North Carolina Banned This Beer Because Bureaucrats Dislike the Label
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.”
Flying Dog CEO Jim Caruso, who has tangled with beer label bureaucrats—and beaten them—in other states, says the North Carolina Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) Board needs to crack open a copy of the U.S. Constitution. The North Carolina ABC’s decision to prohibit sales of Flying Dog’s Freezin’ Season Winter Ale over the beer’s label design “seems like a blatant violation of the First Amendment to me,” says Caruso (who is a donor to the Reason Foundation, which publishes this website).
Later this week, a federal judge will have a say. Flying Dog has filed a lawsuit and is seeking an injunction to prevent the North Carolina ABC from blocking the distribution of the beer in the state. A hearing on the injunction is scheduled for September 9.
The offending label—like all Flying Dog beers—contains a distinctive cartoon image by illustrator Ralph Steadman, whose work with the Maryland-based brewery dates back to its roots in the gonzo-lands near Aspen, Colorado. It’s not clear exactly what the state’s regulators object to—though the naked, humanoid figure on the beer’s label does sport a small appendage between its legs. Caruso says he suspects that “tail-like thing” is what triggered the ban.
Officially, however, all Flying Dog has been told is that the label is “inappropriate” and “in bad taste.” That is all it takes for North Carolina to prohibit the beer from being marketed, sold, and distributed. The North Carolina ABC did not return requests for comment on Tuesday.
“The regulation is, on its face, in constitutional ‘bad taste,’ as it is in clear violation of the First Amendment,” attorneys for Flying Dog, including veteran First Amendment lawyers Greg Doucette and Marc Randazza, argue in court documents. They say banning the beer label is an unconstitutional viewpoint-based restriction on speech, similar to restrictions that the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly struck down.
One of those cases is Matal v. Ta
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