This year’s Independence Day celebration will be the country’s 247th, and as bad as things look for the United States, it’s shaping up to be a solid holiday for the American beer business. It usually is: the Fourth of July typically tops even the Super Bowl for sheer case-moving potential, for obvious reasons. Drinker preferences are changing, but it’s hard to beat a cooler full of cold ones on a holiday so steeped in American tradition and symbolism.

Fourth of July 2024 will also be the first at which Real American Beer is available. Note the title-case: 10,000 breweries across the country make their own real American beer, but the only “Real American Beer” recognized by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is a contract-brewed gimmick brand owned by Terry Bollea, a former professional wrestler and reality-television star you know as Hulk Hogan.

The particulars of this beer matter about as much as that of the venture itself, which is to say, “very little.” But for posterity, they are as follows:

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  • It’s a light adjunct lager made by a few different contract brewers;
  • It’s currently available in about 20 states, distributed by juggernaut Breakthru Beverages;
  • Bollea is the “majority owner,” according to Brewbound’s interview with the brand’s chief executive;
  • The brand’s chief executive is a former exec at ZX Ventures, Anheuser-Busch InBev’s start-up incubator/graveyard;

And so on. It’s not particularly novel for washed-up celebrities to launch drinks brands, nor is it novel for beers to look to Flag Code violations in lieu of a marketing program. Real American Beer is corny and lazy and will almost certainly vanish into the ether within a few years, victim of Bollea’s fading fame, or the brutal realities and razor-thin margins of the beer aisle’s bottom shelf sub-premium segment, or both. Brewing history is littered with the out-of-code carcasses of ventures built to take advantage of a cultural moment; Real American Beer is mostly remarkable for how long ago its frontman’s passed. But rather than break down all the reasons an undifferentiated adjunct lager from Florida’s second-orangest Boomer B-lister is a bad business idea, I want to use the remainder of this column to make a slightly less obvious point.

In an appearance on Fox News last month to promote Real American Beer, Bollea claimed he started the brand in an effort to “bring America back together.” This is a brain-dead platitude. It’s also self-evident horseshit, given the television network he delivered it on is responsible for dividing America, more than virtually any other institution since Joe Coors’ Heritage Foundation. There’s a halcyon version of the national past where Americans across the political spectrum set aside their differences and had a beer with one another, but if that ever existed, it is gone now, and Fox News had a heavy hand in making it so.

As it happens, Bollea himself had an indirect role in unraveling the supposedly copacetic politics his Real American Beer is meant to revive. The former wrestler successfully sued Gawker into bankruptcy in 2016 in an invasion-of-privacy case that legal scholars, digital-media experts, and the tabloid’s own critics decried as a “bizarre” First Amendment ruling that would chill speech. The post-verdict revelation that right-wing Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel had secretly financed Bollea’s win as part of a years-long vendetta against a Gawker blog for outing him as a gay man in the late Aughts only amplified those concerns. However unwittingly, Bollea served as the battering ram Thiel used to bludgeon Gawker to death in the final nine months of then-candidate Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, which desperately called for incisive, adversarial tabloid coverage that moved at internet speeds. Freedom of the press is vital to a healthy democracy, and the staggering $140 million judgment Bollea won against Gawker (eventually settled at $31 million) has done nothing good for the independence, vigor, or financial viability of American media in the eight years since.

But of course, Real American Beer isn’t really about reuniting America, or whatever. You know how this goes, because it’s been going. The animating thesis here, to the extent that there is one, is that rally-round-the-flag chauvinism is a substantive and compelling product roadmap for consumer packaged goods. I’ve written before here and elsewhere about the commercial power of this gambit, because beer’s wide distribution, accessible price, and everyman connotations make it an obvious vehicle. The 2011 introduction of Budweiser’s seasonal AmeriCan is the highest-profile example of this cynical flag-jacking commercialism, but even before last year’s Bud Light fiasco, it had gone stale.

