Every few years one of these pointless beer label scandals comes around again, as if to remind us how Puritanical our American society really is. Off the top of my head there’s been Bad Frog Beer, Polygamy Porter, Wanker and Nude Beer, to name but a few. During their fifteen minutes, the press lavished them with free publicity and pandered to a vocal minority determined to force their own morality on the rest of us. Usually some fake debte is trotted out asking questions on the order of “is it too offensive,” “too obscene” and my personal favorite, “what about the children?”
The latest fake controversy comes from my hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania. The beer is question in from Legacy Brewing, but the last time I visited them it was called Fancy Pants and before that it was Neversink Brewing. This time the offending label is Hedonism Ale because it features — gasp — hedonism. Ot at least an artist’s rendition of hedonism. The artwork is not in the least bit tittilating; it reveals everything but shows nothing.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I like it. I think artist Deric Hettinger’s label drawing nicely conveys the idea of hedonism. And it’s different enough from most beer labels that controversy aside, it would stand out on a beer shelf. But it’s beer. It’s made specifically for adults. You know, people who can probably deal with a little hedonism, or at least should be mature enough to handle things like adults. So when beer distributors themselves complain, I have to laugh at the hypocrisy. Out loud. As reported in the online local news site, Lancaster Online (which covers the county directly southwest of Berks, where Legacy Brewing is located), Bob Dano, owner of Engleside Beverage Mart on South Prince Street sent his back, saying “[m]y wife thought it was obscene and so did I.” Well, golly Bob. Did you know you work in a beer distributor and sell beer to adults. If the state and the Feds approved the label, get over yourself. But wait, there’s more. What about the children? Who’s looking out for the children? Don’t worry, Apal Shah is on the case (pun intended). He’s still selling the beer, but he’s literally wrapping each case up in a brown paper wrapper. You can’t buy publicity like that at any price.
|“It’s not proper for my store,” said Beer Ink (another yahoo beverage store, this one on Centerville Road) owner Apal Shah. “We have lots of small kids coming in here with their parents. I don’t want them seeing those pictures.” Small kids at the beer store? With their parents? Oh, the humanity! Are you kidding? Your objection is that children might see vaguely representational drawings of people touching one another. Do you think they’ll rush right out and try what they saw in the pictures. And then you’ll be somehow responsble? Will the parents who brought their kids in your store in the first place think it was your fault because you didn’t make a beer store safe for the kiddies? Hey Apal, your sign says “think you are old enough for this beer?” Isn’t everyone at the beer store old enough? My understanding of PLCB regulations is that you have to be of legal drinking age to shop in a beer store. Unless, of course, you’re fool enough to take your kids with you on a beer run. You never know what sort of hedonistic sights they might inadvertently see, ruining their innocence forever. Why they’d have to run home, bar the door and only watch clean, wholesome television. My point here is simply that kids are exposed to far worse — from the prude’s point of view — in an average hour of TV watching. And I’m not even talking about the programming, what’s affectionately known as “filler” by TV execs. Just look at sixty minute’s worth of television commercials and then look at this beer label. What’s the first thing you notice? That only a complete buffoon would have an objection to it, especially on the grounds that have been reported.|
But since Legacy Brewing has thoughtfully provided a link to every story that has reported on the controversy, I’m pretty sure they’re on to the game. As PR people are fond of saying, there’s no such thing as good publicity or bad publicty, only publicity. So while I can’t necessarily blame Legacy for creating the controversy, I suspect that they had some idea of how some of their customers might react. After all, there are certainly no shortage of uptight, narrow-minded conservative types in the Reading area. Believe me, I grew up there. Religious intolerance is rampant in the Commonwealth I knew. They’ve got Arlen Spector and Rick Santorum. I defy you to find a state where both U.S. Senators are as conservative as these two chuckleheads. In Pennsylvania you can only buy wine and liquor from the state, in state stores, many of which in 2006 are still closed on Sunday because of traditional religiously-based blue laws. So the Legacy folks had to know what they were doing. They may not have been able to predict with absolute accuracy what would happen, but they must have known they were stirring the pot.
Anyway, the real test is how the beer tastes. Wanker and Nude Beer are mercifully no longer with us while Bad Frog isn’t really taken seriously by any beer enthusiast I know. Polygamy Porter is, at least, a decent Porter. So when the controversy ebbed, the beer could still flow. And that’s as it should be. If Hedonism Ale is a good beer, it should still be around when I make my next pilgrimage to Pennsylvania to see the family. And if that’s the case, I can’t wait to try a pint.