It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
Hey Bill, what's with these breweries fighting government censorship over their labels?
In Maine, the battle was over Santa’s Butt Winter Porter; in New York and other states over
Bad Frog beer and the frog’s extended middle froggy finger. In New Hampshire, Founders
Breakfast Stout was banned because the label depicted a bibbed toddler in a high chair
spooning something into his mouth. Among the many prohibitions in state law is a ban on any
reference to minors, “pictorial or otherwise,” that might induce someone under 21 to drink.
Santa’s Butt was banned on the grounds that seeing Old Nick with a frosty in his hand would
lead children to drink. That crazy ban was lifted only after the Maine Civil Liberties Union
challenged the state’s refusal to issue a permit to distribute the beer. It's censorship gone wild.
New Hampshire’s Liquor Commission, to its credit in my opinion, is one of the few that
recognizes that adults are the intended market for alcoholic beverages and there are more
effective ways to deter underage drinking than censoring the artwork on labels. By the way,
I've never spoken to anyone who said a label convinced them to drink illegally. Anyway, the
commission recently declined to delist a popular wine called "If You See Kay", and it approved
the sale of Arrogant Bastard Ale to the disapproval of more than a few self appointed
guardians of public morality.
Look Bill, I'm aware that advertising that can be taken to excess will be, but in this second
decade of the 21st century, beyond certain basic consumer information, should government
be in the business of approving or rejecting the names of alcoholic beverages and the designs
of their labels? I think not, particularly since the standards are often subjective and decisions
based on the sensibilities of, in most cases, only one or a handful of people. To me that's not
American freedom as seen in the First Amendment.
As you well know all brewers and vintners face scores of hurdles and months or years of delay
when seeking permits, licenses and approvals. Needless regulation bogs down the process,
drives up prices and discourages innovation. So, I'm suggesting that each individual state
legislature consider bills that could aid the brewing industry by limiting ( not, repeat not) ending
their various liquor commission censorship power.
Yes, I think a minimum amount of control is necessary to insure that blatantly obvious affronts
to public morals and community standards be curtailed. That however in no way says the
petty, arbitrary, and often silly censorship seen today should be contiinued.
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next month.
Hey Gin, did you know that Flying Dog Brewery’s Raging Bitch and label artist Ralph Steadman’s
crazed drawing of a deranged dog, led your aforementioned New Hampshire was one of the
states that, at least initially, banned the beer because of the label? You see Gina, the law ssi
that states can set standards more stringent than those used by the federal government, and
some do. And I say good for them. Come on now, we've seen potential labels decorated with
reproductions of famous paintings of nude or semi-clothed women that simply don't belong on
beer cans/bottles that are displayed in places where every possible age could see it.
By the way Gina you fail to mention the fact that there are legitimate reasons why government is
needed to regulate beer labels. The government rightfully demands that labels include the name
and address of the bottler and a designation for the type of beer – such as class or style. Plus
the label has to correctly indicate the amount of liquid in the container. Important stuff don't you
In addition to states, the federal government, another point you fail to mention, plays an
important role in approving labels. As you know I'm a strong proponent that every label should
have the beer's ABV clearly listed. That is allowed and encouraged by the feds unless it's
prohibited by state law. I'm also one who wants tougher labeling standards in describing the
beer's style. Some brewers mislabeling can get confusing. For example the Samuel Adams
Cranberry Lambic is simply is a cranberry-flavored beer that is not brewed with wild yeast or in
the Senne Valley outside of Belgium; it's not a lambic so they shouldn't be able to say it is.
Like you, I don't want censorship for censorship's sake but who wants to be walking in a
supermarket and find a beer like Birra Dalla Storia that features large pictures of Hitler next to
the milk? How about the The Danish brewery Beer Here with their Malus Pater (Bad Father) beer
label designed to insult the Catholic Church or nIcebrew's Easter Bunny’s Memorial Brew: with a
label depicting a crucified rabbit with Christ hunched in the foreground munching on the dead
bunny’s chocolate eggs. Is this what making good beer is supposed to be about??
As for me Gina, I want the beer to speak, not the label and so too would most conscientious,
honest breweries. Good beer stands on its own and a controversial label can't hide bad beer.
Here's looking at you, kid! See you next month.