Who knew beer cans could be so contentious? There were the PBR cans that make up the Festivus Poles in Deerfield Beach, FL and at the Capitol building in Tallahassee. Now, it's the cans of Gandhi-Bot, a double India Pale Ale (DIPA) from New England Brewing Company.
The cans of the frothy refreshment bear an image of the revered Indian pacifist leader that is robotic in its iconography and apparently highly offensive to some of his advocates in India. It is true that The Mahatma avoided alcohol. As reported by Patch.com, Rajan Zed, leader of the Reno, NV based Universal Society of Hinduism, said, "peace icon Mahatma Gandhi abhorred drinking. Selling beer named after him was highly damaging to his legacy and hurt the feelings of Indo-Americans and Indians." Feelings of anger are so high that a lawsuit was filed in India.
Despite the brewing company's apology and claim that this beer was meant to honor the peace maker with its aromatic flavor, vegetarian ingredients, and aim to be "an ideal aid for self-purification and the seeking of truth and love," some Indo-Pak grocers in Connecticut aren't stocking the brew, while some liquor stores refuse to pull it from the shelves.
This is not the first time beer has caused such controversy, nor the first time that religious sensibilities were at play. In 2013 a skirmish was brewing in Asheville, NC at the release of another IPA called "Shiva" -- referring to the popular Hindu deity also known as "the Destroyer" or "the Transformer." In this instance, it was Zed again who found the suds "highly inappropriate."
Of course, religious quaffs are nothing new. Sages across the ages have not only enjoyed a drink or two, but brewed a few (or hundreds) of gallons as well and there are even deities of the sacred draughts. If you were tempted, like I am, to give thanks for the saintly suds from above, you could turn to Silenus, Greek god of beer, or Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess who slakes the thirst of the world with the fruit of her bounteous hops. Here in the Americas, you could magnify the Mexica deity Tezcatzontecatl, god of drunkenness. Perhaps, with a swig of ale you could proclaim the accolades of Mbaba Mwana Waresa, the Zulu god credited with brewing the first beer in creation.
Not ready for a full dive into Brewskianity? Why not try the myriad religious themed brews available on the shelves? There are Catholic beers such as Frankiscaner or Augustiner. There is even an entire style with monkish origins -- the Trappist Ale. The saintly suds of St. Arnold Brewing Co. in Houston, TX are sacrosanct to many as it is the oldest craft brewery in the Bayou City and named after the revered Bishop of Mainz who provided enough beer for all his faithful followers at his funeral.
Protestants may flock to purchase Luther Bier and in the spirit of the great reformer, exclaim, "Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!”
For those who honor Ha Shem through strict Kosher diets can turn to Schmaltz Brewery who pump out barrels, kegs, and bottles of "the chosen beers" of He'brews including: Hop Manna IPA, the tempting Origin Pomegranate Ale, and Jewbelation.
There are even options for the Buddhist beer enthusiast, although the Buddha guarded against drinking too much ale. In Cambodia you can enjoy a beer named after the Angkor Wat monastery. Closer to home, head on down to Ft. Lauderdale, FL and enjoy some sips from Funky Buddha Brewery who produce the Maple Bacon Coffee Porter or their Missionary Blonde (awkward). Can't decide, get a sampling of a few beers and try the Four Noble Taster like I did over the winter break.
What began as a trickle with Gandhi Bot and Shiva IPA quickly turns into a flood of religiously themed beers. Craft brewing continues to grow in the U.S. and elsewhere (New Zealand, Europe, etc.) and with each new recipe comes the challenge to come up with a unique, catchy, name for the brew. Historically, divinity has never been far from the draughts with multiple cultures appealing to the gods to give thanks for, or ask for blessing on, their beers. With that in mind, I would not be surprised if more cans cause controversy. Indeed, it's happened before with the Mormon community and Wasatch Brewing's Polygamy Porter.
My hope is this -- that individuals and communities that are quick to be offended by religious representations on beer cans and bottles may turn their thoughts away from drunken revelry and instead appreciate the social, and even spiritual, intimations of a potentially pious pint. Perhaps instead of lawsuits and "beertroversies" we can instead sit down and imitate President Barack Obama's "beer diplomacy" and enjoy a cold one as we talk about our religious beliefs, practices, and differences.
Cheers to that.