In Alabama, They Like Their Bastards Fat and Arrogant, but Not Dirty


Last week the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board banned the sale of Founders Brewing Company's Dirty Bastard Scotch ale—for the children. A.P. explains:

Beer and wine are commonly sold in grocery and convenience stores and because anyone can see the labels, the agency rejected the brand for the sake of parents who might not want their kids to see rough language on the shelves, said Bob Martin, an attorney with the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.

"That's the whole reason for the rule, to keep dirty pictures and dirty words away from children," he said. "Personally, I believe the staff made the right call."

But as A.P. points out, Fat Bastard wines and Flying Dog Brewery's Raging Bitch Belgian-style IPA remain available in Alabama. (So does Arrogant Bastard Ale, according to the manufacturer's website.) "Those decisions were made years ago," A.P. reports. Back when bastard and bitch were less offensive to the average Alabama parent? "I have no idea how or why or exactly when that went through," Martin says.

The First Amendment Center suggests that Alabama's alcohol regulators have a look at Bad Frog Brewery v. New York State Liquor Authority, a 1998 decision in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit overturned an attempt to ban a beer brand represented by the aforesaid amphibian because the creature was depicted "with the second of its four unwebbed 'fingers' extended in a manner evocative of a well known human gesture of insult." The appeals court rejected New York's child protection rationale. "In view of the wide currency of vulgar displays throughout contemporary society, including comic books targeted directly at children," it said, "barring such displays from labels for alcoholic beverages cannot realistically be expected to reduce children's exposure to such displays to any significant degree." The 2nd Circuit acknowledged that the Supreme Court has deemed "commercial speech" such as a beer label less deserving of First Amendment protection than, say, a jacket bearing the slogan "Fuck the Draft." Still, to win approval for its censorship under the Court's precedents, "a state must demonstrate that its commercial speech limitation is part of a substantial effort to advance a valid state interest, not merely the removal of a few grains of offensive sand from a beach of vulgarity."

In addition to state liquor authorities, producers of alcoholic beverages must be careful not to offend federal regulators, whose sensibilities explain why a copper ale produced by Lagunitas Brewing Company that was initially dubbed The Kronik is instead marketed as The Censored. And in case you think American bureaucrats are uniquely sensitive to such things, recall that Dan Aykroyd's Crystal Head vodka has been banned as excessively morbid in his home province of Ontario. On the bright side, last year Michigan lifted its ban on Raging Bitch in response to a First Amendment challenge (as Baylen Linneken noted here), and Texans should soon be able to buy Jester King Brewery's Thrash Metal Farmhouse Strong Ale, labeled as such with no blackouts, thanks to a recent ruling.

For more on banned beverages, see my 2011 Reason article "Demonized Drinks" and my 1994 feature story "BATF Out of Hell."