When employees of DC Brau, the brewery that helped fuel the rebirth of Washington’s beer and spirits industry, started participating in the annual Capital Pride Parade two years ago, there was one thing that they wanted to drink more than anything else: water.
“It’s been really hot out on the parade route every year,” says Brandon Skall, CEO and co-founder of D.C. Brau. “We bring kegs of water out there, not beer.”
However, when Skall does want to have a beer on a hot summer day, his preference is a German-style pilsner. “Pilsner is the perfect kind of beer for that weather,” Skall says. “It’s easy-drinking, crisp and light and only about 4.5 percent alcohol.”
So when the Washington Blade’s director of marketing, Stephen Rutgers, approached DC Brau about making a branded beer for Pride Week, Skall and head brewer and co-founder Jeff Hancock knew exactly which beer they wanted to use. The trick was in figuring out how much they could actually produce and how to give it a uniquely Pride-focused spin.
“In the early part of this year,” Rutgers says, “DC Brau wasn’t even sure it was possible because of the logistics involved in producing just a small run of beer, so I kind of thought we’d just have to try again for next year.”
“We were already behind on production for our flagship brands,” Skall says, “plus we were planning on brewing three beers for the Craft Brewers Conference. But we still wanted to make it happen.”
Rutgers was surprised when DC Brau did indeed figure out how to make it happen, coming back to him in February with a plan to brew 200 cases of its signature Brau Pils, a lightly hoppy brew with notes of pepper, lemon and grass, and then wrap the cans with a custom image. Within a week, a contest was announced, looking for original designs for the limited-edition can.
“I wasn’t really sure what to expect,” says Rutgers of the design competition. “We just wanted to give people a chance to express themselves. We ended up with over 30 submissions, from a wide range of people, which we then narrowed down to 12 before opening it up to a public vote.”
More than 5,000 votes came in, with the winning design depicting a unicorn sporting a purple mane and waving a rainbow flag. Josette Matoto, a graphic artist and video producer for the environmental non-profit organization Friends of the Earth, says of her design, “I always imagine unicorns as naturally ‘unapologetically proud’ creatures that give zero Fs what people think of them.”
For Rutgers, Matoto’s playful design accomplished one of his main goals: “We wanted a can that would look good on the shelves of Whole Foods and other stores, so that people will want to buy it.”
Wanting people to buy the beer is an important goal of the whole project, say both Rutgers and Skall, because all proceeds from sales of Pride Pils have been earmarked for LGBT youth empowerment program, SMYAL, and the Washington Blade Foundation, which supports journalism projects and the next generation of LGBT journalists.
“It was important to us that this beer be a real vehicle for fundraising,” Skall says.
Matoto was particularly drawn to enter the contest because SMYAL was a beneficiary, saying, “One of SMYAL’s goals is to help LGBTQ kids build confidence. That’s what this image is about, too — that and finding some lightness and fun in 2017.”
Rutgers also felt the need for a community-driven project during a time when the LGBT community has real concerns about the current political climate and possible repercussions from a conservative agenda. “I think this year, especially after the election, that I really wanted to create something that would showcase what our community has to offer,” he says. “There are a lot of emotions out there around Pride.”
In fact, the local Washington community embraced the Pride Pils concept so quickly that Skall realized that 200 cases of beer was not going to come close to satisfying the demand. “We increased the run to 350 cases,” Skall says, “but then Whole Foods came in and said they wanted 250 cases for their D.C. stores. We finally ended up at 782 cases total, and we even gave up the last 100 cases that we were going to have on hand at the brewery because we were getting so many requests.”
Some of the stores, bars and restaurants where Pride Pils can be found in June include Glen’s Garden Market, Dacha Beer Garden, Pizzeria Paradiso, Rock and Roll Hotel and Schneider’s of Capitol Hill, and the colorful can may become quite a collector’s item.
If people do choose to display the can, whether as a piece of artwork or a political statement, artist Matoto is hopeful that the message she wanted to convey with her design has a lasting impact.
“I like to draw unicorns because I think they’re a reminder that our uniqueness makes us special,” she says. “It’s great to see people speaking up about pride this year and working to make sure that everyone who identifies as queer feels elevated and celebrated by our events. We’re not there, yet, but the more we celebrate the things that make us all unique unicorns, the closer we’ll be.”