Talkback: Is Gandhi beer offensive or just canny branding?

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Talkback: Is Gandhi beer offensive or just canny branding?

Related tags Beer

Talkback is a new weekly feature which looks at a polarising issue and gauges your response to it from an industry perspective. This week, we invite you to look at a beer from the United States that carries the name of a notable teetotaller and let us know if you think it is slick marketing, or something that could be filed under "highly inappropriate". We will publish the responses in an update later this week.

The Hindu pressure group which last year sparked a storm by questioning whether the religion should have its own global food code, has hit out at an American craft beer that bears the name of the father of modern India.

In July, the Indo-American Leadership Confederation drew attention to the practice​ by Heinz Australia of using alcohol and beef-derived gelatine in the production of some of its fruit juices, leading to calls for a certification system similar to halal to be available for Hindus.

This time, the Connecticut-based New England Brewing Company has drawn the Hindu group’s ire with its Gandhi-Bot beer, an Indian pale ale which features Mahatma Gandhi’s image on its labelling. 

The company says on its website that the beer is an "ideal aid for self-purification and the seeking of truth and love​”.

Speaking from his Nevada base, Rajan Zed, the self-styled “statesman​” who leads the Hindu group said that Gandhi “abhorred​” the consumption of alcohol. Indeed, the independence leader’s home state of Gujarat retains its prohibition of liquor to this day.

The marketing of beer for mercantile greed using Gandhi was a trivialisation of Gandhian principles and a belittling of the Indo-American community and Indians​,” said Zed.

Mahatma Gandhi was one of the few men in history to fight simultaneously on moral, religious, political, social, economic and cultural fronts, and he continues to be widely respected as one of the greatest moral and political leaders of the twentieth century​.”

In southern India, a lawyer has filed a court petition the city of Hyderabad alleging that carrying Gandhi's image on alcohol cans was "condemnable​" and punishable under Indian laws.

The American brewery has since apologised, according to the Press Trust of India, although it continues to stock the beer domestically.

"We do apologise if the good people of India find our Gandhi-Bot label offensive. Our intent is not to offend anyone but rather pay homage and celebrate a great man who we respect greatly​," Matt Westfall, the head brewer, told the news agency.

The company also claimed it had received approval from two of Gandhi’s descendants. “His granddaughter and grandson have seen the label and have expressed their admiration​,” Westfall said. 

New England Brewing Company, whose slogan is "Drink it. It's good​", is a craft brewery launched in 2003 which claims to be one of the top 20 breweries in the US. 

According to the company, Gandhi-Bot, which comes in cans, is an “intensely hopped double India pale ale​” that is “aromatic and fully vegetarian​”. 

Gandhi-Bot is an ideal aid for self-purification and the seeking of truth and love​,” it adds.

The cans show a sketch of Gandhi with one hand raised in blessing.

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