The Petty Tyranny of Beer Label Censors

Flying Dog Brewery's successful battle to sell Raging Bitch in Michigan illustrates the capriciousness of alcohol regulation.


Flying Dog Brewery

"We don't believe in censorship," declared one of the Michigan regulators who tried to ban Raging Bitch Belgian-Style IPA because the label offended him. In my latest Forbes column, I explain how Flying Dog Brewery, which produces Raging Bitch, managed to win damages from the officials who blocked its beer:

This month Flying Dog Brewery is launching a 1st Amendment Society, funded by the damages the Maryland company won from Michigan officials who tried to ban its Raging Bitch Belgian-Style IPA. The new organization, which will sponsor a journalism scholarship and talks on freedom of speech, is the product of a six-year legal battle that began in 2009, when members of the Michigan Liquor Control Commission took offense at the Raging Bitch label, which the agency had to approve before the beer could legally be sold in that state. The episode, one of many pitting bold brewers against bluenosed bureaucrats, shows how readily alcohol regulation becomes a cover for censorship and how easily petty tyrants conflate their personal tastes with the public interest.

Read the whole thing.

NEXT: Cannabis for Canines

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  1. “We don’t believe in censorship,” declared one of the Michigan regulators who tried to ban Raging Bitch Belgian-Style IPA because the label offended him.

    The theory of censorship has never been proven!

    1. Isn’t censorship when they go around counting how many people live in the roman empire?

      1. No, it’s when they count the number of rowers in a trireme, documenting their health and welfare.

    2. I had to read that opening sentence about 3 times before it fully soaked in

  2. Too early for a beer post,6 this evening’s about right.

  3. ALL product labeling laws (beyond fraud laws) violate Freedom of the Press. Most recent is Obama’s mandate for calories on menus.

  4. Sullum, you’re really great, y’know? *swoon*

    1. Bullshit. He posts most of the article on Forbes – where their anti-browser code prevents me from seeing it, then cross-posts a blurb on reason to shill for the actual post.

      1. /orders a Code Red.

        1. *bartender misses reference and slides a mountain dew to Chipperbot*

          1. Haha. Okay. That made me laugh out loud. I forgot about that product until just now.

  5. I admit that the first time I bought a 6 pack of Raging Bitch was because of the name alone. Damn good beer, imo.

  6. “We don’t believe in censorship, but ….”


  7. Beer makes a good Hair of the Dog

  8. Even ingredient descriptions with no countercultural connotations can get a brewer into trouble with the feds. Back in the 1990s, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, which at the time was charged with approving beer labels, suddenly decided that Grant’s Spiced Ale, a seemingly straightforward name that Yakima Brewing & Malting had used for years, was “frivolous.” Meanwhile, it gave a pass to far less descriptive names such as Labatt’s Blue (which is not blue), Pete’s Wicked Ale (which is not malevolent), and Blackened Voodoo (which is not seared, spiced, or magical).

    The entire piece was great.

  9. This morning I saw one of those “In Memory of” window stickers for The Bill of Rights, 1791-2009.

  10. Adam Carolla went through a similar ordeal regarding the label of his Mangria beverage.

    He went through several rounds with the labeling authority. IIRC, one of the things they objected to was the word ‘alcoholic’. As in: “I did what any raging alcoholic would do”.

    He also mentioned on his podcast that you couldn’t reference how powerful your beverage was (i.e. “This stuff will knock you on your ass”).

  11. Other Flying Dog products include:

    Doggie Style Pale Ale
    Pearl Necklace Stout
    Horn Dog Barley Wine

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