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Monday, January 13, 2014

When Naming Goes Awry

An interesting email in the inbox this morning.
I was at Beermongers about a month ago and saw that Hop Valley had a beer on tap called "Mouth Raper IPA."  I had always known that beer as "MR IPA" or "Mr. IPA," but apparently the real name is--according to the bartenders there at Beermongers--Mouth Raper.  That's what it says on the keg and that's what it says on the bill of lading (according to said bartenders).  
I sent Hop Valley a tweet asking them to verify the name, but received no response.  In hindsight, I think my tweet was more accusatory instead of inquisitive, but the fact is they never responded.  

So my question is as follows:  Am I right in thinking this is totally inappropriate and insensitive?  Are Oregon craft brewers past the point the where they have to be crass or tasteless when naming their beers?  
Taking a quick cruise around the internet, I found enough evidence to confirm that this is the real name of  the beer.  I think it's pretty clear that the brewery gets how controversial it is, which is why it was so hard to track down in the first place.  To answer Oregone's question--yes, it is totally inappropriate and insensitive.  Undeniably.*  Given that this is a brewery with a beer called Double D Blonde, they probably need to pay special attention to the way they think about and depict women.  (And here's a handy rule of thumb: if you would be uncomfortable explaining the name of a beer to your seven-year-old daughter, maybe it's not a good name.)

On the other hand, I think it's worth acknowledging that we don't want to got too far down Outrage road.  Although Mouth Raper is an incredibly boneheaded name, you can see how they got there.  Trying to communicate the sense of hop intensity, they used a term without thinkinh about how wildly offensive it would be to many people.  In some cases, breweries use provocative names to drum up press, and sometimes they use them because they don't realize how provocative they'll be.  Back-of-the-envelope math puts the number of US beers somewhere in the 30,000 to 50,000 range.  Some of those are going to have ill-conceived names.

What should you do when you inadvertently learn you've used a racist, sexist, or religiously offensive name for your beer?  Dump the name and apologize.  What should we as beer drinkers do when a brewery dumps an offensive name and apologizes?  Accept it and move on.

As to Mouth Raper: the ball's in your court, Hop Valley.

*I could devote an entire blog to the hermeneutics of offensive speech.  Indeed, I suspect there are hundreds already in existence.  Discussions about offensive speech generally lead to bad place and hurt feelings, so you'll pardon me while I skip the "why" part of the rape-is-offensive post.  Think of your mothers, sisters, and daughters when you consider the term.  If you want to think very deeply about offensive speech, start reading Ta Nahisi CoatesThis article isn't a terrible place to start.

 Update: No, not about Hop Valley.  I finally got around to reading this post and realized (again!) that it needed a light edit.  I promise to learn.  But of course, I've been promising that for years.


  1. That's quite a classy label there. Shame they gave the beer such a shit name.

  2. Good post, Jeff. Clearly that's a regrettable beer name, especially when women are a huge and largely untapped market for craft beer.

    Just curious, would you also object to beers that would offend Mormons, such as Polygamy Porter or Epic's Elder Brett, which clearly pokes fun at Mormon missionaries? Check out the label:

  3. That's a great question. I spent the last two and a half years of high school in Salt Lake, so I have a personal interest in the question. The city government there has a famously antagonistic relationship to hooch, and they strongly controlled it before the 2002 Olympics (and still do in comparison to other states). Other cities are more or less severe, and Park City is a little resort community just outside Salt Lake--Wasatch's main market.

    Because of that, everyone in the region always took "Polygamy Porter" as a barb directed at the LDS leadership, not regular Mormons. It was political speech, very pointed, designed to expose what Wasatch saw as hypocrisy. Political speech gets a special dispensation. I think it's particularly the case given that "polygamy" refers to a practice, not a person. Its offense isn't overt and direct, it's oblique and contextual.

    Which brings us to Elder Brett, a beer I haven't heard of. This seems a bit less defensible--more mocking and less political. I can't actually see the backstory, though, so it's hard to say.

  4. The fact that there isn't a beer called Rabbi Abbey or Hop Pope yet actually surprises me. Then, trying to think of a beer pun--because I KNOW you LOVE beer puns--with the word priest, I I plugged in Judas Yeast thinking that'd totally work...Already brewed...not by Oregon's Hop Valley but by Oregon's Beer Valley!

  5. I had that beer when it was on tap at Mongers, and not surprisingly, we discussed the inappropriateness of the name. I can take a joke and have no problem with "suggestive" beer names (or label art) but this one crosses the line. Hopefully Hop Valley will learn their lesson and think about the broader implications the next time they're tempted to go down a similar naming path.

  6. UGH. Let's just make it a whole, darned seasonal line-up, shall we? Sexual Assault Saison sounds like a winner for spring.

    Signed, craft beer drinking female.

  7. An internet search reveals other offensive beer labels. Not that Mouth Raper isn't offensive, just that other brewers also need to back off.

