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Raging Beer Controversy in Michigan

On or about September 17, 2009, Flying Dog Brewery requested permission to sell Raging Bitch beer in Michigan. About two months later, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission denied the application, asserting: “The Commission finds that the proposed label which includes the brand name ‘Raging Bitch’ contains such language deemed detrimental to the health, safety or welfare of the general public.”

Flying Dog filed a lawsuit last month, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. In a later post, we’ll review the state’s rationale. But for today, we highlight a few of the juiciest portions from the pleadings submitted by Flying Dog (and attorney Alan Gura). The complaint asserts:

Regrettably, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission and its members have taken it upon themselves to control not merely alcoholic beverages, but speech as well. Acting as a censorial board, Defendants wield state authority to impose their personal tastes as a prior restraint against core First Amendment expression that happens to be placed on beer labels.

The supporting memorandum goes on to cite the Staub case wherein the U.S. Supreme Court said:

It is settled by a long line of recent decisions of this Court that an ordinance which … makes the peaceful enjoyment of freedoms which the Constitution guarantees contingent upon the uncontrolled will of an official — as by requiring a permit or license which may be granted or withheld in the discretion of such official — is an unconstitutional censorship or prior restraint upon the enjoyment of those freedoms.

The memorandum argues that the ban is too broad; “preventing all adults from all access to Raging Bitch [in order to protect some children] is hardly a narrowly tailored restriction.” The Butler case calls back from 54 years ago to remind us “by quarantining the general reading public against books not too rugged for grown men and women in order to shield juvenile innocence. … Surely, this is to burn the house to roast the pig.” The brewer’s memorandum concludes:

The First Amendment is incompatible with the notion that government regulators may sit in judgment of a beer label, scrutinizing it for conformance to their personal views on what sort of expression might disturb delicate sensibilities.

If your tender sensibilities are not yet disturbed, you can find other such labels here.

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malt beverage


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Caricatures

Holy smokes, change really is afoot at TTB. I was startled to see these wine labels recently, with various and sundry famous politicians emblazoned all upon them, and not in the most flattering light. I suppose there is some extra latitude for parody- or caricature-type speech, and there certainly is or ought to be latitude as to political speech. But often in the past, TTB has disallowed presidentially-oriented labels. Just two years ago, the line was drawn here, as to President Obama, and this one seemed to go too far.

The abstraction, in these caricatures, seems to help, as does the absence of the full names. The Horizon Cellars Winery, of Siler City, North Carolina has a large series of the labels depicted above. We already pointed to various labels with Former President George Bush and Sarah Palin in the past, so today we elected to highlight Former Vice President Dick Cheney, President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Former President Bill Clinton.

But there are other reasons to revel in these labels. Any discussion of Joe Biden would be embarrassingly remiss without a fond recollection of that storied day when Joe Biden washed his Trans Am, in cutoffs and no shirt, out back behind the White House.

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wine


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Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia Beer

This beer has a rather uncommon and unlikely combination of ingredients. The peppercorns are no great surprise, but the alcohol beverages with chia seeds seem to be few and far between. Wiki reports that chia is an Aztec word for oily, and these seeds contain large amounts of oil, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants. (Un)Real El Camino Black Ale is also brewed with fennel seed and mission figs. It is a collaboration among several brewers and is bottled by Stone Brewing Co. in Escondido, California.

If you happen to prefer your chia with a little less fennel and alcohol, you will be delighted to know that you can buy a variety of Chia Pets here (including the one showing President Obama). Leaving the purported health benefits aside, if the same seed is good enough for Chia Pets and beer, it deserves more attention.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salvia_hispanica

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flavored malt beverage


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Good Flags and Bad Flags

In many situations, TTB will not allow national flags, and especially not the US flag. The regulations support this. So the above labels seem to be noteworthy exceptions.

Maize Valley Winery’s Redneck Red wine shows The American Flag on the main label, alongside The Confederate Flag.

In the second example, The American Flag appears with the Military Flag of Japan. The wine is made by D’Vine Wine of Fredricksburg, Texas. A notable instance where TTB did not allow the US flag is on this New Hampshire beer.

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wine


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Protest Wine

Tensley Wine is not happy with the way things are going in Washington. They claim it took more than a year to get approval on the wine label above. It is no wonder, and it is some credit that our government would approve it at all. Then again, it’s not entirely clear that the label is “approved.” Box 18c shows that it is an exemption from label approval, rather than a box 18a label approval. Either way, I am pretty sure President Obama (among others in Washington) has a thick skin and can deal with it.

It is clear that Tensley is annoyed, but it’s less clear what Tensley is annoyed about. There is some griping about the local bureaucracy, and a lot of griping that federal taxes are too high for some people and too low for others.

The front label notes that the wine has 1% more alcohol than table wine, but is taxed at a rate 235% higher.

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alcohol beverages generally, wine


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