'Misogynistic' marketing of Nine Locks' Dirty Blonde beer sparks debate
The Dartmouth, N.S., brewery says it's reviewing its marketing practices, but won't change the beer's name
Catherine Murray says she's fed up with women being called dirty blondes.
Murray recently worked at a Halifax bar as a server and said she was sometimes uncomfortable taking orders for Nine Locks Brewing Co.'s Dirty Blonde beer.
The 27-year-old with blonde hair said the name of the beer provoked many objectifying and unsolicited comments. She said it's something she believes other women in the industry have also experienced.
"Things like, 'Do you come paired with the beer?' or, 'Are you served up in the glass?' or, 'I'd really like a dirty blonde, if you know what I mean.' Just things that are insinuating more than just a beer," said Murray, who now works at Propeller Brewing Co. in Halifax, but doesn't speak for the company.
Murray isn't the only person criticizing the Dartmouth, N.S., brewery's advertising, which has appeared on billboards, T-shirts and online and includes phrases such as "Everybody loves a dirty blonde from Dartmouth," and "We'd like you to meet another blonde from Dartmouth."
CBC News obtained a letter signed by 40 people representing 17 Nova Scotia breweries urging the board of the Craft Brewers Association of Nova Scotia (CBANS) to take steps to stop the "discriminatory and misogynistic" advertising campaign associated with Nine Locks' Dirty Blonde beer.
The Nov. 15 letter — signed by representatives from breweries such as 2 Crows Brewing, Tatamagouche Brewing, Big Spruce Brewing and Stillwell Brewing — encourages the board to issue a statement declaring the marketing to be "unacceptable and intolerable" to the association's board and its membership of 45 breweries.
"Said statement will request a cessation of this egregious campaign, because in the bright light of the current global political and cultural #MeToo movement, we demand better," the breweries, all members of CBANS, said in the letter.
The breweries also said the marketing violates:
- A 2017 motion for association members to "pledge zero tolerance of discrimination in their marketing practices."
- The NSLC's advertising code of conduct.
'We don't want to insult anybody,' says Nine Locks
Shaun O'Hearn, president of Nine Locks, said the advertising is "cheeky," but he doesn't agree it's sexist or misogynistic. But he said if people are offended by the advertising, he apologizes.
"It was never our intention to insult anyone," said O'Hearn in a phone interview. "We're taking what people are saying and because we don't want to insult anybody with any of our advertisements, we're going to cease the advertising of our current marketing program."
O'Hearn said along with halting all marketing associated with its blonde beers, the company is re-evaluating its marketing campaigns going forward.
"All of our ads always depicted pictures of our beer. They never had any man or woman holding the beer. It was always in reference directly to the can of beer that was on the advertisement," said O'Hearn.
"I believe that rude people will say rude comments and will do so, whether or not our beer is called a dirty blonde or a cloudy blonde or a dusty blonde… or simply a Nine Locks blonde. I mean a blonde is a style of beer, as is a dirty blonde."
Name change not happening
O'Hearn sent a letter late Monday evening to dozens of people involved in Nova Scotia's craft beer community that reiterated the company did not intend to objectify women, but "perception often exceeds reality."
He said Nine Locks doesn't intend to change the name of Dirty Blonde.
"Nine Locks will defend its reputation, its employees, and its customers," he wrote. "There is a way to voice your displeasure, and then there is a calculated and coordinated attack such as this."
The board of CBANS met Tuesday morning to discuss the concerns in the Nov. 15 letter. Following the meeting, association president Emily Tipton said the issues raised by the group of breweries have already been addressed, as Nine Locks has halted its campaign and discussions with the NSLC are ongoing.
"CBANS as an organization obviously feels that sexism and misogyny has no place in our industry and we want to do our part to help facilitate a resolution and an open dialogue about these types of concerns," said Tipton, who is also the co-founder of Boxing Rock Brewing Company in Shelburne.
"I think if you asked each individual member brewery what their opinion on this campaign is, I think the answer would be different... but I feel like we've come to a resolution on this matter that we hope is acceptable our members and the members that signed that letter."
Tipton said her personal opinion is that the campaign went "a little over the line."
"It's not specifically stating women, but at the same time, I don't think blonde jokes are genderless," she said at Boxing Rock's small Halifax operation.
"I also think it enables behaviour from other people that may be even further over the line."
NSLC spokesperson Beverley Ware said the corporation has contacted the craft brewers association "to discuss their concerns."
"Elements of this campaign are in violation of our guidelines," she said. "We have been in touch with Nine Locks about this campaign. With the growth of local industry, we are working hard on the regulatory side to keep pace with the success."
Ware said in some cases — such as billboards — the marketing campaign mentions the product is available at NSLC stores.
The situation has generated discussions online, with some agreeing the campaign is misogynistic and others — including women — saying they do not find it offensive, adding that calling it sexist is a stretch.
Murray said she understands the name of the beer is a play on words, as it is an unfiltered blonde beer.
She also recognized that she receives unsolicited, sexualized comments from customers all the time unrelated to the Dirty Blonde beer.
"The difference is when it's the product itself that's perpetuating the comment rather than someone just making an offhand comment," said Murray.
Joel Chiasson, general manager of Mic Mac Bar and Grill in Dartmouth, said Nine Locks' Dirty Blonde is his top-selling beer and he has never had a single complaint from customers or staff about the marketing.
'I think we live in a very sensitive world,' says bar manager
"If anything, one of my female bartenders is the one that makes more jokes about it, in light-heartedness, than anybody," said Chiasson, whose bar is in the same complex as Nine Locks.
"I think at the end of the day, it's just a play on words. It's very light-hearted. I think we live in a very sensitive world these days and I don't think there was any foul intentions whatsoever."
Kelly Costello, a brewer at Good Robot Brewing in Halifax, said she's been driving by billboards in the city flanked with the Dirty Blonde beer marketing for two years — and cringing.
Costello, whose Good Robot colleagues signed the letter, said such marketing objectifies women's bodies and also sends the wrong message to women in a male-dominated industry.
'Skirts an issue'
"I know sex sells, but they just can't in this context. Women have dealt with too much for too long. It's not forgivable right now. I know we can do better," said Costello.
"At the end of the day, this makes me feel like their stupid joke is more important than my autonomy, and that's not OK."
She also took issue with O'Hearn's comments about the advertisements directly referencing the beer.
"Saying something like that really skirts an issue and implies a real level of stupidity in the people buying your product," she said.
"And if that's actually the case, why did you bother making that joke? If you don't think people are going to get it as a blonde joke, why make the joke?"
Read the letter to CBANS below: