Because I don’t have any conservative relatives, I often listen to Sean Hannity’s radio show as an elaborate form of self-torture. One of the hallmarks of conservative talk radio as a form is the sense of intimacy it creates. It is often listened to in the car, alone, where the host’s disembodied voice comes at you from every direction. If you aren’t careful, it can feel as if they are thinking your thoughts for you. Hannity, as well as his contemporaries Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, take advantage of this listener-host relationship by reading ad copy directly into the microphone before each commercial break, conferring folksy endorsements on products in the same way that you’d hear on old-timey radio or a high-budget true crime podcast.
Where a Golden Age radio host might hawk unfiltered cigarettes and every podcaster ever would very much like to tell you about some mattress you can order off the internet, conservative radio hosts tend to push things old people like — pillows, American flags, gold, elaborate home-security systems, sketchy-sounding personal loan companies, etc. But one day, as I was driving around listening to Hannity own me to my face, I heard him say something amazing. I couldn’t write the exact wording down because I didn’t want to crash my car, so I’ll paraphrase it below, in this elaborate pull-quote:
Friends, I’d like to tell you about Black Rifle Coffee Company, the ONLY coffee company that supports the Second Amendment.
The. Only. Coffee. Company. That. Supports. The. Second. Amendment.
The ad’s premise — that, unless a coffee company has gone out of their way to say otherwise, it’s safe to assume they’re in favor of confiscating every gun in America and then wiping their butt with the constitution — is both patently absurd and a perfect encapsulation of where we are as a country. On one hand, asking a coffee company to weigh in on the Second Amendment would be like asking a woodcutter to comment on the Iran deal. On the other hand, it is 2018. Corporations are legally considered people. They have been able to donate money to political causes for nearly a decade. Company Twitter accounts are expected to be pithy and quirky while also not getting dunked on by @dasharez0ne and/or responding to angry customers with hardcore porn. In the hell that the internet has given us, a large percentage of our communications are mediated by screens and little cartoon avatars, making the difference between brands and people just a tad more negligible. And if people must have politics and brands are people, it is inevitable that, at some point, a coffee brand was going to base its entire identity about whether or not people should be allowed to own an AR-15. There is only one coffee company that supports the Second Amendment. All other coffee companies — the ones that I’d bought coffee from my entire adult life — do not. I wanted to know what it felt like to drink coffee that was pro-gun.
In case you were wondering exactly how pro-gun Black Rifle Coffee Company is, the answer is, “very pro-gun.” Nearly all of their packaging contains a gun on it, except for their Thin Blue Line roast, which seems to be a cash-in on the Blue Lives Matter movement. Their Keurig cups are referred to as “rounds” and come in little faux-ammo boxes. They sell a mug that’s shaped like a grenade. While I could always have just ordered some coffee on their website, I wanted to visit one of the (their words), “good, pro-2A coffee shops or gun stores” that carried their product in order to get the full Black Rifle Coffee Company experience. Fortunately the Black Rifle site told me that there was a store about 20 miles from my house that had the word “tactical” in its name where I could buy their gun coffee, so I got in my car (a 13-year-old Prius, essentially the ideological opposite of Black Rifle’s coffee) and drove over.
Despite selling bulletproof vests, holsters, pouches for grenades and bullets, magazine speed loaders, gun concealment systems, body armor, knives, scopes, muzzle cleaners, and things that would be classified as fanny packs if they hadn’t been designed to hold multiple firearms, the store with the word “tactical” in the name was not technically a gun store, if only because they didn’t sell guns. But true to Black Rifle’s claim of being the only pro-gun coffee brand out there, this gun accessory store carried only one brand of coffee, and that brand was Black Rifle. I picked up two bags of coffee beans — the AK Espresso, which had a gun on the bag, and the Fit to Fight Blend, whose package looked like this:
I should say that the dudes working at the non-gun-having gun store were really into Black Rifle Coffee. One of them told me he makes the AK Espresso in a French press every morning, and the other told me that Fit to Fight was pretty good but didn’t have enough caffeine in it for him, which is weird, because “caffeine” is one of the selling points of Fit to Fight (along with “strength” and “stamina”).
After drinking it for myself, I’m inclined to agree — Fit to Fight does not have enough caffeine in it. I had two cups of it and then took a nap. The AK Espresso, however, made my heart feel like it was going to collapse in on itself, which was probably a result of me drinking twelve ounces of espresso in like ten minutes. I haven’t shot a gun since I was like 15, when my dad took me skeet-shooting while we were on vacation (I really wanted to go for reasons that are now mysterious to me). I didn’t hit a thing. Given that it made my hands shake a LOT, I can’t imagine that the AK Espresso would have helped my aim.
I don’t have too much to say about the actual taste of the gun coffee. The Fit to Fight blend tasted like every moderately priced anti-gun coffee you’d find at Whole Foods, and the AK Espresso tasted burnt and intense in a way that I could see tough people enjoying. My overall thought is that they were both coffee, and coffee is like craft beer or cryptocurrency in that I suspect that even people who claim to know what they’re talking about can’t tell the difference between fucking any of it.
Still, it’s only fitting that conservatives should have the option of buying fancy-ish coffee that falls on their side of the gun debate — in a market where products are virtually indistinguishable on a functional level, we’re encouraged to make purchasing decisions based on ideology and aesthetics. In this landscape, there becomes a natural tendency to create a higher threshold for how good something has to be before we suck it up and consume it regardless of its creator’s politics. I’m going to refer to this attitudinal barrier to entry as the “Kanye Test” (i.e., when Kanye West puts out a new album, lots of people will probably listen to it even though he’s kind of a Republican now). The gun coffee does not pass the Kanye Test. It is not so good that it will change your life, but if for some reason you’re really into guns and happen to read The Outline, rest assured that there is a coffee out there for you.
Guns have, in recent months, become a constant in our political discourse, and, thanks in large part to flagrant escalation by the N.R.A., represent a divide that is rarely crossed. It could be read as cynical to tie your coffee to guns, promising customers that not only will your product give them the caffeine they need to go about their day, but that purchasing it will reaffirm their view that all the anti-gun people are whiny babies. With every mass shooting, however, this worldview becomes harder to support. The hard-core gun nuts have responded to this climate by doubling down, of course, but those a bit closer to the center are becoming amenable to gun reform. On May 21, just three days after yet another mass shooting made national news, an article on the Fox Business Network’s website appeared announcing that Black Rifle would be opening a new, $6 million facility in Tennessee. Still, as time goes on and guns become less of a cause celebre for the right, I wonder if Black Rifle’s business will begin to shrink. After all, if you’re the only coffee company that supports the Second Amendment, you might just end up going down with the ship.
To listen to the taste test with Drew Millard, listen above or in your favorite app below.