now. And that it’s the name of a band he likes. He went on to say:

“As is often the case, when something becomes part of your everyday life you stop paying attention to its meaning. However, it has become clear in the last couple of days that, separated from its original context, the name has deeply upset a great many people.

All I can say in response is that no offence was ever intended. The name was a pop cultural reference. It was never meant to be taken as an endorsement of military aggression or the use of napalm, or to be a racial slur of any type – quite the opposite. Apocalypse Now is certainly not a pro-war movie, and this beer was certainly never meant to be a pro-war beer.
However, while some have understood the intended reference, many have not and have been understandably offended.

In response I can only say that this was never my intention. It upsets me deeply to think that anyone would think of the Garage as being racist, or as glorifying acts of violence which wrought only misery and destruction on a country. For the record, racism sucks and violence, on the whole, is a shit way of solving international disputes.

For this reason I will not be brewing this beer again under this name.

For those who I have offended, please accept my genuine apology.

For those who love this beer, please also accept my apology. Brewing and beer should above all be fun, but it does not take place in a vacuum separated from our broader community. The offence I’ve caused, though unintended, saddens me greatly. There’s no fun in that.

We may at some point brew this beer again under another name… but not in the near future.”

Dancer’s Facebook post features plenty of typical social media outrage on both sides of the fence including those who take the attitude that people are “too easily offended” or that it’s “just beer, get over it” (I paraphrase here). The fact it’s “just beer” is a good reason to stop making it. Having some compassion for other people’s experience is way more important than selling a product. So good on you Pete and Garage Project for taking it seriously. 

If the beer does reappear under a new name and label it will be case of what’s inside the bottle taking precedence over what’s on the outside, which is one of the pillars of the craft revolution.

But if it doesn’t come back, I won’t miss it.

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