The Fieri-fication of hard seltzer will absolutely be televised
The Mayor of Flavortown hawks hard soda, Coors' odd "labor" merch + more!
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The Super Bowl is next Sunday, which means the time-honored tradition of beer companies teasing/leaking/previewing their Big Game commercials has once again commenced in earnest. As I wrote last week, Miller Lite has a whole metaverse thing upcoming, while Anheuser-Busch is locked and loaded with lots o’ spots six-pack of spots that will feature, among other things, Bud Light Next NFTs, and Budweiser’s triumphant return after getting benched last year in favor of vaccine awareness (Lotta good that did lol.)
I refuse to turn the boozeletter into a mindless blog celebrating #epic Super Bowl beer ads because a) you deserve better, and b) there are already plenty of listicle farms pumping out ad-dense, nutrient-scarce round-up ‘n ranking slop for you to pain-pig out on, if you’re so inclined. But the Super Bowl ad for Bud Light Seltzer’s new hard soda line extension, featuring celebrity chef and goated goatee-haver Guy Fieri, is worth a closer look.
Once upon a time not long ago, it was de rigueur to dunk on Guy Fieri for his fly-over wardrobe, Smashmouth haircut, and hokey exclamations. But if revenge is a dish best served cold, redemption is one best served slathered in donkey sauce. Over the past few years, as one elite “rockstar” chef after another has been cut down in righteous hails of sexual assault allegations, worker-exploitation scandals, and general dickbaggery, the longtime Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives star has emerged as a populist standard-bearer for uncomplicated, inconspicuous, indulgent consumption. Fieri, in his flame-licked camp-collars and wraparound shades, convinced untold millions of viewers that even the ugliest “ugly Americans” are capable of making and appreciating good food. The fact that he is by many (though not all) accounts a pretty decent dude IRL only underscores the appealing down-home Tao of Guy: They may have prestige and sophistication, but we have honest living and bold flavors, and for people like us, that’s enough, brother.
Such approachability makes Fieri ideal to carry BLS Hard Soda’s 60-second Super Bowl spot. As the Mayor of Flavortown, he’s uniquely qualified to coronate the liquids’ “loud flavors;” as a come-as-you-are culinary heel with a nearly unassailable reputation, he’s one of the few household names capable of convincing the American drinking public that ABI’s latest lackadaisical line extension is worth a shot. Apple’s 1984 riff, this isn’t, but it is smart beer marketing, because like lots of smart marketing, this spot is just making explicit something that already feels true.
Hard soda is just the Fieri-fication of hard seltzer, which itself is just beer remade in Guy Fieri’s self-confidently literal likeness. Follow me here. After a decade and a half of scorching their tastebuds with over-hopped IPAs and being stereotyped (accurately or not) as anal-retentive bourgeoisie dipshits, rank-and-file American drinkers swarmed to White Claw et al. late last decade because it was accessible, unpretentious, and unapologetically straightforward.
In a 2019 column that I consider part of the bev-alc canon, The Atlantic’s Amanda Mull laid out all the forces that catapulted hard seltzer to the front of the fridge (emphasis mine):
For much of the 2010s, booze trends have centered around limited-edition, high-alcohol craft beers and booze-heavy, professionally assembled cocktails. These trends have demanded that young people learn the ins and outs of booze culture; have a willingness to pursue the stores, bars, and breweries that meet their very particular tastes; and have the ability to spend some money to try new things…White Claw’s appeal, meanwhile, is that it rejects standards. Hard seltzer is exactly what it sounds like: fizzy water in a can with a pinch of sugar, a dash of fruit flavor, and roughly the same amount of alcohol as light beer. It’s cold, drinkable, and doesn’t taste like much… In other words, it’s the perfect drink for people exhausted by rules.
How else to explain Guy Fieri’s enduring popularity throughout a two-decade restaurant industry renaissance? He’s the perfect figurehead for people exhausted by rules, normies who just want to enjoy their bacon-wrapped jalapeño poppers and Philly cheesesteak eggrolls without being treated like knuckledraggers by New York Times critics and creative-class Juul fiends in unhealthy parasocial relationships with former Bon Appétit YouTube stars.
