Saturday, October 29, 2005

Seriously Dumb Adults

As many maybe one or two of you know, much of my law practice revolves around booze. No, I don't handle DUI cases, and there's no bottle of whiskey in my bottom drawer. I represent breweries, wineries, distributors and retailers as they attempt to work their way around through the maze of state and federal laws and regulations. "Beverage alcohol," as booze is formally known, is probably the single most regulated industry in the United States, and every time you turn around there's a new and improved stupid regulation trying to separate you from your booze. This is because the Twenty-first Amendment grants to each state the authority to control the manufacture, distribution, and sale of the devil's brew within its borders.

Today's new and improved stupid regulatory trick hails from Connecticut. It appears that state booze regulators in "The Constitution State" have taken a dislike to a certain seasonal farmhouse ale called "Seriously Bad Elf," imported from England by
Shelton Brothers of the delightfully appropriate village of Belchertown, Mass.

At a whopping 18 proof, Seriously Bad Elf is the big brother of two other Ridgeway Bad Elf brews, and this case is going to require a lot of SBE to get through.
It appears that Connecticut regulators have an issue with SBE's label, which depicts a somewhat evil looking elf taking aim at Santa's sleigh with a slingshot. Why is this stupid picture a problem? Well, because it might promote underage drinking, that's why. The regulator's thinking must be that every youngster who sees Santa Clause getting his ass shot off by a drunken elf will want to be just like that drunken elf. Consequently, a nine year-old boy will promptly buy that particular brand of beer and then guzzle it down before drunkenly wrapping his big wheel around Mom's prize rose bush. Or, at least, so it would seem.
"There are certain symbols and images that appeal more strongly to children and this regulation includes the most obvious among them," Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said. "The state has wide discretion to regulate the sales of alcohol."
AS stupid as that statement appears, don't start laughing yet. It gets better.

Shelton [Brothers] has enlisted the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut and demanded a hearing before the Liquor Control Commission.

At that hearing this week, ACLU attorney Annette Lamoreaux argued that the regulation has serious constitutional flaws.

Not only does it violate Shelton's free speech rights, she said, but protecting Santa Claus is a violation of the Constitution's establishment clause, which prohibits government endorsement or disapproval of religion.

She also cited a decision in another beer-label case, Bad Frog vs. New York. A court ruled that the potential for an image to attract a child is not reason enough to ban it from a beer bottle because there are already laws against selling beer to children.

Of course, Bad Frog Beer had other image problems as well; notably (1)
it tasted awful, and (2) the frog was flipping you off.

So here we go, folks. Its stupid beer names and the First Amendment versus stupid regulators and the Twenty-first Amendment in a constitutional tag-team battle royale.

Hand me the opener. It's a booze lawyer's dream.

UPDATE: Everybody wants to get into the act.


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spd rdr said...

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Pile On® said...

Every state should scrap all of its liquor laws and start over.

Do you know what malt liquor is? Me neither becuase it is made up bullshit for beer with a high alcohol content.

Did you ever wonder why a German Octoberfest beer is labeled and ale when it is really a lager? Because in some states that is what they call all beers over 6% alc/vol. Even though an ale can be quite low in alcohol and a lager can be quite high.

Stupid shit, and who really cares whether beer is 5% or 7% when on the next shelf you can buy Bacardi 151?

Cassandra said...

Pile, have you been diving into those kegs in your garage again?

The East coast never ceases to amaze me. They'd never make it in California - every tiny winery out there has some silly label with a funny logo - bears shooting fire out of their mouths, people with their pants on fire, etc. We used to cruise the aisles on weekends just laughing at the funny labels. Can't remember actually *buying* too many of them though, just because of the picture.

Now the witty little blurbs on the back were a different story... might have a case there.

spd rdr said...

You trying to put me out of business, Pile?

Pile On® said...

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portia said...

My favorite label is "Cat's Pee on a Gooseberry Bush" a Sauvignon Blanc from a New Zealand winery. I've never tasted it but I've read that it's purrfect, even if a bit kittenish. Yummy.

Not surprisingly, ATF requested that the winery change the label to Cat's Phee in the US, lest it offend the burgeoning Society of American Horticulturists for the Prevention of Cruelty To Gooseberry Bushs. Where is PETA when you need 'em?

Cricket said...

Ahem. Since when did Santa Claus become a religious figger? Or a religion?
I am so confused and I don't even drink!