Hit & Run

Flying Dog Brewery Wins First Amendment Battle, Uses Proceeds to Promote Free Speech

The brewery will use damages from its case against the Michigan Liquor Control Commission to launch a 1st Amendment Society.

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Flying Dog Brewery

Good beer and free speech both prevail in this uncharacteristically feel-good First Amendment story. First, Maryland's Flying Dog Brewery won in its battle with the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, after the agency tried to ban the sale of Flying Dog's delicious, Belgian-style IPA because of the brew's name: Raging Bitch.

The liquor commission also objected to the beer label's artwork, designed by Ralph Steadman, best known for illustrating Hunter S. Thompson's books and articles. 

Flying Dog sued the commission in 2009, but the case didn't come to a close until last year, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit sided with the brewery, saying Michigan officials could be held liable for violating the brewery's First Amendment rights, and Flying Dog could pursue damages for lost sales during the ban.

Now, Flying Dog has announced that it will use the damages received in that case to found the "1st Amendment Society," a non-profit dedicated to awareness-raising and advocacy around free-speech issues and organizing events that promote "the arts, journalism and civil liberties."

Flying Dog will launch the organization with a May 31 event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., featuring constitutional lawyer Alan Gura. Some of the society's first orders of business will be establishing a scholarship at the University of Maryland's College of Journalism and hosting a banned-book club this summer at Flying Dog Brewery

"We don't like … arbitrary authoritarianism," Flying Dog CEO Jim Caruso said in a lengthy Brightest Young Things profile about his company last August. "The market should decide. If they don't like our beer or our names, they can choose not to buy it." He added: "We do believe that freedom of speech is the last defense against tyranny."

In announcing the 1st Amendment Society's launch, Caruso said that the First Amendment "affects (and makes possible) all aspects of our lives, yet is consistently being threatened by the same democratic body that established it. It's imperative that we continue this fight beyond the courtroom."