Once upon a time, if you had a microbrewery, it was enough to garner you attention from beer drinkers bored with the bland offerings of big brewers. But, as craft breweries began to proliferate, each had to figure out a way to stand out from the crowd by creating unique beers in a variety of styles using a diverse array of ingredients—coconut or bull testicles anyone?
Creative label artwork and unusual names can help your product stand out. But be careful how creative you try to get with a name, as Hell’s Basement Brewery in Medicine Hat, Alta., found out the hard way.
The brewery itself is named for a line from Rudyard Kipling. While travelling across Canada with his wife in 1907, he was quoted in the Medicine Hat News saying, “This part of the country has all Hell for a basement.” Luckily for the owners of Hell’s Basement, they shared a common language with the English journalist and author.
But when trying to come up with a new pale ale they’d brewed using two types of hops from New Zealand, Moteuka and Rakau, they missed the mark. They dubbed the product “Huruhuru (the Feather) New Zealand Hopped Pale Ale,” reasoning that the brew was “as light as a feather.” And in the native language of the Maori, the original inhabitants of New Zealand, huruhuru does in fact mean feather. Unfortunately, it’s also slang in certain dialects for “pubic hair.”
They only became aware of the error of their ways this August, two years after the product launched, when Maori-speaker Mahisian Wahine posted about it on Twitter. The story quickly went viral, getting coverage in Canada, England, New Zealand and more. (The story in The Guardian points out that a leather shop in Wellington, NZ made the same mistake.)
While declining an interview for this post, co-owner Mike Patriquin shared an official statement they put out after the controversy went viral. It reads in part, “it was not our intent to offend anyone…we acknowledge that we did not consider the common place use of the term huruhuru as reference to pubic hair, and that consultation with a Maori representative would have been a better reference than online dictionaries…we are learning and we will do better in the future. We wish to make especially clear that we are deeply sorry for having infringed upon, appropriated, and offended the Maori culture or people in any way; to those we disrespected, we apologize.”
Trying to keep the mood light, they also make this humorous, yet accurate observation: “We do not think pubic hair is shameful, though we admit it may not go well with beer.”