Corporate Colonization: The U.S. Beer Industry’s Convolution of Locality

February 21, 2017

By Amanda Jensen

Udefine is a speculative beer simulation that mirrors the corporate beer industry’s tactics.

Udefine is a speculative beer simulation that mirrors the corporate beer industry’s tactics.

 

There’s a battle going on amongst beer brewers. Corporate beer conglomerates have enforced cultural hegemony over the craft beer industry, leading to confusion for craft beer enthusiasts and consumers as to what is a local and what is a multinational brew. My thesis looks at how design can make visible the U.S. corporate beer industry’s cultural oppression over the craft beer culture. I’ve identified colonialist tactics such as buying up local craft breweries and controlling distribution by using pay-to-pay measures to ensure brand exclusivity, which has created a monopoly and an illusion of choice.

My prototype, Udefine reflects this convolution through color. Different shades of food coloring represent local characteristics and soda water stands in for beers owned by either corporate breweries, craft breweries or craft breweries owned by corporate entities. The food coloring added to the cups changes the transparent and unclouded hue to blue or purple, making it difficult for participants to determine what aspects of “local” are present within their beer. A participant begins Udefine by choosing from six bottles that have their brand labels concealed. These brands consist of two corporate beer brands, two craft beer brands, and two craft beer brands that are partially or fully owned by corporate brewers. By blindly choosing a beer, the participant pours it into the clear cup, tastes it and determines what aspects of locality they believe should be added. The local drops reference the nine views of local determined from research on Neolocalism. The participant can choose to add drops such as Non-Global or Transparent to the soda water in an effort to make the beer reflect their values of local. For example, local as Non-Global serves as an oppositional lens to globalization whereby community members aim to continually cultivate locality within their own regions. Local as Transparent holds the notion that if the community knows the individuals who produce that it is less likely for producers to manipulate the system because they are held accountable.

“Neolocalism,” a term coined by James R. Shortridge in the late 1990s, is the conscious attempt of individuals to cultivate local ties, identities, and economies in response to the destruction of more traditional bonds to communities. According to later research by Dr. Stephen M. Schnell’s research, advocates of the neolocal movement interpreted the word “local” to mean far more than its dictionary definition. He discovered that there were nine views of local and defines them as follows: Non-Global, Transparent, Non-Corporate, Unique, Environmentally Responsible, Empowered and Self-sufficient, Community-building, Authentic and All of the Above. In this simulation, convolution—the confusion of local and non-local attributes—was registered when the participant revealed the brand and was surprised they added locality to a beer that they perceived as craft but was actually owned by a corporate brewer.

A second prototype, Your Local is an extension of Udefine and takes the notion of locality one step further in that the actual ingredients of beer are metaphoric translations of Dr. Schnell’s nine views of local. Your Local flips the preordained capitalistic notion of hegemonic, mass production within the beer industry on its head by highlighting the very nature of locality through the participant’s curation of the beer they consume. Your Local is curated entirely from the participant’s definition of locality rather than from a standardized brewing recipe. Nearly all beer consists of four fundamental ingredients: Water, Yeast, Grains, and Hops. Considering these main ingredients, the participant chooses the most important views of local that they personally feel should be reflected in their beer. Additionally, the participant can choose from a variety of ingredients such as Cocoa, Honey or Cinnamon, which can serve as the remaining views of local. For example, by choosing Water as Transparent the participant believed that because water makes up 95% of beer that a brewery’s transparency is extremely vital with the community it operates within.

 

Your Local is a beer brewed entirely from the notion of locality rather than from a preordained, mass manufactured recipe.

Your Local is a beer brewed entirely from the notion of locality rather than from a preordained, mass manufactured recipe.

 

BIO:

Amanda Jensen’s academic background is a delightful cocktail of the humanities, fine art, and critical design. She earned an Associate of Arts degree in Humanities from Shasta College and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Design from California State University, Chico. As a graduate student in the Media Design Practices program, Jensen’s emerging work topically interrogates themes of colonialism, cultural hegemony, and capitalism in conjunction with furthering the notion that brands are the colonizers of culture.