Dallas' Manhattan Project Beer Co. is facing backlash this week in response to one of its beer names that critics in the Pacific Islands are calling insensitive and offensive.
The beer, called Bikini Atoll, is named for and features an image of the ring-shaped collection of islands in the Marshall Islands, which was used as a United States nuclear test site during the beginning of the Cold War. From 1946 to 1958, the U.S. administered dozens of nuclear tests there with a cumulative force 7,000 times as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Testing displaced natives of several different islands, who generations later are reportedly still dealing the effects of radiation, including cancer and birth defects, according to The Washington Post.
Manhattan Project Beer Co., which also references the United States' foray into atomic weaponry during World War II, has many thematic beer names, such as Half-Life and Plutonium-239. But critics online say this one went too far.
"Many have reached out to Manhattan Project Beer Company to express our collective disappointment," reads a petition on Change.org with more then 2,500 signatures to stop Whole Foods from selling Bikini Atoll. "We have tried to explain how the naming of this beer after a human tragedy is insensitive at best."
One Twitter user likened it to using a school shooting or 9/11 as a brand. Jack Niedenthal, the Marshall Islands' secretary of health and human services, wrote a letter to the brewery dated Aug. 15 calling for the discontinuation of "this ill-conceived product" and an apology, among other choice words.
"The insensitivity of Americans to our people is incredible," Niedenthal said when reached by email. "I doubt that company would have ever even considered naming one of their beers 'Nagasaki' or 'Hiroshima,' so why is it okay to make fun of our people?"
In a public statement, the Dallas brewery said the beer "was not created to mock or trivialize the nuclear testing that took place in the Marshall Islands. Through our brand and naming, we are creating awareness of the wider impacts and implications of the United States's nuclear research programs and the pivotal moment in world history that is often forgotten." Manhattan Project Beer Co. has received harassment and death threats over the beer name, the statement says.
When reached for comment by email, co-founder Misty Sanford pointed to the public statement, which also says "we will take no further action in this matter."
Wednesday night, a second petition was published on Change.org. Its official cause is to allow sales of the Dallas beer in the Marshall Islands, using nearly identical language as the preceding petition.
The beer industry is no stranger to criticism over branding. In May, Seattle's Mirage Beer ignited social media outrage with two beers, Snitch Blood and Where You From, that were packaged to resemble Crips and Bloods gang imagery. (The releases were ultimately canceled.) Closer to home, Dallas' Deep Ellum Brewing Co. was lambasted in 2013 for its slogan "goes down easy," which critics said promoted rape culture.