A crowd-sourced Milwaukee brewery is struggling to recover after an online troll’s idea for “Date Grape” beer took off, then prompted outrage.
MobCraft Beer allows people to propose brews, using an algorithm to track the popularity of each idea. Most of the suggestions are light-hearted, from Rabbits Bounty (a carrot cake ale) to Mistah Tea (a black tea red ale). For the most popular beer proposals, MobCraft’s brewer will develop a recipe.
That cool idea backfired last month, when an online jokester submitted an idea for a date- and grape-flavored beer, “Date Grape.” MobCraft uses an automated system to post the most popular proposals to its website for a final vote—and the off-color beer got enough traction that it ended up prominently displayed.
“As bad and malicious names hadn’t came up in the past we, didn’t have a process set up to vet the beer names and toss out any that were distasteful or off color,” said Henry Schwartz, MobCraft’s CEO. “We feel horrible that a name got published to the site that was offensive, as it does not reflect who we are as a company at all.”
Nonetheless, the backlash was instant and predictable. A Twitter meltdown ensued. Retailers began cancelling samples. Sales in the brewery’s taproom went down by about 50 percent, devastating for a small business.
Schwartz issued an apology, and MobCraft took the Date Grape beer proposal down. The Saturday after the controversy, the company donated a portion of their taproom sales to a local rape crisis center. And they’re also reworking their crowd-sourcing process.
“We have created a formal plan where each beer gets a ‘common sense check,’ gets Googled, and a search is also performed in urban dictionary,” Schwartz said. “After the incident I hope people can check out the rest our beers, see that our intentions are to be fun and light hearted, and continue to support us going forward.”
On Reddit, a man claiming responsibility for the Date Grape idea wrote a kind-of apology.
“Anyhow, to those I’ve offended I am sorry but again it was just a joke,” he wrote. “With all the other terrible stuff going on in the world I did not think this would be as big of a deal as it has become. Humor is controversial but if we take it away because it offends people then what do we have left?”
MobCraft is just the latest brewery to face uproar over its beer naming. Earlier this year, a Fulbright winning feminist cried “rape culture” after seeing the Panty Peeler, a beer created by the female co-founder of Anchorage-based Midnight Sun Brewing Co.
And last year, Thrillist published a list of 13 supposedly sexist beer names and labels.