The New England Brewing Co. is widely regarded as one of the best beer makers in Connecticut [they top the list at Beer Advocate, discounting the two places with only one review]. Two of their offerings are insanely good and ridiculously hard to find: the double IPA Gandhi-Bot is snapped up within hours of its arrival at local stores, and the yearly release of Imperial Stout Trooper inspires frenzied searches. But outside of beer geek circles, the Woodbridge brewery [about six miles of northwest of New Haven] was not a household name.
Last week, they suddenly became a household name after a petition was filed in an Indian court, claiming that the use of Mahatma Gandhi’s name and image — he appears as a dancing robot on the 12-ounce cans — was “highly condemnable and punishable, according to Indian Laws and amounts to offence under Prevention of Insults to National Honour, Act 1971, and Section 124-A of IPC.”
On January 3, the folks at NEBCO posted this entry on its Facebook page:
“We apologize to any Indian people that find our Gandhi-Bot label offensive. Our intent is not to offend anyone but rather pay homage and celebrate a man who we respect greatly. We take great care in creating a product we hope will not be abused in the manner that Mahatma Gandhi spoke of when referencing alcohol. So many Indian people here in America love our tribute to him. Gandhi’s granddaughter and grandson have seen the label and have expressed their admiration of the label. We hope that you understand our true intent and learn to respect our method and the freedom we have to show our reverence for Gandhi.
And this postscript:
“We also ask our supporters and fans to refrain from arguing on our page with those who may be upset by our label. We want to do our best to be culturally sensitive and respectful. Thank-you everyone.”
On Saturday [1.5], news of the flap began to spread, with reports on the BBC, the Associated Press, and media outlets throughout India. Initial reaction largely made light of the situation, with comments about political correctness and comparisons to the flap over The Interview; on Twitter, we needled the petitioner’s assertion that Gandhi-Bot was “one of the popular beer brands in the world, including the USA and India.” On Monday, Conan O’Brien’s monologue included this joke: “A US brewery has apologized for using Mahatma Gandhi’s image on its beer. The beer is so strong, after one beer you look at Gandhi and say, ‘Who’s the hot bald chick with the glasses?’ ”
But on Wednesday [1.7], this post on NEBCO’s Facebook page made it clear that the controversy isn’t funny anymore:
“For nearly five years we’ve been brewing Gandhi-Bot. In those five years we’ve proudly served it to people of all backgrounds. Until this week we’ve never received a single negative comment regarding the label but after a recent article it has come to our attention that the artwork has clearly offended some people. We are a very small company that is passionate about brewing beer and have never had any intention to offend anyone but rather share what we do with anyone interested. Our intentions come from a positive place. In this case we simply wanted to include the things and people in the world that have inspired us and find a way to incorporate them into the work we do. If the ideas and the growth of beliefs could only be inspired by individuals that we agreed 100% with, then the truly great ideas would never have been passed down throughout history. We have a great appreciation for the non-violent benevolent ideas that Gandhi taught. The fact that we consume or make alcohol in no way negates the value we find in what he taught. After threats and some truly hurtful assumptions about the incredibly caring people that work for New England Brewing Company we are working on finding the best way to amend this situation in a manner that both is respectful to those who are offended as well as a way that is manageable for our small company. Thank-you for understanding.”
In the wake of the threats, the brewery has removed the “Our Team” page from its website. The Associated Press reached out to NEBCO, but noted that “a brewery representative did not immediately respond to an email seeking more information.”
Here’s hoping for a swift — and peaceful — resolution to this imbroglio. A quote from Gandhi provides valuable perspective: “Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.”
And assuming a name change is imminent, what are your suggestions for a new handle for the beer [which will likely be harder to find than ever]?