Ogden's Own Distillery, which makes Five Wives Vodka, took offense to the state taking offense to its liquor, with a name that plays on a Mormon stereotype and a label that some might find risque.
The Idaho State Liquor Division sent a letter to the vodka's distributor earlier this month, letting it know that Five Wives wouldn't be sold in Idaho because it was "offensive to a prominent segment of our population" and "in poor taste with respect to our citizens."
Jeff Anderson, director of the liquor division, said Tuesday that the company hadn't bothered trying an appeals process before it spread the story that caught fire nationally.
Distillery partner Steve Conlin said the company didn't know that was an option.
Ogden's Own asked the state twice to let it sell Five Wives here - first in general, then for special orders. Conlin didn't say if the company would try to change the division's mind before going to court.
The label shows a row of women lifting their skirts and showing cats over their crotches. It comes from a picture of the Barrison Sisters, an 1890s vaudeville act that had a bawdy finale.
"When we saw (the picture), we thought this is just quirky enough," Conlin said. "It's tough to break through" in a state that has 106 other vodka brands on shelves, he said.
Anderson said that while news coverage has focused on the Mormon issue - the division didn't want to approve something that could offend members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - the label's portrayal of women played a large role.
Anderson asked Tuesday what, exactly, the distillery was hinting at with the illustration. "We think we get it," he said.
"Admittedly, it's a double entendre," Conlin said, then pointed to Hooters, which operates in Idaho.
The company did market research in Utah - where the vodka is legally sold - and found no objections to the name and label, he said. As for the nod to polygamy, Conlin added that the name also plays off competitor Three Olives Vodka.
The company is considering a First Amendment lawsuit, like one brought by Flying Dog Brewery against Michigan liquor regulators who rejected Raging Bitch beer. Flying Dog won that fight.
"We've been contacted by (an) attorney" who defended Raging Bitch, Conlin said.
The case "shows exactly the dangers of one person trying to make the rule for a population at large," he said.
Anderson said the decision wasn't his alone. The division, which includes three deputy directors, has been pitched about 500 products in the past year. It has taken 150.
Under what criteria does the state select liquors? The packaging, product quality, marketing plan, price, profit margin, competitors on the shelf, and how the company proposes to sell it to bars and other liquor servers, Anderson said.
"Of the 2,400 items we have in our price book, 150 of them do 80 percent of our sales," he said. That makes the division picky, and it opted against "an average product with a premium price point."
)2012 The Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho)
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