Judge: Regulators wrong to ban beer label that had naked man

ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina regulators were wrong to reject a beer label that featured a silhouette of a naked man standing next to a campfire, a federal judge has ruled.

The owners of Maryland-based Flying Dog Brewery argued that the North Carolina Alcohol Beverage Control Commission violated their First Amendment rights by rejecting the label for its Freezin’ Season Winter Ale. The commission had said the label was in “bad taste,” but later allowed the beer to be sold. Flying Dog proceeded with the lawsuit anyway, hoping to get the regulation struck down.

U.S. District Judge Terrence W. Boyle ruled in favor of the craft brewery last week, finding that the regulation was vague and overbroad, violating the free speech rights of Flying Dog and its competitors. The ruling requires North Carolina to remove the current regulation.

Flying Dog CEO Jim Caruso said it was “heartening” to see such a court decision.

“The First Amendment is the last defense against authoritarian and arbitrary government and it must be protected against any and all threats,” Caruso said in a statement Monday.

“The NC ABC Commission respects Judge Boyle’s decision and appreciates his time and consideration in hearing this case,” commission spokesperson Jeff Strickland said in an email to The Associated Press on Tuesday. “NC ABC Commission staff are reviewing the decision to determine the appropriate next steps.”

This is not the first time Flying Dog has gone to court over its labels. A federal appeals court ruled in favor of the brewery in 2015 regarding a ban of the sale of its Raging Bitch beer in the state of Michigan, news outlets reported. The dispute began in 2009 when a board determined the label to be “detrimental to the health, safety, or welfare of the general public.” The label featured a drawing of a female dog with accentuated features, bared teeth and a tongue covered in blood.

Both of the labels were created by artist Ralph Steadman, who frequently collaborated with Hunter S. Thompson, the founder of “gonzo” journalism.

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