Flying Dog Brewery (Frederick, MD) has filed a lawsuit against the Michigan Liquor Control Commission the U.S. District Court in Michigan's Western District. The suit involves the commission's November 2009 decision to deny an application by the brewery to sell its 'Raging Bitch' beer in Michigan due to the allegedly provocative nature of the label.
Flying Dog argues that the commission's decision is unconstitutional and violates the brewery's first amendment rights to free speech. The brewery is asking the court to mandate the issuance of a sales license in Michigan for Raging Bitch and is seeking unspecified compensatory damages from the commissioners as well as attorney fees.
In their complaint, the plaintiffs state, "[b]eer bottles should be regulated not by the expression of their labels, but by the character of their content...[r]egrettably, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission and its members have taken it upon themselves to control not merely alcoholic beverages, but speech as well."
The commission is given the authority by the Michigan legislature to control all alcoholic beverage traffic in the state and to reject any beer label submitted for registration that is deemed to promote racism, sexism, intemperance or intoxication, or to be detrimental to the health, safety or welfare of the general public.
Flying Dog applied for a license to sell Raging Bitch, the company’s 20th anniversary commemorative beer, in the state of Michigan in September 2009. According to the suit, the commission looked at the proposed label by Flying Dog and "did not feel it was appropriate for distribution and sale in Michigan."
The Raging Bitch label's artwork was designed by British artist Ralph Steadman, who works with Flying Dog to produce illustrations for the brewery's corporate images. The Raging Bitch label depicts drawing of a female dog and reads, in part:
"Two inflammatory words ... one wild drink. Nectar imprisoned in a bottle. Let it out. It is cruel to keep a wild animal locked up. Uncap it. Release it ... stand back!! Wallow in its golden glow in a glass beneath a white foaming head. Remember, enjoying a RAGING BITCH, unleashed, untamed, unbridled—and in heat—is pure GONZO!! It has taken 20 years to get from there to here. Enjoy!" — Ralph Steadman
Flying Dog created Raging Bitch, a Belgian-Style India Pale Ale, to celebrate the brewery’s 20th anniversary in 2010. In addition to the controversy in Michigan, sales of the beer have also been banned in New Hampshire. (Another Flying Dog beer, Road Dog Porter, is banned in Texas.)
Flying Dog CEO Jim Caruso and Alan Gura (an attorney with Gura & Possessky (Alexandria, Va), the firm representing the brewery) announced the filing of the case at Crunchy’s, a craft beer pub near the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing.