It has recently been brought to the attention of the Board of Directors of Free The Hops that two beers from highly respected Founders Brewing Company will not be allowed to be sold in Alabama in spite of meeting all of our state’s legal qualifications for alcohol content and bottle size. The beers at issue are Dirty Bastard and Backwoods Bastard, both sold right next to us in the state of Georgia.
The common thread in the names may have tipped you off that the beers are being kept out of our state because of an objection to the word “bastard” on the label. Unfortunately, before any beer can be sold in Alabama the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board must approve of its label. Section 20­X­8­.12(2) of the Alabama Administrative Code states “No label shall be approved by the ABC Board which would violate the prohibitions listed in 20­X­7­.01 on general advertising of alcoholic beverages.” Section 20X7.01(b) states “The ABC Board may exercise its discretion to prohibit advertising it considers objectionable.”
Someone at the ABC board thinks the word “bastard” is “objectionable” and has the power to stop the beers from making it to the shelves of retailers around the state. No matter that “Fat Bastard” wines are already sold in our state. Not surprisingly, a different standard is being applied to beer.
This matter is especially problematic because the ABC’s authority to keep beers with “objectionable” labels out of our state is not spelled out in the Code of Alabama, but in the Administrative Code. The Code of Alabama is what Free the Hops has successfully amended with the bills we lobbied in the state legislature. It can be changed by elected representatives. The Administrative Code cannot be changed with a bill in the legislature, it can only be changed by unelected bureaucrats.
Of course this won’t be the last time a craft brewery wants to sell a beer with a potentially objectionable label in Alabama. Many FTH supporters are familiar with Stone Brewing Company in Escondido, California. Stone invented the American Strong Ale category with its flagship brew, Arrogant Bastard Ale. Stone does not yet produce enough beer to distribute in Alabama, but will they ever decide to send beer here if our state ABC board bans their flagship product, and its big brother Double Bastard Ale, and its oak-aged variant, Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale? Many craft brewers produce beers with irreverent names and artwork on the labels. That reflects a common attitude in the industry.
We in Free the Hops believe government bureaucrats should not be deciding what beer labels are and are not appropriate for our eyes. The free market already has a solution for this supposed problem: retailers are free to choose not to stock beers with labels they think might offend their customers. But retailers patronized by responsible adults should have the option to stock any beer carried by local distributors, regardless of the beer’s name or label artwork.