A hop called Anchovy, and the impossibility of April Fools

A can of Angry Norwegian Anchovies from Futurama s01e06, 'A Fishful of Dollars'
Ingredients: Anchovies. (May contain traces of anger.)

A few years ago, U.S. brewing company Fast Fashion sponsored a new hop varietal and named it “anchovy”, in a move that’s probably half in-joke turned outwards and half marketing stunt.1 It’s still fairly niche, but it pops up occasionally in this part of the world, and always restarts a train of thought of mine when it does.2 Personally, I love anchovies; that’s a word with positive associations for me,3 and I can see the fun in the incongruity of naming a hop that. But the beer industry has an awkward relationship with comedy that’s worth poking at a little.

It’s never more obvious than the first few days of the fourth month each year, when “April Fools” posts dribble out across the internet as timezones roll around the world and various non-chronological social media feeds finally get around to showing you something. They fail in interestingly different ways sometimes, but it’s always a parade of low-effort nonsense that somehow still feels like it wasted too much of too many people’s time.

Collage of April Fools Day posts from Pilsner Urquell, Budvar, Untappd, Modern Times, Coopers, and Stone
2024 April Fools highlights — if that’s the word — from Pilsner Urquell, Budweiser Budvar, Untappd, Modern Times, Coopers, and Stone (original posts archived at those links for their full context, not that it helps much)

The only one I really liked this year was Pilsner Urquell’s gentle riff on the mlíko pour as “plant-based milk”.4 (Czech) Budweiser’s post is them taking a jab at (U.S.) Budweiser, but it’s clumsier and lacks punch because there’s nothing really wrong (or funny) about brewing with rice.5 Untappd’s “what if there was a silly app?” joke simply feels dated, rather than rising to self-satire. Modern Times’ “foam selfie” is something that has actually existed for years, and Coopers similarly just mashed together a trend for “AI”-generated recipes that has already crested with an example that would be great, and basically already is. Then Stone’s obviously-impossible “negative alcohol IPA”, is… what? Ridiculing the low-strength trend, or going more for an absurdist angle? I can’t tell, but I don’t think either works. Good comedy tries to say something,6 but most of what you see on April Fools seems to come from a shallower need to post something.

Mountain Culture are one of the few breweries I follow online who regularly go for a gag of some kind.7 Humour was a big part of their huge annual push for Hottest 100 votes, where they went for a Be Kind Rewind kind of low-budget brewery-themed film remake vibe,8 but it’s their April Fools posts that have reliably made me want to write something like this each year.

They announced joint venture seltzer production with Range, complete with a clever names-and-logos mashup, which made people go “oh, that makes sense” (it was peak seltzer trend, the two breweries often collaborate, and Range were already making some) for a while before realising it was a bit and shrugging it off.9 The next year, they announced two Beavis and Butt-Head themed beers, and then faked up a cease and desist from Paramount — the joke there apparently being the mere idea there’d ever be consequences for the rampant IP ripoffs our industry revels in; the beers were launched.10 Then this year they teased glass longneck bottles of their flagship beer, and the online response was a near-universal “hell yes” followed by disappointment when the rug was inevitably pulled. They later claimed to be considering making them — using April Fools as a coward’s trial balloon, like a teenager asking someone out “just joking… unless” — but nothing has eventuated yet.

None of this is worth it. So please, brewery marketing people and indeed anyone else with the keys to the relevant social media accounts: take a moment, right now, go to the calendar, put a reminder in for March 31 — delete tomorrow’s scheduled post.

The album art for 'Meet The Be Sharps' (in the style of 'Meet The Beatles!') from The Simpsons s05e01
The other cartoon reference on loop in my brain, now

But anyway, back to anchovy. Every brewery that uses the hop is caught between needing to riff on the name by referencing actual anchovies somehow (pizza, fishing, whatever),11 but also being careful to reassure potential buyers that no fish was involved in the brewing. Because of course you have to reassure people of that. Putting actual anchovies in a beer wouldn’t make a Top 100 of weird things we’ve done. (And I do wonder if you could actually make it work: oyster stout is a real thing, after all. I love them.)

