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17 May 2012


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I'm pretty sure Belgian Pale Ale is the kind of beer, and the name is just "congo" (not "Belgian Congo"--"Pale ale")--still horrifying, but in an ironic kind of way...

I just visited the brewery website to register my disgust. Although there is not an option to leave a public comment, you can email them via their website: http://www.dbbrewingcompany.com/contact.aspx.

As an ex-archivist/archaeologist/general history nerd and beer geek, this just makes me very sad.

Documentary exposes humanitarian and medical crisis in Eastern Congo as well as our work in the DRC http://youtu.be/85VlU2HREDc

Thanks for this post. I just stumbled upon your blog, and I really appreciate it. I'm sorry that Devil's Backbone is making light of genocide -- imagine what it would have looked like if they had created "Concentration Camp Ale"!

My opinion is that it is entirely appropriate here to make reference to a historical period as well as Conrad's novel. I see nothing celebrating or advocating atrocities committed by the Belgians. Did I like seeing corporations and politicians immediately use 9/11 to further their causes...no. But I don't agree with excessive censorship, just because someone out there may be offended.

Devil's Backbone is based in Charlottesville, and the offensively named beer is brewed in their new 'outpost' brewery near Lexington. Astoundingly, this is the variety they chose to launch six-pack sales, with an accompanying ad campaign, so it's going to have much wider visibility than their other varieties.

As a local who's been looking forward to consuming their output since the new branch was announced, I'm disconcerted and disappointed. And can also report that BCPA tastes like hell. That, at least, is appropriate...

I find Mr Oliver's response quite disingenuous. I'm not quite sure how he can pretend that this was a harmless case of revisionist history inquiry after very clearly naming the beer "Belgian Congo Pale Ale: The Horror" What on god's earth does "The Horror" portion of the label refer to if not to the horror of the Belgian atrocities in the Congo? As Mr Oliver himself has pointed out, he is quite familiar with the history of the Congo, it stands to reason that his use of "The Horror" in naming the beer comes from a knowledge of the atrocities.

The strange invocation of his familiarity with South Africa though deployed as an attempted defense simply damns him further. Wouldn't someone that familiar with colonial history be quite aware of what his label invokes?

If the first poster is right, and the name is just "Congo", then "The Horror" could perhaps refer to the current horrors. I'm not sure how much that improves things.

As an archivist, general history nerd and beer geek, I would encourage Mr. Oliver to stick to brewing and leave history to the experts.

It is clear that Mr. Oliver's half hearted response was reactionary and emits the ignorance shown in naming his beer. Maybe this "master brewer" is also undermining the intelligence of his target audience.

@Geezer: you must be on the same wavelength as Oliver

To Nell Lancaster: Devils Backbone Brewpub is located in Roseland, Va or Wintergreen, not Charlottesville. Second, this was their third beer to be packaged in six packs.
To Ekapa: The name of the beer is "Belgian Congo Pale Ale" not "Belgian Congo Pale Ale:The Horror"
To Everybody: This name is clearly based off of the popular India Pale Ale style naming. Where the British clearly committed several of their own atrocities. This blog post is a product of overthinking a beer name and lets just call every beer "Ale or Lager" to stay PC and let ABInBev own the copyrights!

I "love" his response- I mean, you just gotta "love" that response!

"Yes, I'm fully aware of the terrible legacy of brutality, racism and genocide inflicted on those unfortunate people of that era which my product purposely associates itself with- but I'm very much choosing to ignore that knowledge and avidly and wholeheartedly promoting a happy, whimsical fantasy in complete denial of that reality."

@Beer Geek: Thanks for the correction. I guess it's the first six-pack variety produced by the Outpost, because the signs there made a big deal of that. It remains true that the unfortunate name will be more visible than any of their other varieties, due to the ad campaign and the bottles themselves.

