Idaho bans Ogden-made Five Wives Vodka

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 1:19 PM

Charles F. Trentelman

OGDEN — The Ogden distillers of Five Wives vodka said Tuesday they have been “banned” in Idaho because the label on the bottle — which shows five women holding their dress fronts up, with cats cradled in the dresses — is offensive.

The head of the Idaho State Liquor Division told the Standard-Examiner that the vodka was rejected for sale for commercial reasons, but also said he made the decision because he feels the label on the vodka offends women and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Director Jeffrey Anderson, who is not Mormon, said “I just don’t think that’s something we want to carry. I accept responsibility for that.”

Steve Conlin, an owner of Ogden’s Own Distillery, said the company is pursuing legal action based on Anderson’s statement being a violation of the company’s First Amendment right to freedom of commercial speech.

“We talked to the ACLU up there today. We’re going to talk to them tomorrow,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “It’s an egregious violation of the First Amendment. We’re exploring what the possibilities are.”

The company was also quick to capitalize on the controversy. It immediately offered “Free the Five Wives” T-shirts on its website, featuring the five women on the vodka label standing behind jail bars.

Anderson said Five Wives was not being “banned.” He said Ogden’s Own applied two months ago to have its vodka listed for sale in Idaho liquor stores and was not accepted for marketing reasons.

He said the Idaho liquor list already has 106 different brands of vodka at a wide range of prices, and Five Wives “doesn’t differentiate itself in any significant way at the price point at which it was going to compete.”

A second application to let Five Wives be sold by bars that special order it was also rejected. Anderson called that “the back-door way to get it into the system and we said no, we denied it, we don’t need vodka number 107 in that category.”

But the vodka is not banned, he said.

“More than 500 brands applied last year and 350 were denied,” he said. “Not listing a product is not unusual.”

Anderson said if someone from Idaho wants to drive to Utah and buy Five Wives, that’s fine with him.

Ogden’s Own distillery started in Ogden several years ago making an herbal liquor called “Underground.” The name was picked as a reference to Ogden’s history of crime and illicit liquor production during Prohibition.

Late last year, Ogden’s Own introduced its own brand of vodka and picked another name with local historical links, polygamy, which was practiced by members of the LDS Church until shortly before Utah was granted statehood.

Five Wives is not the only Utah alcoholic beverage to refer to that marital practice. Polygamy Pale Ale is produced by Rooster’s 25th Street Brewing Company, and Polygamy Porter is made by Wasatch Brewing Company.

Conlin said Idaho allows the sale of Polygamy Porter, and said that surprised him because that beer features naked women on its label.

Conlin said he has never heard of anyone in Utah, the home of the LDS Church, being offended by the Five Wives name or bottle label.

“Not at all, in fact, not at all. We did get a call, after we were on the shelves for awhile, from the state saying that someone was asking about the history of the label, and we explained that it’s an old historic label we found. The picture is actually from the late 1800s, as best we can tell.”

Conlin said the dispute has obvious marketing possibilities. He said the company has already sold about 20 T-shirts, and the news certainly will help raise the company’s reputation in Utah.

National publicity is less valuable, he said. “The problem is we’re not available in all these states, so nobody can buy it. If someone reads an article in the Miami Herald, it doesn’t do us much good unless there’s a distributor there who wants to sell it.”

One immediate impact of the Idaho decision is that Ogden’s Own will not be taking part in the Boise Music festival, where it had planned to promote the vodka.

The company said in a news release that, between sponsorship and attending the concert, it expected to spend nearly $10,000 in Boise over the weekend of the festival.

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