The class implications here get a bit wonky because Fieri is the highest paid chef on cable. But the simple fact is there are a lot more normies who want to glug drinks that taste exactly like the fruits pictured on their labels than there ever will be people that care about the differences between lager and ale. And lo: the Fieri-fication of beer gave us fruited kettle sours and marshmallow pastry stouts but above all hard seltzer, a class-agnostic elixir short on baggage and long on flavor. Now we have the second coming of hard soda, a Fieri-fication all its own. Actually hiring Fieri himself to hawk BLS Hard Soda is just ABI flexing its best-in-class marketing muscle and deep pockets to deliver a masterstroke in media manipulation that’s already delivered millions of dollars in free headlines. As I’ve written before, they are really fucking good at this!
Look, BLS Hard Soda may yet fail, but the general thesis underlying the brand is sound: Americans like soda, and they like getting drunk, so they’ll probably like those two things together as long as someone tells them it’s OK to admit it. Fieri is that someone. If he’s taught us anything, it’s that broad palates, truck-stop sensibilities, and joyful hedonism have serious, valuable staying power when properly styled and broadcast in high definition to the hoi polloi. Macrobrewers with flavored malt beverages to move have clearly taken the lesson to heart, and why shouldn’t they? After all, the Mayor of Flavortown is presumably an elected position, and as any politician will tell you, the best way to win elections is to get yourself on TV and play to your base.
📬 Good post alert
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🤔 I don’t understand this Coors’ “Labor” merch
A Friend of Fingers who wanted to remain anonymous tipped me off the other day to the fact that the Coors Banquet brand licenses its name to cozyboi merchandise that its licensee, Brixton Mfg. Co., calls “Labor.”
This is kind of weird! For the uninitiated: Coors Brewing Company was, infamously and by far, the country’s most anti-labor American macrobrewer before undergoing the series of corporate mergers that resulted in today’s Molson Coors. As Allyson Brantley, Ph.D., author of Brewing a Boycott, told Fingers last year, the three-decade boycott against Coors’ products in the latter half of the 20th century was sparked by labor disputes and sustained, in no small part, by pressure from rank-and-file workers and the AFL-CIO, America’s largest labor federation. Coors, according to the historian, responded to the pressure not by making nice with its union—which it busted in the late Seventies, and has kept out ever since—but by throwing money at corporate charities.
Of course, plenty has changed since the late Seventies, as one Molson Coors marketing person insisted repeatedly to me via Twitter. This is true! (Molson Coors, for example, did not exist; it’s the result of a series of mergers that put Coors brands and facilities under corporate, not family, control.) But as far as I know, the Coors facility in Golden, Colorado, remains non-union to the present day. So to have a Coors merch style called “Labor” is just kinda… bizarre, right?
Molson Coors spokesman Marty Maloney told Fingers that the “Labor” moniker “has nothing to do with Coors or Molson Coors,” because Brixton named the products. Fair enough. Still, it seems to have been deliberately chosen: I scrubbed through the clothing company’s other apparel names, and the only other labor-related term I found was this “Union Survey” chore coat. (Which looks nice, by the way!) In my search, I also came across another Coors x Brixton collab from 2017 named… “Friendly Union.” Even weirder! Maloney pointed out that Brixton classified all its branded collabs under that phrase at the time (which appears to be true), but declined to say whether Coors, as the licensor, had approved the “Friendly Union” or “Labor” names.
Is this just a big coincidence? Is it blue collar stolen valor? Perhaps someone in the Brixton merch department is a student and/or foe of the American labor movement and decided to do a little deep trolling? Or maybe there’s a happier explanation: as Fair State Brewing Cooperative’s Anders Bloomquist (a union member himself) wrote on Twitter, if the garments were union-made or -printed, “that would be a meaningful gesture with a material/financial commitment to celebrating Labor that would demonstrate it's not just a nostalgic marketing ploy.” I agree!
Unfortunately, there’s nothing on the product pages about the items’ provenance, but I’ve reached out to Brixton for more info and will update if/when I hear back. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in the Coors Brewing Company’s labor history, I highly recommend Brantley’s book, as well as Dan Baum’s Citizen Coors. Read either, and you’ll immediately understand why the vibes on Coors-branded “Labor” merch just feel kinda off.
🎧 On Big Soda’s big foray into booze
The Fingers Podcast is on a small hiatus right now as I work on making it a better, more consistent, more worthwhile listen for you in 2022. But my friends at VinePair recently had me on as a guest to chat about Big Soda’s big foray into the beverage alcohol business, so check that out if you’re interested!
Don’t miss out, follow Fingers on Instagram today. It’s free, and your feed will thank you. (Not really, that would be weird. But you know what I mean.)