Belfast Telegraph

US brewer's tribute to Gerry Adams is hard to swallow

A beer named after the former Sinn Fein president, made by a company called Revolution and containing B Special malts? You're having a laugh, says Malachi O'Doherty

Nothing sounds remotely revolutionary about "earthy, lightly toasty, traditional Best Bitter". Nor does the phrase conjure up anything Irish.

When I savour those words, I find in them a suggestion of woodsmoke from the open fire of an English country pub and an intimation of breakfast.

Best Bitter is the reassuringly familiar tipple of the English working man on pay day. It is always a local beer that connects him to his location and his community. Therefore, it is 'traditional'. One can almost see the shadow of the pit-head falling across the dappled glass windows. There are probably horse brasses on the wall.

But Americans generally get our British and Irish references quaintly skewed. There is no better reminder of that than St Patrick's Day. Someone thought that the best way to market "earthy, lightly toasty, Best Bitter" to American drinkers was to associate an English drink with a near septuagenarian Irish politician and to present it all as right-on and revolutionary.

The result? Adam's Best. It isn't even grammatical. But who cares?

Presumably, the marketing people know what they are doing and whom they are aiming the beer at. Their assessment is that linking their drink to Gerry Adams will get them more sales. Maybe it will.

Some of the recent new craft beers in this country taste to me like washing-up liquid. Some of them could do with a powerful aura of suggestion around them to coax me to swallow them.

Adams is earthy. He is a real outdoors type. He likes to stride across peat bogs and to climb Errigal.

I'm not sure about "lightly toasty". Might this refer to the smell of his beard? Or, perhaps, the suggestion of cordite implied by his reverence for the IRA - an organisation that did a lot of toasting in its time.

There is more amusement to be derived from this.

Adam's Best is brewed by Revolution in Chicago. It is Illinois's largest brewery. The symbol of Revolution, in this case, is a clenched fist clutching a thistle, the symbol of Scotland. Can we be sure they have got the right Adams here?

This fist and thistle are set against the background of a six-pointed red star. Six-pointed, presumably, so that it won't be confused with the five-pointed star of Red China, and a bit floppy in outline, so that it isn't the star of Israel, either. You can see they have taken some trouble not to annoy.

They use B Special malts (Okay, they call them Special B malts). I'm tempted to think they know precious little about Ireland, or Gerry Adams, and if I was Sam Adams, a brewery in Boston, I would wonder if the real point of this was to encroach on my brand, rather than to celebrate "the president of Sinn Fein, who was instrumental in the development of the Belfast Agreement in the late-1990s, which brought a ceasefire to Northern Ireland".

If they had consulted Gerry himself, he'd have explained that he secured the ceasefire before the Agreement, not as a consequence of it, and that republicans prefer to call it the Good Friday Agreement.

But, maybe, the brewers at Revolution know that already but don't think Christian feast days sell beer.

Still, the brewers have a sense of humour and a huge range, hundreds of labels, including Bastille and Black Power, but not all of it celebrating revolution around the world.

So, the brewing of Adam's Best is not a great act of homage to the former president of Sinn Fein and his peace-making achievements. Much as it may gall his detractors that he now has a beer named after him, they are probably more aware of that fact than are the actual drinkers in the bars.

Brewing has grown and diversified so much in recent years that it is a challenge for those in charge to come up with new names for thousands of products. I have, in the last couple of years, been in bars in Baltimore and Mississippi and seen the long lists.

In the English drinking tradition, a bar would have a limited range from a tied brewery and would share in the brand of the beer. It wasn't so different here for a long time.

When I was a barman in the 1960s, I doubt if there were more than a half-a-dozen beers on offer. In Hey Joe's in Cleveland, Mississippi, near Delta State University, the pride of the bar was in the number of beers it could offer. If you wanted one named after your dog, I suspect they would have been glad of the suggestion. Mutt's Drool, anybody? Still, small as is the honour, if I was sitting with the boys from Revolution over a tall glass of Bionic Commando (9.5% ABV),I would take the time left in which I could stay upright to explain to them a few things about Gerry Adams.

First, he is not a revolutionary. His achievement was in deflating revolution that was going nowhere anyway.

He converted the revolutionaries to parliamentary politics, but bequeathed us a delinquent party that won't grow up and govern.

It prefers to achieve its goals by hogging the ball and walking off the field, rather than by playing the game.

Which mightn't be so bad if it was bullying everyone into conceding better healthcare and education, but it panders instead to a kind of communal narcissism through fighting over symbols and tokens.

By the time I was halfway down my first Bionic Commando, I would be saying that Gerry Adams was the luckiest politician in the world, because, though he has been wrong about everything, he has contended with dimwits, the sort of people who get into a lather over a beer named after him. They are so easy to rile.

And then, when they are up on their high horses scowling "Crocodile! Blonde!" he's standing back with his arms folded like a secondary school teacher saying: "There - see what I have to put up with?"

It probably wouldn't be safe for me to have another Bionic Commando after that, or I might launch into a tirade about how Gerry's cohorts now think they are in the vanguard by demanding rights that no one in the original civil rights movement even thought to ask for.

It doesn't matter.

When the Revolution is a theme pub, or the label on a bottle, it's all over bar the shouting. That never stops.

Malachi O'Doherty is the author of Gerry Adams: An Unauthorised Life, published by Faber & Faber, priced £14.99

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