“Beer and a Sky Burial Ground: A Tibetan Explanation of the Packaging of an American Beer Brand”


High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a WeChat post published on May 25, 2017 by the channel Sweet Tea House about a surprising connection made between the American beer brand Budweiser and Tibet.

As anyone who has spent time in Tibet will know, beer drinking is popular and apart from Lhasa Beer, the most common foreign brand of beer is Budweiser. Just last year, we saw Budweiser online ads appearing in Tibetan and targeting people in Tibet such as the screenshot below which says the ad takes place in “Lhasa”:

The post provides background on the Budweiser brand and ends with a cheeky endorsement of beer drinking (in moderation!).

For another perspective on Tibetans and beer drinking, please revisit the poem “Waterfall of Beer”: http://highpeakspureearth.com/2016/poem-waterfall-of-beer-by-rinpung-tenchoe/

“Beer and a Sky Burial Ground:
A Tibetan Explanation of the Packaging of an American Beer Brand”

 

From the Sweet Tea House We Chat Channel

Connecting the packaging of a beer brand with a Tibetan sky burial ground, smart Tibetans found an entirely new way of explaining Budweiser, let’s take a look.

1. American Budweiser

American Budweiser is the best selling beer in Tibet. At the end of the 1980’s, only very few foreign beer brands made it into Tibet, the first one was Blue Ribbon, which was the best seller in the last century. In the mid-1990’s, Budweiser entered Tibet and started an aggressive marketing campaign. Lhasa, Lhokha and other areas initially managed to resist, but then, about three or four years later, Shigatse was the first to surrender, with the rest of Tibet soon following suit. Today, Budweiser is the monopoly in the Tibetan beer market. Blue Ribbon has more or less withdrawn.

Tibetans drink a lot of Budweiser, but don’t know much about its history. So let’s first take a brief look.

In the US, Budweiser was among the earlier beers to be brewed and sold, but it is nevertheless a relatively cheap one and as a result, not considered to be very good. Those drinking it in bars are usually university students or low income groups. Blue Ribbon or Coors Light that entered Tibet earlier are all much better than Budweiser. In America’s supermarkets we find many imported beers, of course those from Ireland, but also Mexico’s national treasure Corona, which are all pretty decent brews. Budweiser is produced in all parts of the world and calls itself the “King of Beers”!

Budweiser is a pale lager and it is also America’s most representative lager. It tastes light, its bitterness is around 10 IBU (International Bittering Units) and its alcohol percentage between 3.6% and 4.6%.

Because in the US, locally produced barley contains too much protein, Budweiser uses corn starch and rice to dilute the protein in the malt.

Corn starch or rice are materials that should not actually be used in beer brewing, which has instigated some controversies pertaining to Budweiser beer. It is commonly believed that the usage of corn starch and rice lowers the production costs of beer, but also heavily compromises its taste. The Budweiser made in China clearly states rice as one of its ingredients. Some others argue that Budweiser started to use some new ingredients and thus established a new kind of beer, which is known as American lager.

2. Explaining the Tibetan style

Tibetans are widely known for their good sense of humour; when they find themselves in difficult situations, they still show a positive attitude. And since they are humorous and also keen on expressing and sharing their emotions, beer is always part of the occasion. Tibetans rarely consume strong liquors; for instance, we rarely see people drinking white spirit (baijiu) at family gatherings. But regardless of what kind of social situation they are in, Tibetans always cherish their beer and toast to each other in various forms: “three glasses in one go” or “drinking with everyone at the table” etc.

According to Tibetan religion, which is Tibetan Buddhism, alcohol consumption is not advocated and most Tibetans believe that one should not drink too much or not at all. Like vegetarianism, quitting drinking is encouraged by society. But in spite of this, drinking has become a normality in Tibet. Those who are heavily influenced by Tibetan Buddhism, even if they are very much dependent on beer, are also very alert and regard selling beer as a not so minor wrongdoing. You often hear many young Tibetans say: I would really like to open a bar, but my family doesn’t allow me to. In fact, this disallowing often stems from concerns about safety, but also from the fact that it goes against their religious beliefs.

Since we are talking about Tibetan people’s sense of humour, their reliance on beer, but also their strong religious beliefs, we can say that their attitude towards beer is characterised by love and hate. So, let’s give free rein to our imagination and find a new way to explain Budweiser’s packaging and logo.

Let us begin by explaining Budweiser’s original packaging in an orthodox way:

1. “This is the famous Budweiser beer…” etc. an advertising slogan.

2. The logo of Anheuser-Busch surrounded by barley and highland barley.

3. In the US, Budweiser is usually referred to as Bud, just as Chevrolet is referred to as “Chevy”.

4. “Brewed by the original…” Until 1908 this sentence was written in German, because the creator of Budweiser was an American of German descent.

5. Eagle: The eagle gives Americans a sense of patriotism. Originally, they used the famous German coat of arms, but after the First World War they changed it to the current one.

6. “Genuine”: An originally long sentence was later reduced to one single word.

7. “King of beers”: From the 16th century, Budweiser flaunts itself to be the “king of beers,” because it was brewed in a brewery of the Roman Empire. The creator, Adolphus Busch, used this to call Budweiser the “King of Beers”.

8. The can: Budweiser was only sold in cans starting from 1936. It was an attempt to attract more consumers by changing its packaging right after America lifted its ban on alcohol consumption.

The above represents an orthodox explanation of Budweiser’s packaging, so what about the Tibetan explanation?

    1. In Tibetan people’s eyes, icon number two, the Anheuser-Busch logo surrounded by barley and highland barley, represents both the centre of a sky burial ground and the stone platform used to slice and cut dead bodies.
    2. The two eagles on the left and the right, number five on the packaging, represents the cinereous vulture (small eagles are called vultures) that are present at Tibetan sky burials, waiting on the side to pick clean the remains of the deceased.

It sounds frightening, but the humorous Tibetans invented this kind of explanation to warn everyone not to drink too much. If you drink too much or even get addicted to alcohol, not long from now, you will end up on the sky burial ground and your body remains will be picked clean by the vultures.

This article will not go into the details of sky burials.

As it happened, when Tibetans came up with this explanation of Budweiser’s packaging, the Americans changed the packaging. The new one still shows the “sky burial ground”, but the eagles have quietly disappeared. It is true that Tibetan sky burial masters have been complaining that because of human interference, the vultures are no longer always coming to clean up the bodies. Is it possible that the Americans fully understood the Tibetan explanation and with the changing reality of the absence of vultures also changed their packaging accordingly?

Above, we see the new bottle, below the new can.

Below, we see the “evolution” of Budweiser cans.

 

The eagle has disappeared, it becomes very apparent when comparing it to the earlier version shown below.

The logo above totally conforms with the Tibetan explanation of the “sky burial ground and the vulture”!

It is reasonable that alcohol exists, as long as you don’t drink excessively it is ok. Sweet Tea House wishes everyone a happy summer! Happy Summer Picnicking!

This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)