You love the blog, so subscribe to the Beervana Podcast on iTunes or Soundcloud today!

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Burnside Kali Ma: Kosher Cultural Reappropriation?

Burnside Brewing is releasing a new beer, one freighted with substantial cultural and religious meaning.  Their gloss from the press release:
Kali-Ma, is inspired by the Hindu goddess and her tribute in the movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The name Kali comes from kāla, which means black, time, death, lord of death, Shiva. Kali-Ma the beer is an Imperial wheat ale or wheat wine made with toasted cardamom, fenugreek, and cumin spices added in addition to almost 400 pounds of apricot. Fermented with a Belgian ale yeast harvested from Upright Brewing. We then dry hop it with 8 pounds of scotch bonnet and native India dandicut peppers.

Come worship "the black one" Kali as the ultimate reality or Brahman this Tuesday!
Hindu gods are almost irresistible to Americans.  To Yanks, they're gothic in a graphic novel mode, exotic, and very difficult to relate to as divinity.  Thus do they get repurposed as packaging to hawk just about every product sold in America.  Thanks to India Pale Ales, they do a lot of heavy lifting in the beer realm in particular.  Kali is particularly vivid, and the label art exploits her most exotic qualities. Even the mention of that crappy second Indy movie is instructive: so offensive was the movie to Hindus that the Indian government banned it (though admittedly they're quick to ban controversial art).  So, leaving aside the beer, which I haven't tried, is this 1) a silly but harmless reappropriation of Indian religious themes, or 2) an (albeit unintentionally) offensive use of Indian religion?

I'm a bit on the fence.  A lot of this is context.  It would be tremendously offensive to place the image of Muhammad, offensive to many Muslims by its very existence, on a bottle of beer.  But Hindu gods are regularly harnessed to sell products even in India.  Beer?  Okay, that moves us closer to the line.

It would have been nice if Burnside had done enough research that they didn't have to cut and paste Kali's description right off the Wikipedia page.  Kali is an interesting figure in Indian cosmology.  The description mentions that her name means time, and this begins to hint at her significance.  She is the destructive force that in identical to the creative force--with birth must inevitably come death.  The Hindi word for tomorrow, कल, is the same as the word for yesterday.  The Indian cycle of rebirth is something to be escaped; Kali is part of the creative/destructive nature of the fallen world we inhabit, samsara, 

How does all that relate to a wheat wine?  Beats me, but it would have been nice to see it worked into the whole concept a bit more adroitly.  And that last reference to brahman?  Don't even get me started....


  1. I think someone is taking the name of the beer wayyyy too seriously

  2. I can see it being a little offensive, maybe, but I think even worse, it seems extremely poorly done from a marketing standpoint. The label looks like ajunior high school art flunk-out designed it.

  3. Offensive use of Indian religion? I don't know--we'd have to ask a Hindu I guess.

    I'd say the beer sounds like the offensive part. A spiced and peppered imperial fruit-wheat beer?
    The label is the part of the whole train wreck I like. If you're invoking Indian Jones, you have to healthy dose of D&D artwork.

  4. The only thing offensive about Temple of Doom is that Short Round didn't get his own spinoff. So I say respect should be given to this great sophomore offering from the Indy franchise. But Short Round says it best, "Hey lady! You call him Dr. Jones!"

  5. Samurai--if you knew how much of my life I spent studying Hinduism and Buddhism, you'd thank me for my restraint.

  6. I'm still trying to figure out what's going on with their normal logo.

  7. A severed head on a pole? If you're going for a Temple of Doom reference, clearly the more delicious choice is Chilled Monkey Brain.

  8. Upset Hindus have urged Burnside Brewing Company not to release its “Kali-Ma” beer proposed for May 15, calling it inappropriate.
    It is inappropriate to use Hindu deities or concepts or symbols for commercial or other agenda as it hurts devotees. Goddess Kali is highly revered in Hinduism and she is meant to be worshiped in temples, not used in selling beer for mercantile greed.
    This type of misuse is offensive to a billion Hindus including me.

  9. via @burnsidebrewco "This tuesdays release of Kali-Ma has been canceled until the beer can be renamed. We regret any offense or inconvenience to our fans"