This is the general version of the April Fools problem: there’s basically nothing you can joke about with beer that wouldn’t give someone pause. We’ve made it way too easy to aim for comedy and hit confusion instead, to wind up being frustrating when you were trying to be funny. I lost count of how many times I had to explain the backstory when an anchovy-hopped beer has been on at a bar I’ve been working. If you generalise that out over x years and y venues for z different beers, Fast Fashion owe a hefty donation to a bartender’s benevolent fund or something for the hours and hours of staff time they’ve essentially appropriated.

Just the other day, I was pouring a customer a (lovely) brown ale called ‘Brown Corduroy’ and they made a joke of double-checking whether it was brewed with actual pants. The public have internalised the absurdity of craft beer. I think they get to make fun of it. I’m not sure we do, anymore.

  1. See this piece on The New School and this one at DC Beer for nice long reads on the brewery and the development of the hop. The short version is that they have a long history with pizza, but also an element of the mildly provocative in their brand strategy; even the name Fast Fashion is clearly co-opting something with big negative connotations.
  2. The saving grace of an enormous pile of half-finished posts is that everything old is new again pretty regularly in this business. Garage Project just put out an anchovy-hopped beer, Pizza Face, but I have notes from a year ago when I tried a Wildflower one. Plus, for reasons that will soon be obvious, I was thinking about this a lot about eight weeks ago.
  3. The header image here is from ‘A Fishful of Dollars’, the sixth episode of Futurama, which is when I knew Fry — with whom I already shared a name, sometimes a job, and occasionally a haircut — truly was my cartoon avatar; transported to the year 3000, he spends an unreasonable amount of money on the last-ever can of anchovies.
  4. It’s also just a real photo of a real thing, avoiding the timewasting element all the fakery has — with or without the plagiarism-driven resource-hogging of the “AI”-generated “art” (this excellent piece on all that just popped up on Pellicle and is well worth your time).
  5. Budweiser v Budweiser is a long and messy affair, so mocking or appropriating one of Bud’s other trademarks could be fertile ground for comedy, but it’d be the sort that your in-house lawyers might veto.
  6. Accidentally earwormed myself, there.
  7. I don’t see much from breweries I don’t follow, because I have pretty strict ad-blocking on everywhere. You should too. And I’ll note that I’m a big fan of their beer and a lot about their general ethos — but I try to be the friend that will tell you that you have something stuck in your teeth, not the stranger who will let you carry on embarrassing yourself.
  8. Fittingly, they have a beer called Be Kind Rewind in honour of their brewery’s previous life as a video rental store. You can most easily find their stuff on YouTube, though I’m sure it’s Facebook and Instagram where they really do numbers. And honestly, I don’t love the results, but it feels way more a ‘your mileage may vary’ kind of thing than the stuff I’m highlighting here. For balance, if you like, they just posted this in response to a bad review and I think it’s excellent.
  9. I worked at Range at the time, so saw this happen in front of me, several times — and briefly had that reaction, myself. (It’s essentially another in-joke turned outwards, but the details are too stupid to explain.)
  10. And this is a minor point even for a parade of petty gripes, but — the beers were contrasting but similar things made with the NZ hop Superdelic, a which sounds like a mix between a yodel and something from Mary Poppins. The names they were looking for here are Jools and Linda. This isn’t even a good IP ripoff. It’s meaningless nostalgia-chasing.
  11. Because Fast Fashion want it referenced up front, and to be conspicuously name-dropped themselves. That’s the plan in parceling it out to other hype breweries — see the “That’s the flex” quote in the DC Beer piece linked above. They don’t want it just listed as one hop among many on the back of a can of a beer themed around something else.

One thought on “A hop called Anchovy, and the impossibility of April Fools”

  1. 6) Say something, say something. Anything. You earwormed me as well, thank you for yet another great post

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