Love not war. Finger on the pulse rather than the trigger.
Wellington brewery Garage Project have, in their seven years, managed to stay edgy but relevant, irreverent but serious about beer. Their only false step came with the imagery associated with their now defunct Death From Above, an IPA inspired by Vietnamese cuisine.
Initial critiques of the label claimed it glorified war, notably chemical weapons in the form of napalm as used during the Vietnam War. The brewery explained away this first round of flag-raising by directing critics to the fact Death From Above was the motto of the US Army Airborne Division as featured in the movie Apocalypse Now. For good measure they threw in a reference to the Canadian punk duo Death From Above.
But we all know explaining is losing.
A Facebook post from Tony Dancer last year re-raised the issue of the imagery on the label with the question. “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… I would suggest changing the name and logo to something less triggering and insensitive.”
Something clicked in Aro St and Garage Project co-founder and brewer Pete Gillespie responded to the post in a sensitive and appropriate manner, and shelved the beer. He admitted they hadn’t seen the wood for the trees with the label. “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.”
Inevitable complaints from the “PC gone mad” brigade followed the beer’s withdrawal as well as references to “precious snowflakes” and the rest of that Trumpian lexicon.
I wrote at the time that “if the beer does reappear under a new name and label it will be case of what’s inside the bottle (chili, mango, mint) taking precedence over what’s on the outside, which is one of the pillars of the craft revolution”.
And so it’s come to pass, Death From Above – the brand – is dead, buried 10 months now. But the beer is now reincarnated as Demus Favorem Amori, Latin for “we choose to stand for love”.
It’s a classic hawk turned dove and a more fitting symbol for beer’s traditional purpose: bringing people together.