Tiny Rebel's The Full Nelson 'Maori Pale Ale' and Butcombe's Haka 'Maori Beer'

Pro tip, UK brewers: Māori is a culture, not a beer style

Following on from inappropriate use of Māori-inspired imagery to promote New Zealand-hopped beers, several British craft breweries appear to think ‘Māori pale ale’ is a beer style. 

The United Kingdom might be half a world away from New Zealand, but it hasn’t stopped at least three British breweries from using the term ‘Māori’ to describe and promote their beers. Tiny Rebel, Vale of Glamorgan (VOG) Brewery (both based in Wales) and Butcombe Brewery near Bristol have all been releasing New Zealand-hopped beers with inappropriate branding.

Tiny Rebel’s beer The Full Nelson and VOG’s offering South Island both have “Māori Pale Ale” directly underneath the beer name, while Butcombe placed the term “Māori Beer” on the badge for its Haka pale ale.

The use of the word Māori to describe a style of beer in the UK is not only potentially confusing for consumers – considering there is no such thing as Māori beer – but it’s offensive too. Māori culture advocate Karaitiana Taiuru says using the word on the beer labels is inaccurate and hurtful.

“Māori did not have alcohol or hops prior to European immigrants. The social issues that plagued Māori because of alcohol are still felt today. Using Māori to promote alcohol is in itself offensive, [but] by using the term it implies that it is a Māori product or somehow it is endorsed by Māori, both of which are incorrect and misleading.”

 

The tap badge for Vale of Glamorgan’s South Island ‘Maori Pale Ale’

VOG Brewery describes its South Island Maori Pale Ale as “massively” popular on its website, and, indeed, it appears to be widely available in Wales on keg, cask and in bottles. Taiuru finds this product particularly offensive, as it directly targets his tribe, Ngāi Tahu. “The label reads as ‘South Island Maori Pale Ale’. South Island Māori are dominantly the Ngāi Tahu tribe, a $1.4 billion tribal/commercial structure with about 45,000 beneficiaries, myself and family included,” he says.

“Ngāi Tahu do not have a mandate to invest in alcohol products and services. From a cultural perspective and as an individual of Ngāi Tahu, I find it offensive and disgusting that a brewer is using the name that my tribe are known by. It has further flow on effects … of trying to make alcohol cool and branded to Māori people. On the other hand, it is the commercial exploitation of South Island Māori.”

VOG did not responded to multiple requests by The Pursuit of Hoppiness for comment.

While VOG doesn’t use any offensive imagery on its branding of South Island, that can’t be said about the beers released by Tiny Rebel and Butcombe. Tiny Rebel, which also exports some of its products to New Zealand, has been releasing its The Full Nelson beer as part of its seasonal range since 2012, though the 2018 release early this year was its last. The beer label shows a picture of a spray-painted tā moko and describes the 4.8% drop as a Māori Pale Ale, while on their website they said the beer was “Māori-inspired”. Some versions of the label had Tiny Rebel’s trademark teddy bear with tā moko on its face too, while on the beer’s pump clip (cask beer badge), the tattoo-less teddy bear was sitting atop the spray painted tā moko.

Taiuru says the brewery committed cultural appropriation with its branding of The Full Nelson. “Tā moko is a graphical story of an individual’s genealogy and their personal achievements. It is offensive to use another person’s tā moko and is blatant theft. It is also offensive to have tā moko or any aspect of the head associated with food and beverages, more so when associated with alcohol.

“Furthermore, the use of the image on beer handles makes the situation worse, as the head is sacred and should never be touched by anyone else – you have people grabbing the pump clip, further desecrating the cultural value of the tā moko. In a traditional sense, it is like squeezing blood and biological material from a head. The [pump] clip is reminiscent of the European settlers and Major-General Horatio Gordon Robley who collected Māori heads. This is simply a modern-day version.”

