So a Republican walks into a brewery...
Plus: Mountain Dew hard seltzer, podcast appearances, a good BrewDog meme + more!
Over the weekend, an Ohio Republican made a campaign stop at a craft brewery and tweeted a maskless picture with a waitress who he said was sick but came to work anyway. “These are the type of American workers that make our country strong,” posted Josh Mandel, a former Ohio state representative who is currently campaigning for the seat retiring Buckeye Senator Rob Portman will vacate in 2022.
His tweet upset a lot of people, and understandably so. Ohio’s Covid-19 death total recently topped 20,000, its 7-day average case count is the highest it’s been in six months, and the virus’ transmission rate in the county where the brewery is located is currently “high,” meaning >100 cases per 100,000 people. On top of that, only 48% of Ohioans are fully vaccinated. It’s a time when prominent politicians should be encouraging sick workers to stay home at all costs, not celebrating them for hosing down taproom customers with their potentially deadly droplets.
Whether Mandel, whose political resume reads like it was compiled with fridge magnets from the Heritage Foundation kitchenette, was trolling or actually this obtuse is hard to say. And there’s no way to know whether the server in question has the coronavirus, or is just down with a cold, or something else. But also it doesn’t really matter. 18 months into the pandemic, a political leader lionizing a worker for coming to work with symptoms is unconscionable. This is basic shit! Mandel’s tweet got ratioed into the stratosphere, and in a reasonable world, the gaffe would hamstring his political ambitions. But because we live on the stupidest imaginable timeline, it may actually help his cause.
To wit: after the tweet went viral, the brewery, Inside The Five, issued a statement to a local news station claiming that it had sent the worker home. Mandel responded by accusing them of caving to “the woke mob,” then invoked the widely debunked lie that lazy workers were “getting paid to sit at home and do nothing.” For a candidate who got suspended from Twitter earlier this year for polling followers on whether “Muslim terrorists” or “Mexican gangbangers” did more crimes, then proudly advertised that suspension in his Twitter bio, this is all political theater. Doubling down is just the next bit of red-meat choreography for his base.
(Mandel, it should be noted, is an aspiring soldier in the posting wars and a keen practitioner of lowest-common-denominator online conservative kabuki. In June, he tweeted a video of himself silently lighting a mask on fire in what appears to be a stairwell in one of those “luxury” apartment buildings with a 4ft-deep pool and communal grills that no one cleans. “FREEDOM 😷🔥,” he wrote. 10/10, no notes.)
But for Inside The Five, serving as the politician’s stage has brought consequences. The brewery deleted its Twitter account, and its Yelp and Google business pages are being flooded with one-star reviews. As for the waitress who Mandel named repeatedly, the brewery said “Although our server's intentions were good, it was not the right decision and it will be addressed.” Hmm.
While it’s understandable for people to be angry that the woman came to work sick (again, we don’t know whether she’s got coronavirus, and I haven’t seen any reports that include comments directly from her), keep in mind that she may not have had much of a choice in the matter. Ohio’s governor, Republican Mike DeWine, cut off federal unemployment assistance in May in a cruel gambit—replicated by other GOP governors around the country—to force at-risk workers back into the labor pool to help employers fill shit jobs without raising wages. Ohio, like most states, does not require private employers to offer paid sick leave, and even if it did, we know that in the majority of American restaurants, servers rely on tips for most of their income thanks in part to tipped minimum wages (Ohio’s is $4.40/hour.) Even if this particular brewery offer paid sick leave in other words, it may not have amounted to much.
Together, those factors create a no-win situation for a worker who’s feeling under the weather during a pandemic. Stay home and fall behind on your bills or lose your job and slip through a shredded social safety net; come to work in violation of an employer’s stated protocols, and you might transmit the virus, or find yourself at the center of a vicious news cycle. Maybe all of the above.
Look, maybe this taproom server is an anti-vaxxer who believes the coronavirus is a ruse Bill Gates cooked up to implant us all with quantum dot tattoos using the vaccine as a vehicle. Or maybe she just had a cold and needed money. But strip away the particulars of this situation, and the dilemma remains. It’s politically expedient for people like Mandel to turn common-sense pandemic policy into culture-war bullshit, but that’s not “making our country strong.” It’s putting ordinary workers in extraordinarily shitty positions in service of private profits and political optics, and putting us all in danger in the process.
A good tweet
Hard Mountain Dew: it’s all happening
Perhaps sensing I was on sabbatical, earlier this month PepsiCo and Boston Beer Company announced a new partnership on Hard Mountain Dew, ushering in a bold new era of gut-rotting (albeit non-caffeinated) alcoholic gamer fuel and nudging the hands of the Doomsday Clock that much closer to midnight in the process.
