It was a weird experience in London that led Douglas College English instructor Noëlle Phillips to write about craft beer and the Middle Ages.
The event was in a pop-up bar in the remains of a cathedral. The experience involved putting on a rain suit and entering a gin cloud to breathe it in.
“The guys that run it called it alcoholic architecture and they wore these monk’s robes, and there was this whole gothic, monastic theme happening,” Phillips said. “I was fascinated by the reimagining of medieval history to create this modern experience.”
Phillips went on to present a paper about the connection between the use of history and the marketing of alcohol, which led to a publisher asking for a book proposal.
Craft Beer Culture and Modern Medievalism: Brewing Dissent is the result of Phillips’ exploration of medieval themes in craft brewing marketing, and the connections between the two time periods.
“The more I thought about it the more I noticed it in the way we talk about beer, especially craft beer,” she said, adding companies like Budweiser have recently used medieval imagery and themes to sell their beer, as well.
“But that’s very rare with the big beer companies,” she said. “When a company does that they’re trying to emulate, they’re trying to capture part of the craft beer market.”
As to why craft breweries are using the Middle Ages as inspiration for their marketing campaigns, Phillips said it is connected to the local food movement.
Instead of only focusing on a particular place for their marketing strategy, they pick a time in history.
“So our concept of the medieval, whether that’s realistic, takes the place of the immediately local in some of these breweries. Either they find an origin story for their beer or they find a theme that connects a much older practice of producing and consuming beer we’ve kind of lost,” Phillips said. “I think medieval marketing wants to recover that kind of loss and redevelop that connection to beer.”
Phillips also addresses the male-dominated nature of both the modern craft brewing industry and the shift in the Middle Ages.
Once brewing became lucrative, men took over and women brewers were considered disreputable, particularly in the 15th and 16th centuries, she said.
“It was women who did all the brewing, and they were essentially disbanded from the industry, removed from the guilds and that kind of thing,” Phillips said. “It became an industry associated with men when in fact it began as a women’s industry.”
Today, craft beer marketing is very focused on masculinity, she also pointed out.
In addition to being an industry associated with men, it is also a very white industry, Phillips added.
“That’s particularly problematic when positioned as medievalists because in my field, medieval studies, various white supremacy movements essentially use medievalism – modern adaptation of the Middle Ages – they use it to kind of reinforce ‘our white history’ which is completely false,” she said. “Race was not even an idea in the Middle Ages the way it is now. It’s a false narrative.”
But Phillips believes the connection to our ideas of the past can also be a positive one, she said.
“I think there are all kinds of good reasons to support craft brewing and the positive side of that medieval marketing is I think it makes us feel a connection or long for a connection that we feel we have lost somewhere,” she said. “I love medievalism, I love the sort of modern use of the Middle Ages, but I’m also always conscious of the fact that that is our imagining of it.”
How we respond to historical concepts in marketing also says a lot about how we see ourselves, Phillips said.
”Am I going to be the monk, am I going to be the Viking, am I going to be the goddess, am I going to be the dragon slayer – there’s all these images in marketing that say a lot about what appeals to us,” she said. “What do we focus on in history, and what do we ignore? Because that’s going to tell us what we value in society.”
The official book launch takes place Thursday, Feb. 27 from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Laura C. Muir Theatre foyer and Amelia Douglas Gallery at Douglas College, 700 Royal Ave.