Noose image on brewery's 'Hanging Oak' beer can sparks controversy

A Nova Scotia brewery's decision to use the image of a tree and a noose on one of its product's cans is being denounced as racist by some critics on social media sites.

Owner exasperated by allegations image is racist, says tree is a local landmark

Tusket Falls Brewing Company's image of a noose hanging from a tree on its Hanging Oak ale is being denounced as racist and offensive. (Tusket Falls Brewing Company)

A Nova Scotia brewery's decision to use the image of a tree and a noose on one of its product's cans is being denounced as racist by some critics on social media sites.

The beverage is a red IPA called Hanging Oak, one of four ales produced by Tusket Falls Brewing Company.

Halifax teacher Ben Sichel says the image of the noose hanging from the oak evokes lynchings and is offensive.

Nooses have long been a symbol of bigotry and hatred directed at those of African descent.

"The first thing I thought of was the history of lynchings in the United States, particularly of African-Americans, and anything to do with hanging from a tree is pretty morbid," he told the CBC's Maritime Noon.

"I thought, good God, this is kind of evocative of some pretty dark history and so I thought I would ask them what was up with it."

'It's very offensive'

Sichel did contact the brewery, located about 15 kilometres outside of Yarmouth, N.S.

He was told that the ale, like the others brewed by the company, is named after local landmarks. The other beers are a golden ale called Crack of the Rock, a stout called Twice Barrel Shotgun and a smoked ale with the name Smoked Kiack.

Some comments on Facebook regarding Hanging Oak ale, produced by Tusket Falls Brewing Company. (Facebook photo)

"I'd like to give folks the benefit of the doubt that they didn't mean any harm or any offence. But at some point, even if that is the case, you have to take responsibility for that image, what it evokes in people. So I posted it to Twitter yesterday," Sichel said.

"Sure enough, lots and lots of people responded on social media, saying this is very inappropriate, that it's a racist image, especially for black folks, it's very offensive."

The history of the persecution of Black Loyalists in nearby Shelburne County is especially troublesome, he said.

'I really don't get it'

Jeff Raynard opened his brewery in December and says the products were named to tie them to local history and landmarks.

He said the tree is part of Tusket's history. 

"It's around the corner. They call it the hanging oak. It's not meant to be offensive. It's a local landmark, that's it."

Stories surrounding the oak tree mostly include hanging meat from its branches to dry and have nothing to do with lynchings, he said.

"I think it's pretty ridiculous, how you connect that. I really don't get it. If anything, maybe back in the day, it would be more capital punishment, I guess."

Raynard said hanging was the traditional method of carrying out a death sentence in the province, adding he is against capital punishment.

"That's long since outlawed … a grim past."

'Just odd people'

He said if black people in the community are complaining, the brewery will make changes.

As for the detractors on social media, they "are weird," he said.

"They're just odd people. Some people, they walk down the street, they get offended by anything. They're a small minority, I'm sure."

In the meantime, the brewery is standing by its can, Raynard said.