At the tail end of October, Dick Yuengling, head of America’s oldest brewery, offered a hearty endorsement of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. The public response was swift and merciless, with hordes of drinkers officially vowing to steer clear of Yuengling’s beer forever. Stumping for Trump, as it turns out, was one sin too far for many.
But beer and politics are inextricably linked. It’s one of the most heavily regulated consumer goods on the market. And as an agricultural product, brewers have a vested interest in smart climate policy. So it’s no surprise to see craft beer industry leaders speaking up with the election now days away.
Enter on stage left: New Belgium. The Colorado staple is hosting a rally today led by former President and aspiring first husband Bill Clinton, in support of Hillary Clinton’s run for the Oval Office.
Craft beer has often been rightfully criticized as a white-dudes-only club, much like the Republican Party, the latter of which seems more interested than ever in making this their entire platform. But in recent years there's been a concerted effort in the beer community to be more inclusive and inviting—big beer (mostly) dropped the machismo, started advertising to minority groups and supporting their causes, and pushing a diverse set of voices forward.
They've been doing this partly because it's the right thing to do, but also because diversity in this regard is inevitable, and consumers vote with their dollars. Frankly, craft breweries need more consumers, not niches. In this case, few breweries have been as explicit in uniting the mass-appeal of their inclusive community with their business than New Belgium. Like Mark Cuban said recently, some business would rather take a financial hit than let the world burn for their profit.
If you know much at all about New Belgium, where the company is throwing its support in 2016 likely won’t surprise you. But rather than explain it, we got Bryan Simpson, company media relations director, to gather up some internal opinions and shine a light on what the brewery is trying to accomplish here.
How does the vision Clinton outlines for business ethics align with New Belgium's own views?
Secretary Clinton has a hopeful view of the future and an optimistic sense of the present. And while this is perhaps not specifically a business policy, it's a view of the world that gives a sense of stability to businesses. New Belgium has been built on optimism, hard work, and curiosity about what's next. We think that Secretary Clinton shares that view of our economy and our country.
Business, community, and environment are often in tension with each other. How has New Belgium contributed to a better world through an alignment of those concerns?
As a B Corporation, we are beholden to interests that transcend just financial, so our stakeholders include the environment, our planet, and our community. We take those factors into consideration every time we make a decision which has resulted in the adoption of innovative technologies like an on-site water treatment facility that can produce about 15% of our electricity, open book management that gives co-workers the ability to help run the business, and an ESOP program that shares equity and makes our co-workers 100% owners of the business. We feel like we are a much stronger and more resilient organization because of these commitments.
What does New Belgium hope to achieve through hosting the Clintons in this regard? What's the ideal takeaway, from the brewery's perspective?
Ideally, we show our support for a civil political process that encourages healthy and respectful debate. That seems to be a big ask these days. Also, we are hoping to help elect the one candidate in this election whose vision more closely aligns with our core values and beliefs—and that’s a pretty clear choice.
What are the chief concerns of New Belgium that relate to a potential Clinton administration?
That there will continue to be perpetual gridlock in the form of an intransigent and obstructionist congress. Lately, U.S. voters have tended to send one party to the White House and the other to Congress. We don’t have concerns about a Clinton administration as much as we have concerns that, if the parties can't begin working together, our country won't be able to enact any meaningful new policy.
How do these concerns relate to craft beer overall in the New Belgium example of craft beer?
Specific to gridlock, continued inaction on climate change will certainly wreak havoc to all forms of business down the road. We need both sides to get along at least well enough to keep the government funded so that label approvals and trademark reviews can get done. The biggest concern right now is probably that there is a long period of time in which the winner is unclear and the government, economy and society are thrown into an intense and drawn out period of uncertainty.
What does New Belgium see in Clinton that it's inspired by to the point of tangible support?
Her support for the human rights of all, healthcare as a continued priority, equal pay, her support for the LGBTQ community. Her commitment to learning and understanding the facts. Her very rational acceptance of climate science which at this point cannot be denied.
What does New Belgium want to see for Colorado specifically in terms of New Belgium's business ethics and impact, but also a Clinton administration?
We've learned a lot from businesses that we admire and in turn we've been able to help share some our better ideas with other businesses. We'd like to see the BCORP movement continue to flourish in Colorado as well as employee-owned companies coming online. We’d like to help elevate some of the business practices that we've found incredibly gratifying and good for the triple bottom line. President Obama and Labor Secretary Tom Perez have helped enable some of these high road business principles and we'd like to see that expanded and policies put into place to encourage companies to do the right thing.
How has the New Belgium fan feedback—both positive and negative—impacted the thinking on hosting Clinton?
Well, the quantity of negative feedback is a bit disheartening, but overall the tone toward New Belgium has been respectful. There are great fans and supporters as well and that’s always a nice break from the other. This may be the price we pay for speaking out in support of policies we see as beneficial to our business and to our communities. We’d be absolute hypocrites, however, if we enjoyed those benefits but were not willing to stand up and support them when it absolutely counted the most.
—Dave Eisenberg & Michael Kiser