A Toast to Dissent

Politics and alcohol have been intimate friends for centuries.
Galvanizing figures from Samuel Adams to Adolf Hitler built their
movements in pubs and beer halls long before taking over the halls
of power. Even ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ was adapted from an old
drinking song. Now a growing number of brewers are using beer
itself to make a political point.

One such brew is Evolution Amber Ale, from the Wasatch Brewery
in Park City, Utah. As state legislators pushed to add ‘intelligent
design’ to the public school science curriculum, Wasatch owner Greg
Schirf responded by renaming his award-winning ‘Unofficial’ Amber
Ale, reports Amanda Chesworth in the Skeptical
(March/April 2006). Launched last November, the
ale’s new label sports a ‘Darwin Approved’ stamp with the tagline
‘created in 27 days, not 7.’ A poster for the beer bills it as ‘a
most intelligently designed ale.’

This is not Schirf’s first time brewing up controversy. Earlier,
he gained international attention when he tweaked Utah’s Mormon
population with another Wasatch line dubbed Polygamy Porter. ‘Why
have just one?’ the label asks.

Montreal culture jammers Rob Maguire and Ezra Winton are taking
a different tack. Last fall, the cofounders of the anticorporate
activist collective berculture began sharing their recipe for
berbr, an all-natural hemp ale, with Canadian microbrewers as a way
of spreading a message and funding their work.

‘People now recognize that when you buy a cup of coffee there
are international economic and political connections,’ Maguire told
This Magazine (March/April 2006). ‘For us, beer is
no different. We want to take the whole concept of fair trade
coffee and apply it to beer.’ To support local enterprise and cut
down on pollution from shipping, Maguire and Winton want berbr to
be made locally, from mostly local ingredients, wherever it is

Two microbreweries in Montreal and Vancouver are making the
‘uncorporate’ beer, and about a dozen bars and caf?s are selling
it. The profits are split with berculture, which produces political
documentaries and film festivals, and campaigns against corporate
giants like Wal-Mart. Like open-source software code, the ale’s
recipe is free for anyone to use and modify, so long as users in
turn share any changes.

?berbr isn’t the world’s only open-source beer, nor is it the
first. That title is claimed by Vores ?l (Our Beer), a meaty brew
with a caffeine boost from South American guarana beans. The beer
was created last year by a group of students at Copenhagen’s IT
University in a workshop on copyright and intellectual property
taught by artist Rasmus Nielsen. The project applies the logic
behind open-source software, which flouts Microsoft’s corporate
hegemony by tapping the creativity of the masses to design
ever-evolving programs like the Linux operating system. ‘Why not
take the legal framework, the open-source licenses, and apply them
to analog products?’ Nielsen asked in a Wired News
report (July 18, 2005).

Advocates of open-source software, also known as ‘free
software,’ have long used the analogy ‘free as in ‘free speech,’
not as in ‘free beer’ ‘ to illustrate the difference between
liberty and price. A truly free beer, Nielsen and his students
thought, might drive the movement’s point home. ‘You’re free to
change it,’ Nielsen told the BBC (July 28, 2005).
‘But if you use our recipe as the basis for your beer, you have to
be open with your recipe as well.’

‘In an industry where commercial brewers guard their secret
recipes as tightly as Microsoft guards its proprietary software
code, these student activists hope that Vores ?l ‘becomes the Linux
of beers.’

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