‘If you’ve got a big thirst and you’re gay, reach for a cold, tall bottle of Schmitt’s Gay.” That was comedian Phil Hartman, circa 1991, delivering the punchline for a Saturday Night Live commercial spoof featuring Adam Sandler, Chris Farley and a half-dozen Speedo-clad men by a pool. The skit lampooned demographic-specific alcohol marketing that sold beer by exploiting male fantasies about sexually available Swedish bikini models.
The idea that a beer could be “gay” underscored the bizarreness of gendered alcohol advertising. But we’ve actually had “queer beer” in real life since 2011, when Mexico’s Minerva brewery launched their labels Salamandra and Purple Hand, a reference to a galvanizing gay rights protest that took place in San Francisco in 1969.
In addition to Minerva’s offering, there are at least three wines that focus their branding on the LGBT market – Ontario’s Chardonngay; Égalité, a sparkling wine from France; and New Zealand’s Pansy! Rosé. Sweet and berry forward, the latter is widely available on shelves at liquor stores across Canada. Over in the spirits section, you can celebrate with a bottle of Absolut Mix (same vodka; new, rainbow-hued bottle) released to honour Pride month. What makes these beverages gay-friendly? Some donate a portion of sales to LGBT organizations; others, like Absolut, were launched in concert with sponsorships of specific events that fall under the Pride umbrella.
This is a marked change in attitude from 30 years ago, when the organizers of the earliest beer tents at Toronto Pride festivals not only failed to secure sponsorship, but had issues finding a company willing to supply beer at all. When they finally found one, a certain level of discretion was expected.
“The beer had to be served in unmarked cups out of unmarked draught taps and there could be no advertising” recalls Kyle Rae, a Ryerson University professor and former city councillor who was one of the event’s organizers in 1985. “And the refrigerated trucks that arrived the night before with the kegs of beer were unmarked, because they didn’t want to be seen to be providing the beer for Pride.”