New Galt business brews special-needs controversy

Special Ed’s Brewery excoriated for insensitive name, product labels

This is an extended and updated version of a story from the June 16, 2016, issue.

Testing the old adage that any publicity is good publicity, a new Galt business called Special Ed’s Brewery attracted immediate condemnation for its bad-taste approach to special-needs conditions.

Owner Ed Mason told SN&R he got the nickname “Special Ed” back in 2002 from his construction coworkers. When he decided to turn his home-brewing operation into a business, he says someone suggested he name the start-up after his nickname.

“I mean, everyone is taking this way out of context,” he said Sunday. “We have a couple adults in our family like that and we love them dearly. They have an extra chromosome and they’re right—that’s the love chromosome.”

Meanwhile, images of his products, appearing on the business’ Facebook page, only ramped up the controversy. One label for an IPA sported the tag line, “’Tard tested, ’tard approved.’” Another beer was named the “Back of the Bus Brown Ale.” And a Special Ed’s Brewery t-shirt featured a cartoon image of a short yellow school bus with a screaming person in the window.

Mason apologized for the IPA label, saying it was an inappropriate family joke never intended to appear on any products. As for the brown ale’s name, he believed it wasn’t racist because, he said, the name was suggested by an African-American acquaintance.

Such qualifications—and a Facebook disclaimer explaining the company’s “twisted take” as “tongue in cheek”—did little to dispel the outrage the company has received since people became aware of it Sunday. The Facebook page drew more than 440 reviews in less than 24 hours—94 percent of which were for one star, the lowest permitted on Facebook.

“Hey there, you don’t know me, but that didn’t stop you from making fun of children like my son,” wrote Facebook user Yvonne Risinger Wojtalik. “Don’t try to walk it back by claiming it’s ‘tongue in cheek.’ That’s the kind of shit bullies say when they get called out, and it’s cowardly.”

Most reviewers excoriated the business and its owners for being alternately tone-deaf or cruel when it comes to the stigma that those with developmental challenges face. Others encouraged boycotts and letters of complaint to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and city of Galt.

In a written statement emailed to SN&R, Galt City Manager Eugene M. Palazzo said owners Ed and Cheryl Mason had complied with the city’s fee and zoning requirements and were issued a business license on May 26.

“In this situation, the City does not have the legal ability to regulate the name of a business or control the manner in which the business chooses to market its products and services,” Palazzo wrote.

Mason, who said he still needs to submit architectural plans to the city before opening for business, told SN&R on Sunday that he was deliberately staying out of the social media controversy.

The company page offered to change its name hours later.

“So after talking with my wife, would more people be happy with the name Ed’s Special Brewery or Ed’s Special Brew?” the post read. “I never wanted the intent to be that I’m insensitive or some of the horrid things I’ve been called today but maybe these names will help… would appreciate the feed back. I just wanted to have some fun with my name.”

That online olive branch was both embraced and rejected by Facebook users. By Tuesday, the page was no longer active.