As American politics have become more partisan over the past decade, jingoistic projects that court a reactionary conservative id have made the biggest splash, at least in beer. Thus, the 2021 launch of Armed Forces Brewing Company; thus, the 2023 arrival of ULTRA RIGHT, a “woke-free” beer meant to hoover up the beer money of so many transphobes dumping Anheuser-Busch InBev’s flailing flagship last spring. (So much for that.) Real American Beer is best understood in this context — not as an expression of inclusive patriotism, as Bollea & Co. would have you believe, but as a crass branding exercise designed for performative consumption by ideological fellow travelers.

Speaking of ideology, listen to how the aspiring beer marketer described his vision for a more cohesive national politics to the cast of “Fox and Friends” in a mid-June appearance (emphasis mine throughout):

I had this crazy idea because I saw how competitive the beer industry was, and I saw what happened with Bud Light and their whole promotion that crashed and burned. I saw this crazy open lane, and it just reminded me of what needed to be done in this country, you know, because we’re much more alike than we are different. And I just thought this is so much bigger than politics, because if you can’t communicate and if you can’t talk, you’re not going to get anywhere, you know, with your discussions, your decisions or with people getting along. So I said I want to create a beer that’s for Republicans and Democrats, doesn’t matter what sex you are, doesn’t matter what your race is, where you’re from, or what you believe in.

This is meaningless centrist palaver, but sure, Hulk! Tell us more about those beliefs!

People are tired of being separated. People are tired of being divisive. You know, we all want the same thing. We all want a good life. We want our family, our friends. We want to have the borders closed. We want peace in the Middle East. We want food in the grocery store to be reasonable so that we can afford it. We want to make sure we don’t get killed at the gas pump and at the end of the day, we want God back in our schools and in our churches, in our life.

Ah. Right.

This is where all these schlocky gimmicks run aground, and it’s where Real American Beer eventually will, too, if it doesn’t get tripped up on the sundry logistics of scaling a beer brand first. Its pitch is “apolitical,” but nothing about the United States in 2024 is apolitical. The center Bollea envisions — if you take him at his word, which I don’t recommend — simply does not exist. We don’t all want the borders closed; we don’t all want god back in our schools. These are fundamentally conservative positions. Hell, the very act of claiming a flag-waving beer brand “is way beyond politics,” as Bollea did, is itself conservative position, as an implicit endorsement of the status quo. It’s also just plainly false.

This Independence Day, with the country’s institutions crumbling in the face of an extremist right-wing march for the White House, there’s less reason than ever to countenance this both-sides bullshit in the beer aisle or anywhere else. Real American Beer is no grand effort to unite the country. It’s just one more clunky campaign to monetize its divisions, using our proudest symbol as packaging.

🤯 Hop-ocalypse Now

It was only a matter of time, and now, that time has come. TikTok recently began allowing alcohol brands to buy ads on its platform in the U.S., reversing its domestic policy now that its aggregate user-base is old enough to clear the industry’s self-imposed guardrails. This bold new move comes at a time when an act of Congress requires the company to sell its American business by April 2025, and a chunk of the pundit class is convinced that it’s a Chinese mind-control device targeting this nation’s precious teens. Do you think that new demographic data indicating more than 73.8 percent of TikTok’s American users are over 21, or a platform policy requiring advertisers not to target ads to users under 25, will assuage federal lawmakers’ (mostly ill-informed, occasionally openly racist) apprehensions about the app’s potential as a vector for foreign corruption of the nation’s youth? I kinda don’t!

📈 Ups…

The National Beer Wholesalers Association says total beer orders hit a three-year high in JuneThe Beer Institute’s latest tax-paids analysis shows the market back in the black after two months of year-over-year losses…

📉 …and downs

Beer is the leading driver of the record high costs of your Independence Day cookout this year, per RabobankNew Belgium Brewery will take over U.S. production of its parent company’s Kirin Ichiban brand from Anheuser-Busch InBev, maintaining its faux-import status… Total beer may be up, but craft is down 11 points in the NBWA’s Beer Purchasers’ Index for June…