World of Beer, a chain of tap houses, announced this week that it was pulling Omnipollo’s “Yellow Belly” Imperial Stout from its store shelves after receiving complaints that the bottle’s packaging resembles a hood worn by members of the Ku Klux Klan.
The national chain will no longer sell Yellow Belly beers after receiving intense criticism on social media. One woman posted on Facebook that her husband and friend purchased the $40 bottle of beer without having any knowledge of what it looked like or its intended symbolism from the brewers.
Erika Davis-Pitre said her husband was given the bottle without any warning regarding its appearance. “Presenting this packaging to any customer, let alone a Black customer, is insensitive at best or just downright racist,” she wrote.
Legacy Against Extermism and Racism
According to Omnipollo, the Yellow Belly Imperial Stout’s packaging deliberately mimics a KKK hood and is meant to depict “cowardice”. That messaging is part of the company’s stance against extremism and racism.
Omnipollo, based in Stockholm, Sweden, collaborated with U.K.-based Buxton Brewery to produce Yellow Belly. Per Buxton’s website, Yellow Belly was introduced in 2014 during a period of political turmoil throughout Europe.
The beer’s creators in Sweden were “struck” by the widespread support for fascism and how it differentiated from the what people were actually willing to disclose face-to-face.
“So, with all this in mind, we then dressed Yellow Belly in the most hateful, cowardly-anonymous costume we know of,” stated on the brewery’s website. “This beer, whilst attempting to make a commentary on the current political winds blowing through Europe,” the statement continued, “is above all, meant to be enjoyed as a celebration of all things new, open minded and progressive.”
The Yellow Belly label, which was discontinued due to a trademark dispute, reads, “To us, one of the most cowardly deeds is to act anonymously, hiding behind a group. A signifying trait of institutionalized racism.”
However, according to the complaints on social media, that anti-racism message wasn’t being spoken clearly from its design.
“I was so startled when an image from your establishment came across my news feed. I literally thought it was someone posting in support the KKK, and I was perplexed, wondering who would do such a thing,” Davis-Pitre stated in her Facebook post.
On Wednesday, Henok Fentie, the CEO and co-founder of Omnipollo, defended the Yellow Belly design in an Instagram post.
View this post on Instagram
I am a black man, father of three black boys, and in my youth I was both harassed and beaten for being black. As such I personally wanted to write a response to the recent media coverage of our beer Yellow Belly (first brewed in 2014, now discontinued due to trademark dispute). We want to use our craft to talk about the things that matter to us. As a black owned and operated brewery, in the case of Yellow Belly, it was brewed to show a deep concern over racism in Europe, the United States and beyond. A question that has run through the DNA of our company since it’s founding ten years ago. The more specific message was and still is that light needs to be shed on the quiet and creeping racism that is sweeping through Europe and the world, leading to acts of inhumanity. Quote from the bottle of Yellow Belly: To us, one of the most cowardly deeds is to act anonymously, hiding behind a group. A signifying trait of institutionalized racism. This beer is brewed to celebrate all things new, open minded and progressive. A peanut butter biscuit stout with no biscuits, butter or nuts. Taste, enjoy, and don’t be prejudiced. We fully acknowledge that the format is unconventional and taken out of context can be both confusing and unintentionally offensive. As such we hope to engage our audience in this question now and going forward. CEO and co-founder, Henok Fentie #omnipollo
“I am a black man, father of three black boys, and in my youth I was both harassed and beaten for being black,” his post read. “As a black-owned and operated brewery, in the case of Yellow Belly, it was brewed to show a deep concern over racism in Europe, the United States and beyond.
“We fully acknowledge that the format is unconventional and taken out of context can be both confusing and unintentionally offensive,” the post continued. “As such we hope to engage our audience in this question now and going forward.”
World of Beer Takes Action
Word of Beer, the bar where Davis-Pitre’s husband had been served the offending beer, issued an apology on Monday stating that Yellow Belly would be removed from its shelves.
“Please accept our apologies for the lapse in judgment in serving. While we can’t speak for the intent of the brewer, the visual representation does not have a place at our establishment. We appreciate you bringing it to our attention and welcome the opportunity for discussion,” a spokesperson at World of Beer said.