A Beer by Any Other Name: How an Imperial Saison Sparked International Controversy

Schuck & Lincoln in the brewroom

By Matt Minich

The beer at Funkwerks is cursed.

The brewery, which operates in the building that formerly housed the Fort Collins Brewery (located at 1900 E. Lincoln Ave.), hasn’t even been open a full year, but it has already been hexed from the far side of the globe.

No one at Funkwerks knows the name of the Maori woman who placed the hex, or exactly what effect it has on the beer or its drinkers. In fact, the people at Funkwerks are still scratching their heads over how the woman (and an angry crowd of other Maori) even found out that they existed.

The Beer
Brad Lincoln, co-owner of the brewery, traces the controversy to a straightforward, 180-word press release that he sent out in August. The announcement talked about the release of bottles of the brewery’s imperial saison, Maori King, which had become one of its most popular beers. The beer was named by co-owner and brewer Gordon Schuck, who thought of it as a tribute to the native people of New Zealand, where the hops for the beer are grown.

“I walked into the brewroom and said we needed a name and [Schuck] was like ‘how about Maori King,’” Lincoln said. “That was about it.”

About two weeks after the release was sent out, a call came to the Funkwerks taproom from a reporter with New Zealand’s largest newspaper, the New Zealand Herald.

The Herald was looking for the brewery’s official response to allegations that their beer’s name was an affront to an indigenous culture ravaged by alcoholism. Thirty minutes later, Lincoln was called for an interview with New Zealand news radio. Nasty comments started popping up on the brewery’s Facebook page and Maori blogs, including the one dedicated to cursing Funkwerks’ suds.

“I’m not going to New Zealand anytime soon,” Lincoln said with a laugh. “I’m scared right now.”

The Maori
The latest New Zealand census – taken in 2006 – counts more than half a million Maori, but the tribe has been vigilant in defending its image across the world. Anti-defamation lawsuits by Maori are not uncommon, and perceived slights against the people are a common fixture in the New Zealand media. Use of cultural icons like the moco – stylized facial tattoos used as a logo for Maori King – by companies for their own benefit is seen by many in the tribe as a serious offence.

And distance is no issue. In 2005, protest by the Maori was successful in having an Israeli cigarette blend – Maori Mix – pulled from the shelves.

The Response
Though some of the beer’s diehard fans urged them not to, Schuck and Lincoln quickly agreed to change the name of Maori King to Southern Tropic. After only a few days, they permanently changed it to Southern Tropic, which remains on tap. Schuck, who came up with the name originally, drafted a new press release apologizing for the perceived insult and explaining his intentions.

“I want to be known for making good beer,” Schuck said. “Not as that brewer who’s always stirring up controversy and offending people.”

Funkwerks Brewery is located at 1900 E. Lincoln Ave., Unit B. To see Funkwerks’ tasting room hours and to find out more about the brewery and their many delicious beers, check out funkwerks.com.

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