  8. Depending on how you keep score, Mouth Raper competes with and perhaps even tops Burnside's Kali-Ma as the most innocent, but nonetheless horrible idea for a beer name.

    That said, it's unfair to single out Hop Valley for "Double D" when blondes are a large, natural (ahem) target for sexualized names. Bombshell Blonde, Trashy Blonde, Sweaty Betty Blonde, Bikini Blonde, and Horny Blonde are just a few examples. If there is calling out to be done, it's on the industry as a whole.

  9. Err, to clarify: *sensory* assaults of any kind are colloquially referred to as "rape" nowadays. Sexual roots notwithstanding, the connotation is in line with activists' definition of rape as what is primarily an act of violence. I don't think there was any other intention.

    However in formal use, it isn't always wise to use what the kids are saying these days. A loaded word like "rape" definitely belongs in the Bad Idea category.

  10. Well written Jeff, and thanks for bringing the topic to light. I shudder to think that the smaller breweries need focus groups to green-light names but jeeze. I think the 7-year old daughter test is a good one.

    Switching gears to religious names - Schmaltz jumps to mind.

  11. Don't Schmaltz get a pass for being on the inside pissing out, as it were?

  12. I think you're right, Beer Nut. Language is so contextual. When we focus on only the words, we miss the meaning. Probably more ink has been devoted to the n-word than any other in the US, and so much of it avoids looking at the meaning of the communication. It would be VERY easy to harness anything Jewish and make it anti-Semitic. But when a Jew uses the language, imagery, and history to celebrate Jewishness, the context shifts. I've not heard of anyone being offended by Shmaltz (though it's a big world and probably someone has been), and that's just right.

  13. Some might say that your (and plenty of others) use of the word douche can be considered offensive too. Just because its more widely used in a certain way doesn't mean we should all be willing to consider our word choices. Should change them necessarily? Perhaps not. But just think about it for a minute or three.

  14. We did have a brewery in So Cal called "Donkey Punch" which has since been changed. Not sure how they got it approved in the first place?

  15. Yeah, Schmaltz get's a pass (probably) - I should have finished that thought. I wasn't bringing it up as a negative example - just an example.

    His book (Jeremy Cowan's book) "Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah" is a fairly interesting read and he's a heck of an entertainer. He speaks about using the beer line as a vehicle to promote Judaism and give back to the Jewish community.

    @ Brian S.- I might bite if douche made light of violence (especially towards women). I think, if we think about it for a minute, that while the objectification of women as sex objects is bad - trivializing rape is a whole 'nother level.

  16. Brian, correct about douche. I didn't use it and probably wouldn't personally--but there's a big difference between using it in a tweet and putting in on a tap handle. Context!

  17. Back to the original point, yes, calling your beer "mouth raper" is douchey. Everything offends someone, but a beer named after sexual violence -- not sure how that's supposed to be funny or clever. What's next -- a mixed twelve pack of Mouth Raper IPA and Anal Rape Porter?

  18. A chili beer with the name of anal rape would get a chuckle from me before I took offense. I don't think Hop Valley was trivializing a brutal act of sexual violence and was simply playing on a term for unwanted violation of someones senses. Using the term rape in the sense of a sensory violation is something I hear my clients in the mental health arena throw around alot so it's not as big of a deal to me. I really think it was unintelligent for Hop Valley to pick the name, but outright offensive? Maybe to others but not myself.

    That being said the fraternity style humor employed in the craft beer world has as struck me as inappropriate for a product marketed on grocery store shelves. Many beer labels are more appropriate at Spencer's or any store marketing things specifically at high school/college age boys then at your local grocers. Save the jokes and innuendos for the basement and garage home brew meetings and make more intelligent decisions in the larger community.

  19. A comment from your friendly, local Beermonger here...

    I'm not sure which bartender you spoke to, but the info you cited is incorrect. On the bill of lading (we call them invoices in the biz) the beer was referred to, IIRC, by the price tier. For example, 1/2 barrels of a high ABV, one-off beer may be referred to as "HV 1/2 BBL TIER 3" etc.. and I'm also pretty sure the keg was labeled "MR IPA". I did, however, have it on authority from a source at the source that the off-the-grid street name was indeed 'Mouth Raper'. I'm sure the TTB would not allow this, so "MR IPA" it became. Beermongers is not a child-friendly establishment, so we thought it would be fun to run it by the 'secret' name. We would do the same with Barley Brown's WFO IPA... and more people would be upset. It's the name of a beer, let's not all get bent out of shape here.

    Rape is a violent crime no doubt. I think you can find a shitload of other beer names (esp IPAs) that refer to murder, assassination, assault, etc. Do you think these are less serious crimes? Are you just overly sensitive to sexual provocation? I think this article is too aggressive for the nature of the issue and it also seems like a pointed attack. Do your research and write a more informed article next time. It would be a more interesting read and seem less bullyish.

    Jim @ The Beermongers

  20. Where's the truth?4:38 PM, January 16, 2014

    Jeff has been working the "say something controversial and see who bites" angle for over a year now. And, yes, technically they are personal attacks. The fact that many of these statements are factually incorrect is telling.

