Santa Rosa brewery targets PG&E with F-word beer label; anger ensues

Steve Doty of Shaky Oak Barrel House
Steve Doty is a one-man show producing beer for his Shady Oak Barrel House, in Santa Rosa.
(Christopher Chung /Press Democrat)

Santa Rosa may be the land of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, but it’s a craft beer that’s getting people a little hopped up in Northern California.

Steve Doty, who owns Shady Oak Barrel House, was fed up with years of devastating fires in the state and wanted to draw attention to the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. executives he holds responsible, so he decided to drop the F-word into the name of his latest brew: [Expletive] PG&E. (You can fill in the blank.)

Doty isn’t the only one who’s angry at the state’s largest utility company. The bankrupt giant has been the focus of much public scrutiny after its equipment was found to have started a series of catastrophic wildfires, including the 2017 wine country blazes and last year’s Camp fire, which devastated the town of Paradise and killed 85 people.

Criticism of the company came to a head last month when the utility shut off power to thousands of customers for days amid strong winds in a desperate attempt to avoid wildfires sparked by windblown power lines.


“What I don’t respect and what inspired the name of this beer is how the corporate bigwigs at PG&E chose to line their pockets and ignore their responsibilities in their role that led to the destruction of communities across California,” Doty wrote in a Facebook post Sunday. “There were obvious decisions [that] could have been made and procedures set in place that could have possibly helped avoid such horrific disasters. And now we’re all paying for it.”

The beer was advertised on the brewery’s Facebook page as a “classic California pale ale” featuring cashmere and simcoe hops and a touch of malt sweetness. A few days later, the angry comments started to roll in, and the brewery was bombarded with one-star reviews on its Yelp page, prompting the website to disable comments.

“While we don’t take a stand one way or the other when it comes to this news event, we work to verify that the content you see here reflects personal consumer experiences with the business rather than the news itself,” Yelp wrote in a notice on the brewery’s page.

Doty told the Press Democrat he was stunned by the onslaught of critical comments by people who said they were related to utility employees.

Some called out the brewery, saying the beer’s name was disrespectful and alienated hard-working PG&E employees who had already had to deal with backlash from its customers. Last month, a PG&E truck was struck by gunfire as it was traveling on the 5 Freeway in the small Northern California town of Maxwell, prompting the utility to issue a plea to customers to be kind to their workers.

One person who said she’s married to a PG&E gas serviceman commented on Facebook that she found the beer’s name insulting.

“My husband has been working 18-hour days and not seeing his little boys for the past two weeks to help our local community,” the comment read. “Your label is hurting the men and women that work day in and day out for their community.”

Others jumped to Doty’s defense, with one man commenting on Facebook that people should relax.

“This is obviously not aimed at the blue collar workers but the decision makers at PG&E who are responsible for this whole mess,” the comment read.

Doty apologized to the detractors and stressed that he’s “very aware that this negligence is not the fault of their employees and that those people have been crucial in the statewide recovery process.”

Still, he says he’s standing by the beer’s moniker. As a gesture of goodwill, he offered $1 off a beer for those with an “honest review” of the brewery on social media and $2 off a beer for PG&E employees.

“We have heard horror stories of people being threatened based on their ties to the company and in no way do we condone that,” he wrote. “We all need to ‘keep the lights on’ so to speak, and for those that help us do that in the literal sense, thank you.”