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Pic: North Carolina bans beer over ‘bad taste’ label in apparent 1st Amendment violation

A gavel. (TNS/Released)
September 10, 2021

Flying Dog brewery is banned from selling one of its beers in North Carolina after alcohol regulators determined the beer’s label is “in bad taste” in an apparent First Amendment violation.

Flying Dog CEO Jim Caruso said the North Carolina Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) Board’s decision violates the United States Constitution, The News & Observer reported. The Board’s decision to ban the sale of the brewery’s Freezin’ Season Winter Ale is a violation of the First Amendment, Caruso said.

Craft CRM shared an image of the banned beer on Twitter, writing, “Great name for a Winter Ale – Alcohol regulators in North Carolina have banned Flying Dog brewery from selling one of its beers in the state due to a label that’s been deemed ‘in bad taste.'”

The company filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the North Carolina ABC from prohibiting the sale of the beer.

“Does anyone really want to live in a country where government bureaucrats can censor material based on whim and personal preference? Books? Music lyrics? Videos streamed in the privacy of your own home? News stories?” Caruso said in a statement.

The controversial label features a naked, humanoid-like figure holding his hand over a fire. While it’s unclear exactly what triggered the ban, Caruso suspects it’s due to a small “tail-like thing” between the character’s legs. Flying Dog was only told that the label was “inappropriate” and “in bad taste.”

“The regulation is, on its face, in constitutional ‘bad taste,’ as it is in clear violation of the First Amendment,” attorneys for the brewery argued in court documents, according to Reason. The team asserted that the ban is an unconstitutional restriction on speech based on an individual’s viewpoint.

“But, the North Carolina government thinks that it can get away with calling something ‘in bad taste’ and thus restricting commerce?” Randazzo said in an email to the outlet. “We’re not OK with that.”

Flying Dog Brewery has wrestled with state alcohol regulators before. In 2009, the company’s “Raging Bitch” beer was prohibited from being sold in Michigan due to its vulgar name. A lawsuit challenging the ban citing First Amendment protections resulted in a win for Flying Dog, and the beer was subsequently put back on the shelves.

Caruso later won on the merits of the case in federal court, and in 2016, launched a pro-free speech legal center with the damages won.  

The CEO told Reason that the North Carolina case “is about defending the First Amendment against petty bureaucrats who want to censor whatever they personally dislike.”

Also in North Carolina, the ABC reportedly ordered the Wasatch Brewing Company, based out of Utah, that its “Polygamy Porter” was banned from being sold because “polygamy is illegal.” The board has also banned a beer called “Kissing Cousins.”