The ‘Maori Pale Ales’ from Welsh breweries Vale of Glamorgan and Tiny Rebel

When I contacted the brewery, marketing manager Niall Thomas said they had retired The Full Nelson beer following an internal review of their products about 12 months ago. He said he did not know why the brewery chose to describe the beer as a Māori Pale Ale rather than as an actual style of beer such as New Zealand Pale Ale, nor who was behind that decision.

At that time, the beer was still listed among Tiny Rebel’s seasonal range on their website, along with the offensive branding and design. But the brewery removed all references to The Full Nelson Māori Pale Ale from its website, including to a one-off chardonnay-barrel-aged version, about three weeks after The Pursuit of Hoppiness first contacted them. They had not responded to questions about what steps they took to consult Māori before releasing the beer, nor about the offence the beer branding has caused, before deadline.

At the time of writing, The Full Nelson Māori Pale Ale was still available for purchase on some online stores in the UK, and at least one tourist shop in Cardiff. However, that stock is likely to have been brewed sometime between February and May of this year, so any remaining bottles of The Full Nelson are likely to be extremely limited. It has never been exported to New Zealand.

Taiuru is thankful Tiny Rebel have removed the brand. He says the fact the brewery did not acknowledge the several attempts he made to contact them about the problems with The Full Nelson, and the fact they have not responded to media inquiries about the beer design, shows they are not that remorseful.

“In my opinion, if someone offends a group of people by accident, then they quickly rectify the offence and apologise. I do not believe Tiny Rebel are remorseful, but probably evaluated the risk to their business with bad publicity and the number of Kiwis over there,” he says.

 

Some versions of Tiny Rebel’s Full Nelson imagery have the brewery’s trademark teddy with tā moko; and Butcombe’s tap badge describing the Haka beer as a “ferocious Maori bitter”

A third brewery, Butcombe, has also caused offence with its New Zealand-hopped beer named Haka. The beer branding currently depicts a head with a full face tā moko performing pūkana, with some versions of the Haka beer badge describing it as “Maori Beer” or “Ferocious Maori Bitter”. Their managing director, Tim Hubert, says versions using the word Māori are old and have not been available for use for a number of years, with the current pump clip using the term “New Zealand Hopped Pale Ale” instead – though the image of the tā moko and pūkana remain.

In response to concerns about the badge design and that the tā moko may have been copied from someone’s face, Hubert said he would withdraw the branding and investigate where the design came from.

“I am not certain if this [tā moko] was taken from a picture or a designer’s bespoke image,” he says. “As you will appreciate we would not want to cause any offence, so will ensure we make any changes to the design once we know the origin.”

The brewery used the old branding on its social media sites to promote Haka ahead of the England v New Zealand rugby test at Twickenham last month – an oversight Hubert says will not be repeated by the brewery’s marketing team. The posts have been deleted.

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Taiuru says Butcombe Brewery’s prompt decision to pull the beer design until a new design is settled upon is commendable. “This is good news and reflective of a socially and ethically responsible organisation that is able to operate in an international market. [But] they also need to consider their brand on other websites.”

There have now been at least eight international breweries identified this year that have used images, words or phrases on their products that are offensive to Māori. Most of them are based in the UK. While many of those beers are no longer in production, there is still the potential they could cause offence thanks to the long memory of the internet. Taiuru says breweries have a responsibility to remove all offending images and descriptions of the beers online and ask their suppliers to do the same.

The majority of breweries approached by Taiuru and the New Zealand media have apologised and removed the offensive material associated with their beers, though some have failed to respond to information that their beer branding is culturally insensitive or racist. While most breweries appear genuinely oblivious to the fact that associating Māori culture with beer can cause offence, it’s precisely that ignorance that could mean Tiny Rebel, VOG and Butcombe may not be the last breweries to brew racist tributes to New Zealand.

This story was originally published in the December issue of Pursuit of HoppinessPursuit of Hoppiness is published by SOBA (Society of Beer Advocates), a consumer-based organisation with a mission to educate, advocate and promote quality and diversity in beer.


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