@ Nell. Again you are wrong. It is not there first six pack variety produced by there outpost facility. They did not advertise for this any more than the others. The BCPA is one of my favorite beers out there, if you didn't like the taste of it then you are probably someone who doesn't prefer a heavier hoped beer. I would strongly advise knowing your beer "history" before bashing Devils Backbone or any brewery for that matter. Its the name of the beer! Why would any one name a beer with intentions of celebrating what you all have talked about. They wouldn't!! The name of the beer is Congo Pale Ale and it's a Belgian style ale. The Belgian part was put on to help all the beer enthusiasts out there better classify it. Do you all not have anything better to do with your time?? Again, brush up on your beer history.

Thank you for posting this, John. This branding, ad, and even more so the beermakers' defense of it, all show a certain kind of blithe obliviousness that one encounters every day in the U.S. It's a sensibility that reassures Americans that we don't have a racism problem here.

@beer nerd - whatever the beer tastes like, the name is in poor taste, and you can't get around it by just saying they obviously didn't intend to celebrate the genocide in the Congo. Of course they didn't intend that! But someone thought it was cool to try to associate the beer with Conrad and Heart of Darkness, and "the Horror."

Similar things have been done in the past with products being associated with the slave regime in the United States, from Aunt Jemima to "Darkey" tooth powder. Today such things are rightly looked on as improper. This is no different, and while it may be just ignorance of the full seriousness of the subject to choose such a name, it's not excusable or a minor matter.

Next up, Holocaust Hefeweizen! Gulag Archipelago Gueuze! Pristina Pilzen!

Beer nerd - I think Nell's larger point is that Devil's Backbone is callously exploiting, by using either or both "Congo" and [the Horror], one of the most horrific genocides in history, for chuckles and profits. Check out the highly readable but chilling "King Leopold's Ghost." All this in one of the less progressive corners of the state that brought us American slavery.

Just to vouch for Jason Oliver's (perhaps blinkered) motivation here: DB has also produced a Namibian Pale Ale, again the product of a counterfactual history in which German colonialists (who in fact colonized present day Namibia) had formulated a German-style beer that could "survive a tropical [sea] voyage." The implication is that Oliver's explanation of the Belgian Congo ale is offered in good faith, not as a post-hoc coverup of some much more malign scheme.

In a way, it's an obvious play on the "IPA" that's such a popular beer nowadays. Having said that, this sort of backlash is pretty foreseeable.

No one seems to have noticed that the brewery's name is pretty offensive in itself... Also, why should anyone surprised that a brewery that aligns itself with the devil makes light of genocide?

Devils Backbone...offensive? Someone is a little sensitive I do believe. Devils Backbone...
1. is the name of a state park in Maryland... here's the web address if you like...http://www.washco-md.net/parks_facilities/devils.shtm
2. and also a biking trail in south-central Texas.. you can google map the area.
3. Also, it is a state forest in...oh...Virginia, by the way, where I believe the brewery got its name from.

Are you aware that the designation 'India Pale Ale' refers specifically to another, perhaps even more brutal colonial regime? I'm sure there are dozens of other examples to be found.

@Daniel, that is by far the most amusing comment on here! I'm guessing you don't follow any sort of history. @Jeff is completely right. I know for a fact that a rocky ridge descending into the river in Clifton Forge, VA is called Devils Backbone. And yes there is a place in Texas. The name for the Brewery did in fact come from Thomas Jefferson's father Peter. It is the nickname of a treacherous ridge given by Thomas Jefferson’s father, Peter, who was part of the group that first surveyed the Blue Ridge Mountains. Again history, I don't think the brewery was using this for "chuckles". How in any way does the ad depict genocide, rape or murder? I see a jungle, with little jungle animal eyes looking out, when I think of jungle I think of Congo. To say the ad depicts that, is a crazy accusation. No one should be drinking any beer if we were going to relate the name to its past history. I think most of you should be disgusted with yourselves. There are far greater issues in the world other than the name of a beer. Why don't you all brush up on history that will help with war, crime, rape, starvation and murder.

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