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The anti-racism, dubbed racist ‘Yellow Belly’ beer is back to haunt again

Over the past few years, Omnipollo’s Yellowbelly beer has found its way into mainstream media’s attention span. Perhaps the conversation was truly part of the design from the beginning.

For those unfamiliar, the collaborative brew was developed in 2014 as part of Berkshire Brewery Siren’s Rainbow Project Challenge. 14 breweries were paired off, each creating a beer inspired by the colors of the rainbow.

Sweden’s Omnipollo and United Kingdom’s Buxton Brewery were paired and pulled the color yellow. The duo thought yellow was the color of cowardice and created Yellow Belly, an 11% imperial stout with peanut butter and biscuits. Interestingly, the beer contained neither. By design, name and packaging, the beer’s intention was to denounce hate organizations like the Ku Klux Klan. The final flourish – Yellow Belly was packaged purposefully in white paper twisted to a point with eyeholes, similar to a KKK hood.

Since the beer’s debut, the beer would surface on national news in Europe, Canada and the U.S. concerning the racial overtones of the packaging. Most recently this week, when World of Beer in Connecticut pulled Yellow Belly from their inventory after a customer’s Facebook post went viral after apparently being “blindsided” by the packaging.

“This is the $40 bottle of beer that was promoted and presented to my black husband and his white friend tonight at World of Beer. After researching it at home, we discovered that it was ‘created to denounce racism… promote open-mindedness… packaged in paper deliberately to denounce organizations like the KKK,'” the Facebook post read. No picture of the actual bottle in the restaurant was included in the post.

“Please accept our apologies for the lapse in judgment in serving. While we can’t speak for the intent of the brewer, the visual representation does not have a place at our establishment. We appreciate you bringing it to our attention and welcome the opportunity for discussion,” World of Beer said in a public statement following the incident.

As Beer Street Journal reported in 2018, Yellow Belly was discontinued after an unresolvable trademark dispute. This beer is no longer in production.

The comments on the customer’s Facebook post predictably devolved into fights about what is racist, name-calling, and per usual, someone gets called a nazi. Godwin’s Law on full display in yet another comment section.

Other than making a catchy, clickbait headline on larger media sites, followed by an apology headline by a corporate beer chain, perhaps this article will  serve as a lasting reminder of what Omnipollo and Buxton Brewery intended by Yellow Belly’s creation and packaging choice all along.

What most of the internet commenters have never, or may never know about Yellowbelly… it was brewed by a Henok Fentie, CEO and co-founder of Omnipollo, who also happens to be a black man and father to three. Going back to the brewing duo being assigned the color yellow. To them, yellow represented cowardice. Brewed the imperial stout with the “Yellowbelly” name and label description wasn’t enough. The beer’s packaging had to invoke more.

As found on every bottle:

To us, one of the most cowardly deeds is to act anonymously, hiding behind a group. A signifying trait of institutionalized racism.

This beer is brewed to celebrate all things new, open-minded, and progressive. A peanut butter biscuit stout with no biscuits, butter or nuts. Taste, enjoy, and don’t be prejudiced.

Grossly simplified, the message of Yellowbelly was always – “Be Better.”

To us, beer and brewing have always been an art form, from kettle to artwork, to glass. Omnipollo and Buxton’s imperial stout in its four years of existence was equal parts delicious and thought-provoking. It seems like the beer’s story never really got told, just the story its social media shock reactions.

Even in death (discontinuation), the beer comes back to haunt it’s creators, rising from the cellar somewhere to shock, scare, or offend another would-be drinker.

We will leave you with this eulogy, posted to Facebook this week by Fentie.

I am a black man, father of three black boys, and in my youth I was both harassed and beaten for being black. As such I personally wanted to write a response to the recent media coverage of our beer Yellow Belly (first brewed in 2014, now discontinued due to trademark dispute).
We want to use our craft to talk about the things that matter to us. As a black-owned and operated brewery, in the case of Yellow Belly, it was brewed to show a deep concern over racism in Europe, the United States and beyond. A question that has run through the DNA of our company since it’s founding ten years ago.The more specific message was and still is that light needs to be shed on the quiet and creeping racism that is sweeping through Europe and the world, leading to acts of inhumanity.

Quote from the bottle of Yellow Belly:
To us, one of the most cowardly deeds is to act anonymously, hiding behind a group. A signifying trait of institutionalized racism.
This beer is brewed to celebrate all things new, open minded and progressive. A peanut butter biscuit stout with no biscuits, butter or nuts. Taste, enjoy, and don’t be prejudiced.

We fully acknowledge that the format is unconventional and taken out of context can be both confusing and unintentionally offensive. As such we hope to engage our audience in this question now and going forward.
CEO and co-founder,

Henok Fentie

 

 

 

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