Should consumers be able to buy Five Wives and some cold Raging Bitches? The manufacturers that make these products — a vodka and an ale, respectively — certainly think they should. Recently, though, state liquor commissioners have moved to ban the sale of products whose names some find offensive. Regardless of whether these drinks should be sold, the question must be asked: Why are these and other beer, wine and spirits companies giving their beverages names and labels that are highly likely to offend potential customers?
In late May, Utah-based Ogden’s Own Distillery, which produces Five Wives Vodka, drew national attention when Idaho decided to ban the beverage from being sold in the state. As the Salt Lake City Tribune put it: “While Utah booze cops have deemed acceptable the bottle’s depiction of 19th century women in petticoats holding kittens near their lady parts,” Idaho banned Five Wives because of concerns it would offend women and Mormons — and perhaps kittens and cat lovers as well. Jeff Anderson, director of the Idaho Liquor Division, explained why sale of Five Wives was initially outlawed in the state:
“This product attempted to compete in a crowded category,” he said. “If there would have been a tie-breaker on this vodka, the name and label would have been it,” because a segment of the population might find it offensive.
The line about having to “compete in a crowded category” explains quite a lot about why makers of beer, wine and spirits come up with controversial (if not outright offensive) names and labels in the first place. It’s difficult to stand out from the pack on a shelf or behind a refrigerator’s frosted glass in a store. So manufacturers are employing dark, politically incorrect, potentially offensive humor in order to catch the eyes of drinkers — who may just so happen to have the attitudes and sensibilities to match. Anyone who’s offended probably wasn’t going to buy the product anyway, the thinking goes.
If nothing else, getting banned in a state helps a manufacturer generate media attention. Few would have heard of the vodka if it were simply branded “Ogden’s Own.” But now millions have heard of Five Wives Vodka — which was eventually okayed for sale in Idaho — as well as Raging Bitch, a frosty beverage produced by Maryland’s Flying Dog Brewery. For a spell, the sale of Raging Bitch was banned in Michigan (it too is now O.K. to sell); the company is currently appealing a federal judge’s decision that Flying Dog cannot sue Michigan Liquor Control commissioners for violating its First Amendment rights and causing it to lose sales during the ban.
Five Wives and Raging Bitch are hardly the only alcoholic beverages with intentionally controversial names. Risqué labels tend to come in a few categories:
Raging Bitch falls into this category, as would certain beverages from Texas-based Rahr & Sons Brewing Co. with names such as Buffalo Butt and Pecker Wrecker. There’s also a British brewer that makes Santa’s Butt Winter Porter. It’s unclear if you’re being naughty or nice by drinking Santa’s Butt. The Middle Ages Brewing Company, in Syracuse, N.Y., meanwhile, offers Wailing Wench and Double Wench ales, both featuring the same open-mouthed, cleavage-baring maiden on the label.
You can’t buy a Dirty Bastard in Alabama. The state recently banned the sale of the Scotch ale made by Michigan’s Founders Brewing Co. In many states, though, there are plenty of bastards on liquor-store shelves, including Arrogant Bastard Ale (and sister brews such as Double Bastard and the intentionally misspelled Lukcy Basartd), as well as a full lineup of Fat Bastard wines.
Apparently, multiple wives and alcohol go hand in hand. In addition to the controversial Five Wives Vodka, there’s Polygamy Porter, both of which are made in the Mormon stronghold of Utah (Ogden and Park City, respectively). The tag line for Polygamy Porter, which is sure to draw a giggle from certain beer drinkers: “Why Have Just One!”
The Fascist Dictators
Taking offensive alcohol names and labels to the next level, Italy’s I Nostalgici offers beer, wine, grappa and prosecco with “labels showing figures of people who have made history.” What kind of history? Oh, you know, the kind that involved terrorism and murder on a global scale. Several of the company’s beers and wines feature, for instance, Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini on the labels. Care for a glass of Führer cabernet?