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Editorial: Stop beer label censorship

In Maine, the battle was over Santa’s Butt Winter Porter; in New York and other states over Bad Frog beer and the frog’s extended middle froggy finger. In New Hampshire, Founders Breakfast Stout was banned because the label depicted a bibbed toddler in a high chair spooning something into his mouth. Among the many prohibitions in state law is a ban on any reference to minors, “pictorial or otherwise,” that might induce someone under 21 to drink. Santa’s Butt was banned on the grounds that seeing Old Nick with a frosty in his hand would lead children to drink. That ban was lifted after the Maine Civil Liberties Union challenged the state’s refusal to issue a permit to distribute the beer.

Flying Dog Brewery’s Raging Bitch beer, and label artist Ralph Steadman’s crazed drawing of a deranged dog, led to more than raised eyebrows. According to a spokesperson for that brewer, New Hampshire was one of the states that, at least initially, banned the beer because of the label. States can set standards more stringent than those used by the federal government, and some do.

New Hampshire’s Liquor Commission, to its credit, recognizes that adults are the intended market for alcoholic beverages and there are more effective ways to deter underage drinking than censoring the artwork on labels. Even though an executive councilor complained, the commission declined to delist a popular wine called If You See Kay, and it approved the sale of Arrogant Bastard Ale and other brands that cater to the 20-something male market.

We’re aware that advertising that can be taken to excess will be, but in this second decade of the 21st century, beyond certain basic consumer information, should government be in the business of approving or rejecting the names of alcoholic beverages and the designs of their labels? We think not, particularly since the standards are often subjective and decisions based on the sensibilities of, in most cases, one or a handful of people. Labels or artwork determined to be not just obscene but too risque for the censor’s taste can be rejected. Among them have been labels decorated with reproductions of famous paintings of nude or semi-clothed women.

Brewers and vintners face scores of hurdles and months or years of delay when seeking permits, licenses and approvals.

Needless regulation bogs down the process, drives up prices and discourages innovation. Now New Hampshire lawmakers will consider a half-dozen or more bills that could aid what is a vibrant new industry that has emerged in the state. One of them should be a bill that revises 179:31, the law regulating alcoholic beverage advertising to minimize or eliminate the Liquor Commission’s role as a state censor.

Beer labels, for example, need both federal and state approval. Something as simple as the label for a new seasonal beer can take a month or more for approval and far longer if the original design is deemed unacceptable.

New Hampshire now has some two dozen brew pubs and microbreweries and about an equal number of wineries. There are even a few entrepreneurs who distill their own spirits and a few who bottle and sell hard cider. This is good news for the economy, especially in a tourist state.

That makes it a good time for the Legislature to review liquor laws, some of which date to the Prohibition era, and repeal unnecessary nanny state laws that give the Liquor Commission the power to censor beer labels.

Legacy Comments5

There are some crazy sounding beer names. A few years ago in a Montreal restaurant I asked for a Sam Adams or a Bass Ale. The waitress hadn't heard of them so she suggested a beer called La Fin Du Monde (which translates to The End Of The World). The taste of it lived up to its name. Maybe it's banned here - because just one bottle gave me a headache the next morning. One oddball sounding beer that seemed ok was called Dead Guy Ale. The other day a waitress at the British Beer Company restaurant in Manchester suggested it after she said they didn't have British Bass Ale.

Good editorial but where is your editorial criticizing government for things like only allowing a person the ability to purchase a 16 ounce soft drink in New York? Telling us how many gallons we can "flush" in our homes? What light bulbs we can have in our homes? How high the railings on homes have to be? The editors wrote: "Needless regulation bogs down the process, drives up prices and discourages innovation" WOW! You guys do 'get it' and why do you not see things that way with other industries who feel that same pinch and realize that same bogging down, driving up prices and discouraging innovation? Is it because you like beer or because it is politically incorrect for you to comment on the other similar issues.

My spouse wanted me to add a porch last summer, so I did some figuring. I thought I'd just use sonotubes for the foundation, but when I asked the building inspector about it she said I would need a continuous footing if I ever wanted to put screens on the porch in the future. So after that requirement my spouse and I were not sure if we would ever want to put screens on the porch, or if we should dig up the whole front of the house and spend extra $ to put in the continuous footing. By fall we decided to skip the continuous footing, so I was planning to use 8" tubes (like lots of other porches I've seen over the years) and mix the concrete with a hoe in a masony tub. Back at the building inspector's office with my plans she said I had to use 12" tubes. That meant I had to buy, carry, and mix more than twice as many heavy bags of concrete. We did some more thinking and then the ground froze up. This all happened after we couldn't just replace our windows with the same size - the replacement windows had to be big enough for the largest person in the world to fit through for egress.

Thank a liberal, thank a progressive, thank big government. Exactly, I had porch railings 1" too low so I had to do them all over again. Government on the local level to federal government has to much regulating power. If it is safety driven so that the house does not collapse, that is one thing, if it is because someone is over thinking, that is quite another.

"Thank a liberal, thank a progressive"....I think you're being way too partisan. I was building a house for my family not that long ago on land that we owned and paid taxes on, and I had a pile of debris outside. I asked for a dump sticker and was told by a staunch Republican "You can't use the dump unless you live in this town". At that time I was also working for a builder and had no trouble using the dump in Concord and surrounding towns for construction debris generated in those towns, even though I didn't live there and even though the owner of the house under construction didn't live there. And I've noticed that many of those who make up the silly needless town ordinance regulations have Republican political signs in their yards prior to elections. So your "Thank a liberal, thank a progressive" line is totally ridiculous. Otherwise I agree on too many pickey and needless regulations.

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