For almost five years, a beer that (intentionally!) looks like a Ku Klux Klan member has won over the ranks of craft beer drinkers. From the United Kingdom’s Buxton Brewery and Sweden’s Omnipollo, Yellow Belly is a rich, dark “peanut butter and biscuit” Imperial Stout that’s apparently beloved on Beer Advocate.
The bottle is enrobed in white paper that’s wrinkled around the bottle’s neck and twisted around the top like cloth, and printed with two black dots, denoting eye holes, above “Yellow Belly” in bold letters. The result is a beer that resembles a teeny tiny Klan member—though the beer’s mission statement is outspokenly anti-racist. There's a lot to unpack there. Yet that, surprisingly, is not why Yellow Belly is being discontinued.
According to a report by the BBC, Bateman Brewery has launched a trademark dispute over the name. Bateman has brewed iterations of a beer called Yella Belly for the past 20 years, Yella Belly Gold being the current one. The name, according to a statement for the beer's release, is a nickname for the people of Lincolnshire, where the brewery is based.
Though the case is under review by European Union’s Intellectual Property Office, the BBC writes, Omnipollo posted on Instagram that it was “forced to discontinue YELLOW BELLY after 5 yrs.” In an email to MUNCHIES, a representative for Omnipollo declined to comment on the case; we have also reached out to Buxton Brewery and have yet to receive a response. Omnipollo's social media statement, which is interspersed with emojis, mentions “trademark lawyers knocking down the door,” and ends with “...oh, and don’t be racist.”
Apparently, that was the rationale for the name and appearance of the KKK-looking beer in the first place: In 2014, the U.K.’s Siren Craft Brew put forth a challenge for 14 breweries to make beer collaborations themed around colors of the rainbow. Drawing the color yellow, Buxton and Omnipollo decided that it best corresponded with cowardice.
Citing far-right, fascist groups like National Front and Golden Dawn, the breweries wrote in a statement: “Being a coward can mean many different things, but protesting anonymously at the expense of people’s freedom and right to co-exist without showing your face is one meaning that is particularly relevant at this moment in time.”
Further, they wrote, “This beer, whilst attempting to make a commentary on the current political winds blowing through Europe, is above all, meant to be enjoyed as a celebration of all things new, open minded and progressive.”
Despite the breweries’ good intentions, the beer has, unsurprisingly, caused some controversy. While the anti-racist message is clear online, that’s not necessarily the case for drinkers who see the beer at quick glance on a store shelf; accordingly, the bottles have been posted on r/AccidentalRacism and r/CrappyDesign. In a Reddit post from 2015, one commenter stated that distributors in Tennessee struggled to sell the beer, presumably because of its appearance.
Still, according to discerning drinkers, Yellow Belly's demise is cause for sadness—especially since there’s little very confusion between the two beers. With only two ratings on Beer Advocate, Yella Belly Gold is categorized as “Okay,” seemingly a light, easy-drinking beer. Yellow Belly meanwhile is “Outstanding,” garnering over 500 reviews, many of them glowing.
One commenter on Reddit wrote, “The two beers couldn’t be further apart if they tried. One’s just another cask ale that simply accompanies people while socialising, and the other is the holy grail of british pastry stout.”