The latest farrago of bullshit and utter confusion to emanate from the world’s largest brewer centres on a dispute around a Brazilian brand offending the Hindu religion by linking a holy deity to a beer that still uses sexist tropes in its marketing. But that’s not the best part…
An interfaith coalition including representatives of the Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Jain faiths is calling on Anheuser-Busch InBev to rename Brahma, one of its biggest brands, because it is the name of the Hindu god of creation.
The coalition particularly objects to the deity’s name being associated with marketing that frequently uses sexual imagery to sell beer (the pic above, of Megan Fox, is from a campaign in which she appears to strip her top off. I deliberately chose it as one of the, ah, milder images that came up on a Google search.)
I don’t want to get into the sexism, and I don’t want to get into any “Why now?” or “Political/religious correctness gone mad!” debates here. What fascinates me in particular about the story is AB InBev’s response, which is just… so AB InBev:
“Lucas Rossi, head of communications for Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Latin America subsidiary, said Tuesday the beers were named in tribute to Joseph Bramah — an Englishman who invented the draft pump valve — and not for the Hindu deity. The spelling was changed, he said, to make the name work better in the Portuguese language.”
OK, so let’s start from the top and work down from there.
Firstly, at face value, I’ve heard more believable stories from kids trying to explain where their homework is. I’m amazed anyone can say anything like this and keep a straight face. It’s obviously not true.
To check, I did some digging around the history of the brand. This claim about Joseph Bramah doesn’t seem to exist anywhere before Lucas Rossi and his team obviously made it up.
Villiger & Cia, Companhia Cerverjaria Brahma was founded in 1888 by a Swiss national called Joseph Villiger. I’ve been trying to put myself in his mindset and imagine why would a Swiss national working in Brazil would name his beer company after an engineer from Barnsley, but I have to tell you, I’m coming up blank.
The giant that would become AB-InBev acquired Brahma in 1999. When they acquired Whitbread around the same time, they destroyed its archive, so I’m guessing they didn’t spend too long sifting through any old documents they found in the brewery in Sao Paulo to carefully research the brand’s origins. In the mid-noughties I actually helped an ad agency work on a pitch for Brahma (we didn’t win) and not a single fact about the brand’s history was ever mentioned. In truth, they have absolutely no idea where the name came from.
But that’s still not the best bit.
(By the way, in case this looks a bit weirdly obsessive, I’ve done a lot of research about Joseph Bramah over the years since I learned that he was born and raised in Stainborough in Barnsley, and married a woman from Mapplewell, the former pit village just outside Barnsley, where I grew up.)
Joseph Bramah didn’t invent ‘the draft pump valve’, largely because there is no such thing.
There are pump valves, and there are draft pumps, which have certain aspects in common, but are two quite different things.
Bramah does have a connection to both. He patented a new type of valve for the flushing toilet (which was in fact invented by his boss) in 1778.
But I think what Rossi was attempting to claim was that Joseph Bramah invented the ‘draft pump’ beer engine, the system of beer dispense that is today still used to pull cask ales from the cellar through a swan-necked tap to dispense cask ale. Famously, AB-InBev executives are easily confused when it comes to the details of the products they make, and ‘draft pump valve’ was probably a mangled attempt to describe something they should know a lot about, but evidently don’t.
The problem is: Bramah didn’t invent the beer engine either – although it is widely claimed that he did.
The first beer engine was developed in 1691 by John Lofting, a Dutch inventor, merchant and manufacturer. The London Gazette dated 17th March that year states:
“the patentee hath also projected a very useful engine for starting of beers and other liquors which will deliver from 20 to 30 barrels an hour which are completely fixed with brass joints and screws at reasonable rates.”
A century later, Bramah, attempted to improve upon Lofting’s design, and in 1797 patented a manually operated beer pump which he believed would have tremendous advantages for “the masters of families and publicans”.
Unfortunately Bramah’s handpump was rubbish.
Whereas hand pumps depend on pressure from the beer engine on the bar to create a vacuum that draws the beer up the line from the cask, Bramah’s sketches show a system of pistons inside casks, weighted with heavy bags of sand. The piston pushes the beer down inside the cask, through an opening in the bottom, and up the pipe to a simple tap at the bar. It would never have worked, because it failed to take account of both the dimensions of casks, which are bowed, and the height of cellars, which were too low for his pistons. Bramah’s idea never poured a single pint.
So: a made-up story, that doesn’t make any sense and has no foundation in historical records, falsely claims a Swiss brewer working in Brazil named his business after a bloke from Barnsley, on the grounds that he invented something that doesn’t exist, because it was getting confused with something he is often credited with inventing, but in fact never did.
AB InBev’s skill in layering bullshit upon falsehood upon ignorance upon misunderstanding is almost admirable.
(H/T to Laurent Mousson for posting about this on Facebook and picking out the key paragraph posted above.)