  21. Hi Jim,

    I'm curious about the origin of the name. The first time I saw it mentioned on Twitter, it had the name Mouth Raper. At that time, I checked out its reviews on Untapped and they were all under that name.

    But now that name has been changed to "Mr. IPA", although it still comes up when you do a search for the "off-the-grid street" name.

    Regardless, I disagree with your take on the name. No, Beermongers is not a child-friendly environment, but is it also not a women-friendly environment? I doubt that you mean to imply that, but the beer's name IS certainly offensive to women. Sure, there are lots of violent crimes out there, but (according to RAINN), 1 in 6 women American women have been sexually assaulted. Maybe it's just not a "fun" name to these many, many victims.

    You're right that there are lots of potentially offensive beer names out there and I don't think it's a black & white issue, Maybe "Mouth Raper" doesn't offend you, but there are plenty of people who are offended by it. When Burnside Brewing realized that Hindus were offended by Kali Ma, I imagine that they were initially surprised that some people were upset. But they responded well by pulling back the release and apologizing - because if there is an offended group, it's worth acknowledging it and making it an effort to understand it.

    Their press release stated that it was "NEVER our intention at Burnside to offend or alienate any race, creed, religion, or sexual orientation."
    Those seem like pretty good beer-naming rules.

  22. "Rape is a violent crime no doubt. I think you can find a shitload of other beer names (esp IPAs) that refer to murder, assassination, assault, etc. Do you think these are less serious crimes? "

    I don't know, do murder victims get told they were "asking for it"? Do they get told that most murder victims are liars? That it was there fault for walking home late at night or letting a man into their room? Are they told on the regular by not only friends and family but strangers and the police that they should have seen it coming because they were drinking?

    You tell me.

  23. this blog gets uglier by the day10:45 AM, January 17, 2014

    the origin of "mouth rape" comes from male prisons. Does anyone care about those victims? or do only woman on the outside count?

  24. We have a series of draft beers named Mr. Orange, Mr. Black and Mr. IPA. It has come to our attention that an urban myth and street name has emerged surrounding Mr. IPA. We take this very seriously and are sensitive to these issues. Accordingly, we have pulled the product and are instructing our distributors to replace any remaining kegs with other offerings. We apologize for any harm or misunderstandings this has created.

  25. Hi, Beervana:

    I just called Hop Valley, and they directed me to their Facebook page, where they just posted an apology, that while denying this was ever the name of the beer ("urban legend"), did say that they instructed their distributors to pull the beer and apologized.

  26. Hop Valley has addressed this on Facebook and pulled the beer from the market.

  27. this isn't a beer blog1:26 PM, January 17, 2014

    the term "mouth rape" originated in male prisons. What does that have to do with woman?

  28. Jim, murder, assassination and assault are not primarily directed at one sub-set of the population. They are violent and horrible, but we're all in the same boat. Rape is a violent and horrible act primarily directed at women, children and others who are powerless to stop it. "Rape culture" is real and stupid, offensive beer names don't help.

    People have every right and justification to take offense. As for Ho Valley, it's not that freaking hard to avoid offending people...

    "Stand Your Ground IPA" featuring an armed white guy chasing a kid in a hoodie = BAD IDEA

    "Pedophile Pils" with just about anything on the label = BAD IDEA

    "Domestic Abuse" = BAD IDEA

    "Mouth Raper IPA" = BAD IDEA

    I agree with Oregone.

  29. I think this whole thing highlights how sales and distro are the douchiest parts of the business.Yes, it really was named that originally. But wasn't sent out as such. How would an account find out? Their sales guy or their distributor told them, because they knew (clearly, correctly) that this account owner would think it was funny. Such a boys' club.

  30. Did you know the meaning of the " Rule of Thumb"? The phrase came from beating your wife with a stick or weapon as long as it was smaller than the width of a man's thumb. Seriously, look it up. Not to say that ever using the word rape is ok when naming anything or in a public context, but there are offensive context everywhere if you look deep enough to discredit the author. Just saying, do your research.

  31. I hope that Hop Valley sues the F out of you, Jeff, for promoting fallacious here say. Why would Hop Valley answer to you a low life. Give us your "evidence". Our should I go your route and advance a rumor that I was told a competing brewery in town, begins with an N, initiated the Mouth Rape BS. And no, I don't know anyone associated with Hop Valley, I just hate stupidity and those who perpetuate it.

  32. Honestly this whole discussion seems way off the mark to me. I am acquainted wit the owners of Hop Valley and know for a fact that they would never allow or condone any such 'street name' for their beer. In contrast to what was reported here, they are actually some of the most kind and caring people I have ever met. They support more than 30 non-profits and special events in our community. They are always the first in line to help. These are great people with a great and caring business. Just doesn't add up to me. I respect and appreciate the people of Hop Valley very much. Thanks for making a great product and for sharing the love with those in need!