In Loveland, Colorado, Big Beaver Brewing pours pints of Wonder Wiener Wheat, Shaved Tail Ale, Bust-A-Nut Brown Ale, Rub-A-Chub Kolsch, and Amber Was Her Stage Name. Founder Peter Villeneuve embraces the uncouth: “Actually, it’s a really good screening mechanism,” Villeneuve says. “If you don’t have a sense of humor, you don’t come.”
While Big Beaver hasn’t faced much controversy for their saucy beer names, it raises a question: How far can breweries go with edgy and provocative names before they cause offense?
In Machesney Park, Illinois, a suburb of Rockford, Pig Minds Brewing Company—progenitor of such names as Boats and Ho’s, Southy Bitch Slap and Ester the Wild Bitch—came under fire last year for their P.D. California- Style Blueberry Ale. The label depicted a woman in a short skirt with a pair of panties around her ankles—the P.D. alluding clearly enough to “panty dropper.”
Critics accused the brewery of misogyny and contributing to “rape culture.”
“It takes a sick mind to see that piece of art and see rape, in our opinion,” Pig Minds founder Brian Endl says. “Our intentions were just playful.”
In response to the controversy, the brewery dropped the name, instead dubbing the blueberry brew Happidaze. “We totally understand some people were offended, and that’s why we’re moving on,” Endl said.
Labels on packaged beer must get federal approval from the TTB—that is, the Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. State oversight varies. The Michigan Liquor Control Commission recently learned that First Amendment rights often prevail; they lost a six-year legal battle with Mary- land-based Flying Dog over the label for Raging Bitch.
One state that steers clear of labeling battles is Utah, home of Wasatch Brewing Company’s Polygamy Porter. Vickie Ashby, spokeswoman for Utah’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, said that because of First Amendment issues, “we usually allow the product in stores if it has approval from the federal government and meets the specific labeling requirements for Utah.”
Another label with a controversial depiction is that of Tramp Stamp Belgian IPA from Clown Shoes, a company that commissions its beers from the Ipswich Ale Brewery in Massachusetts. The label shows the rear of a woman in low-slung blue jeans, a tattoo peeking over her waistband. The label reads, “Like a stamp on a tramp, this beer is about not so subtle seduction.”
Tramp Stamp is one of Clown Shoes’ top sellers. “We created this four years ago as something ironic and playful,” brand manager Sean Geary says. “We weren’t trying to stir pots… We’re not in the game to insult anyone or put anyone down.”