The growing popularity of New Zealand beer styles and ingredients has led to a growing problem overseas—the inappropriate use of Māori images on beer labels. Denise Garland reports.
Worldwide, the beer industry is coming under increasing pressure to be more inclusive. In many parts of the world, breweries are dominated by white males, and the industry has a history of sexism—something regularly highlighted and condemned thanks to the work of beer writers like Melissa Cole and organisations like the Pink Boots Society.
But what about racism?
Back in 2017, I wrote about how New Zealand beers and ingredients are inspiring UK brewers. But some of the beers being produced have crossed a line.
In February, the former SOBA President, Dave Wood, tweeted a photo of a pump clip for Electric Bear’s New Zealand-hopped session pale ale called NZ Pale. It showed a caricature of a Māori warrior riding a kiwi playing some kind of sport with a keg of beer.
Most of the artwork for the Bath-based brewery are bright-coloured cartoons, but NZ Pale appears to be the only one that depicts someone of a specific race. While Electric Bear did not comment on the initial tweet, it did respond to Karaitiana Taiuru, an advocate and proponent for online and digital Māori rights and representation, who had followed up Wood’s tweet with one of his own, a Facebook post and an email explaining why the image was problematic.
“The brewer stated they had no idea it was offensive and asked for advice for the future. The company also removed all of their online marketing for that brand and asked their resellers to do the same thing,” Taiuru says.
The beer itself appears to have first been brewed in 2016, but Electric Bear stated it was no longer in their range and if they did brew it again, they would not use the same artwork. An online search shows that they have removed all images of the beer from their website and online retailers have done the same thing.
But this has not been an isolated incident. Taiuru has contacted another three UK-based breweries about offensive imagery and/or the naming of beers. All of those companies—Exmoor Ales, Cameron’s Brewery and Ramsbottom Craft Brewery (which releases beer under the Rammy Craft Ales label)—have also apologised and pulled the designs for their seasonal, New Zealand-hopped beers.
The four breweries mentioned all expressed genuine shock that the labels could be considered offensive and have been remorseful. Taiuru says there is a genuine misunderstanding by many companies as to what might be culturally insensitive or offensive to Māori.
“Unfortunately, there are no resources or guidelines to assist companies with using Māori language or culture with branding. At the moment, it is individuals such as myself raising awareness.
“When I approach the breweries, I do so in a polite respectful manner, providing a detailed explanation of what they have done and how it is offensive. This sometimes is a full A4 page of information.”
Taiuru says in all the cases above, there has been an issue with the beer labels and tap badges depicting pictures of Māori—either drawings or photos—with tā moko.
“[Tā moko] is sacred in Māori culture as it is specific to an individual and is a graphical representation of a person’s genealogy and life’s achievements. By having the tā moko on a beverage, [it] is being disrespectful to the person’s whole genealogy or simply mocking Māori culture.
“Secondly, by placing the head of a person on a beverage is a breach of customs and highly offensive.”
Only one of the UK breweries Taiuru has contacted has used an offensive beer name: Rammy Craft Ales has been selling its New Zealand-hopped IPA with the name Flaori Maori. Taiuru says the beer name openly mocks the word Māori by rhyming it with Flaori.
Along with Ramsbottom Craft Brewery pulling the offensive design of the Flaori Maori beer, the company’s new manager has told Taiuru that they are dropping the beer from their range for good.
Taiuru says it’s not just made-up words that companies need to take care with when using Māori language and culture to inspire their products.
“I think it is great that the Māori language is being used internationally and for brands in New Zealand. Some caution needs to be considered with using Māori language though, as often a word has multiple meanings, so multiple sources need to be consulted for an appropriate translation.”
While cultural sensitivity is clearly something some UK brewers are actively struggling with, Kiwi breweries are not immune from overstepping that line. In 2016, New Zealand’s Birkenhead Brewing Company made a similar mistake, placing images of Māori ancestors Hinemoa and Tutanekai on two of their beer labels.
Taiuru says being respectful of Māori culture is something Aotearoa-based breweries need to pay extra attention to, particularly as it is new territory for many businesses.
“Ten years ago, it would be unusual for New Zealand companies en masse to use Māori language and imagery in commercial products. It would be especially unheard of for a brewer to use Māori for alcohol considering the negative connotations with Māori and alcohol.
“In New Zealand there is less tolerance for getting it wrong. It is expected that people in New Zealand should be aware of the Treaty and Māori culture.
“If [you’re] using a Māori name for your products, I suggest that you don’t use the name or image of any famous people, Iwi or landmarks. For most places in New Zealand, it is easy to identify who the local Iwi are. It would be a good idea to ask for their support or to at least let them know of your proposed branding.”
Taiuru also advises companies hire a professional translator or Māori brand expert.
Back in the UK, the public have made Taiuru aware of several more potentially insensitive beer labels. But he says he’s willing to be a bit more forgiving of cultural blunders from small overseas businesses.
“There have been several cases that I have been made aware of that I believed were not cultural appropriation or verged on the edge of being offensive to a majority. However, in my opinion they were only distasteful. In these cases, I do not do anything, as it is only a personal opinion. But, if there were distasteful labels in New Zealand, I think there is more potential [for] consumer influence.”