The unholy alliance won’t be available for purchase until early 2022, but at Good Beer Hunting, Kate Bernot had a smart take on what this portends (beyond the apocalypse, that is.) Namely, a new willingness from soft-drink companies to dabble in alcohol distribution:
As beer distribution has become consolidated, leaving fewer wholesalers for an increasing number of alcohol brands, traditional soft drink companies could see themselves as viable rivals to the traditional beer distributors affiliated with either Anheuser-Busch InBev or Molson Coors. When anything can become an alcoholic version of itself—yerba mate, coffee, or even hemp milk—these kinds of extensions to secure dollars can be an important change for these companies.
Remember, Bang Energy (which PepsiCo has a strained distribution deal with) already markets its own flavored malt beverage, Mixx, and Rockstar (which PepsiCo owns outright) recently registered trademarks to put out FMB line extensions of its own. Rumors have long swirled that Coca-Cola will use its stake in Monster Energy to join the fermented fun. (Coke, with Molson Coors, is also behind Topo Chico hard seltzer, which is on shelves now.) Just one more reminder that as much as you might think “this hard seltzer thing has gone far enough,” as MEL Magazine’s Miles Klee recently put it, we’ve got miles to to go before we sleep.
RELATED FINGERS READING:
🎵Ain’t no party like a Bang Energy lawsuit…🎵 (scroll down)
Podcasts, getcha podcasts heaaah
I was recently invited to join a pair of podcasts to discuss my BrewDog “equity for punks” investigation for VinePair from last month. First up was The Business of Beverages with Will Keating and Padraig Fox, who are as Irish as their names suggest, and wonderful hosts to boot. They also made an Instagram promo graphic with an old photo of me that looks absolutely unhinged when coupled with the quote they laid over it. Big fan. You can listen to that episode here.
Then, I joined Augie Carton of New Jersey’s Carton Brewing and beer writer John Holl on Steal This Beer, for what wound up being a two-parter where we got deep into my reporting. I didn’t steal any beer but I did steal a bunch of time, turning what was meant to be a single 45min episode into two hour-long pieces. Oops! Those episodes are right here.
As a reminder to all you podcast producers and hosts: invite me on your podcasts! I promise not to curse too much, unless you want me to, in which case sure I’ll fuckin’ do it. Email me, let’s link and build, fam: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A good BrewDog meme
A Fingers summer vacation recap
As you may have noticed, Fingers has been silent for most of the summer. The reasons for that are basically that from May to July I really busy wrapping up a (non-writing) project, then I went on vacation for a month. A whole month! It was fucking glorious. As evidence, here’s a massive Solo cup that I saw on my travels in Milwaukee:
See?! Told you. My wife and I actually happened to be in The Cream City for the Milwaukee Bucks’ historic Game 6 NBA championship win. We watched the first half the overflow crowd outside an old neighborhood bar called Puddlers’ Hall, and the second half outside another bar in the Walker’s Point neighborhood that I forget the name of. The game was close until the last few minutes, and the energy in the crowd as people realized that a Bucks win was possible, then probable, then definitely going to happen was absolutely electrifying. I’m not much of a sports guy in general, and I hardly ever watch the NBA, but that, reader? That was glorious.
Truthfully, though I did spend a lot of the past month traveling, the period wasn’t just a vacation for me. It was also an opportunity to really deliberately stop working for awhile, meaning that even when we weren’t visiting family or checking out a new city, I was spending my time doing anything but my job. As any freelancer can attest, this sort of hiatus comes with stress of its own, because when you work for yourself there’s no such thing as paid time off. Still, it was quite a privilege to be able to subsidize this downtime with money saved up from a previous gig, and after getting over my reluctance to dip into it, I shut everything down for 30 days.
This was all terrifying in its own right, because it made me feel like I was falling even further behind and putting myself in a financial and professional hole. I definitely slipped up a few times. But for the most part, I was able to keep work off my mind for the past month (the Bloody Marys helped), and it turned out to be a real relief. Now I’m back, and getting back into the swing of things, and one of those things is Fingers.
That’s right: the boozeletter is back, bay-bee! Thanks to everyone who left comments in our Friday discussion thread about what you’d like to see more of in this newsletter. (If you haven’t yet, by all means get in there!) I’m looking forward to being able to dedicate more time to incorporating your ideas into this project throughout the rest of the year. As always, my inbox and DMs are open for tips, feedback, and lavish praise.