Wicked Wednesday – when beer names and freedom of speach collide

The news item remained relatively unnoticed in Europe, but the American beer scene was quite shook up by it. Flying Dog Brewery, founded in 1990, ended its membership of the Brewers Association (BA) this June citing changes to the not-for-profit industry trade organization’s Advertising and Marketing Code that are aimed at addressing “sexually explicit, lewd, or demeaning brand names, language, text, graphics, photos, video, or other images.” You know, the BA defines ‘craft brewer’ but doesn’t define ‘craft beer’ – but that’s another story.

In short the new rules “prevent brewers’ from using the BA’s intellectual property after winning medals at the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup. It was put in place, in part, to snuff out offensive labels and to limit how those companies are able to promote their winning beers.”

Flying Dog CEO Jim Caruso says the new rules are a way of censorship and may even invoke over self-censoring a brewer’s freedom of speech. Flying Dog calls itself the freedom of speech brewery and consequently Caruso disagrees with the new rules. The brewery fought up unto the Supreme Court to use the name ‘Raging Bitch’ on a beer (initially disallowed by the State of Michigan) and years before fought a similar battle so as to use the phrase ‘good beer, no shit’ on its labels. This quote from Hunter S. Thompson was also initially deemd ‘unfit’. The First Ammendment is clearly an important thing to Flying Dog.
Besides all of this, Caruso says the new rules are “anti-free enterprise. It’s interfering with their competitors’ business. It’s thinking for consumers.” The BA obviously thinks differently and seems a bit uncomfortable with the whole episode. More on the matter on this page by Brewbound.

Personally, I think it is mainly about ‘good taste’. I giggle a bit about beer names like Raging Bitch, Doggie Style or Pearl Necklace. In most instances they say more about the brewery’s philosophy than you think, and sometimes they’re just meant to make you giggle.
It becomes painful when beer names collide with, for example, principles of equality or the law. I would not be surprised if a beer called ‘Iron Cross IPA’ would be disallowed – particularly when oak leaves were used brewing it. Would ‘Mao’s Great Leap Forward Stout’ be acceptable? I wouldn’t think so, the name is purely intended to provoke attention. Remains the question: is that bad, and if so, how bad? Should it be disallowed – period?

It makes you wonder too how wise Brouwerij Het Uiltje was when it named its hoppy wheat beer ‘Miss Hooter’. The somewhat suggestive drawing on the label, depicting a female owl with rather big boobies, bears no resemblance to the bottle’s content. Is that an example of ‘sex sells’, comparable to placing a ravishingly luscious blond with a massive pair of knockers in the smallest bikini available on a car’s hood, on the London Motor Show? Is that in conflict with ‘good taste’, or otherwise condemnable?
And how about ‘Dikke Lul 3 Bier’ (“Big Dick, 3 Beer” – also by Het Uiltje), or Bossche ‘Kutbier’ (“Bossche Cunt Ale”)? Personally I believe both beer names, as well as Miss Hooter, are beyond good taste. For me it matters what’s in the bottle, and that quality should speak for itself. The name is, to a certain degree, unimportant albeit the fact a good name sells better.
And don’t get me wrong: I like my portion of hot porn just like the next person – but ordering a ‘Bossche Cunt’ is a bridge too far. You know, I prefer my weekly pack of condoms to be wrapped in brown paper. But maybe I’m just an old, conservative cock who missed out on change. Reason for a new poll – you’ll find it in the right column on this page somewhere. Thanks for filling it out!

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