The New York Liquor Authority Tries to Stop Christmas From Coming

Well, it’s happening again . . .

This year, apparently, the State of New York has decided that you shouldn’t be allowed to buy the world-class Christmas beers we’re importing from all over the world — beers that are perfectly legal in the other forty-odd states in which we distribute. This time around, however, we’re going to court, and we’ll hopefully put a stop to the annual assault on the First Amendment, once and for all.The court date in Albany is December 1st. Care to read our press release on the matter? Here you go!



And Shelton Brothers, “Importers of the World’s Best Beers,” are Forced to Go to Court to Protect Their Rights, and Yours

A New York beer distributor has received word by telephone that the New York State Liquor Authority will not allow six beers with cheerful holiday-themed labels to be sold in the state this Christmas season. The SLA representative explained that the labels could not be approved for sale because Christmas imagery would “appeal to underage drinkers.” The banned beer labels are:

• Santa’s Butt Winter Porter (depicting Santa enjoying a pint atop a large barrel, or ‘butt,’ of beer)
• Warm Welcome Nut-Browned Ale (depicting Santa arriving to a fiery welcome at the bottom of the chimney shaft)
• Very Bad Elf Special Reserve Ale (depicting a wayward elf celebrating Christmas a little too early)
• Seriously Bad Elf English Double Ale (depicting the same elf taking aim at Santa and his sleigh with a slingshot)
• Criminally Bad Elf Barley-Wine-Style Ale (depicting the intractable and belligerent elf finally behind bars)
• Rudolph’s Revenge Winter Ale (a straight-on cartoon portrait of the famous red-nosed reindeer)

Shelton Brothers, importers of the beers, have retained an Albany attorney, George Carpinello, of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, to seek a court ruling overturning the SLA’s decision. George Carpinello was the lead attorney for the plaintiff in the case of Bad Frog Brewing Co. v. New York State Liquor Authority, which culminated in 1998 in a decision by the federal Court of Appeals holding, among other things, that the brewery’s First Amendment right to use the label image of its choosing could not be infringed by the SLA on the tenuous assumption that the image would appeal to younger people.

Daniel Shelton of Shelton Brothers commented: “It’s very strange that New York, a state that we think of as more progressive, is the only state among the 45 states or so in which we sell beer to ban these labels on this dubious ‘underage drinking’ rationale. Santa Claus, elves, and red-nosed reindeer may have persuasive influence on the four-to-six age group, but we think it’s safe to assume that tots are not interested in alcoholic drink, and wouldn’t have any chance at all of buying any even if they were interested. For the late-teens who are really at risk for underage drinking, these symbols of the Christmas season are not cool in the least. On the contrary.”

Vehemently rejecting any suggestion that his company is marketing its wares to children, Shelton continued: “We don’t have any market among underage drinkers, and we certainly don’t want one. These labels were always intended to appeal to adults, not kids, and they have in fact been wildly popular with the over-21 crowd that has the money to afford them. They usually run to about five or six bucks a bottle, after all. We are by no means insensitive to the problem of teen drinking, and we applaud the SLA’s focus on the issue. We just don’t think that the issue has anything to do with this case.

“It’s hard to avoid the suspicion that picking on Santa is just an easy way to appear to be doing something about the problem without actually doing something about it. And since we haven’t heard about anyone else’s Christmas beers being banned in New York, it feels as if we’re being singled out because they calculate that we’re too small to raise a protest. We believe, respectfully, that we have a right to sell these beers, and adults with the ability to think for themselves have a right to go down to the package store and buy them.”

That, with the usual legal embellishments, is the essence of the Shelton Brothers’ complaint filed against the SLA on Tuesday in the New York State Supreme Court in Albany. The complaint also alleges that the SLA’s steep label registration fees for beer unconstitutionally disadvantage small out-of-state beer suppliers and prevent them from selling rarer, high-quality, hand-crafted beers in the state. (The Complaint is also attached.) A hearing on the Shelton Brothers claims is scheduled for December 1st in Albany County Supreme Court.

Five of the six banned beers are brewed by Peter Scholey of Ridgeway Brewing in the U.K., with label artwork by a Massachusetts artist, Gary Lippincott. The sixth, Rudolph’s Revenge, is brewed at the Cropton Brewery in the U.K. (source of label artwork unknown). The Bad Elf and Rudolph’s Revenge are available at Cost Plus World Market stores across the country, and all of the Shelton Brothers Christmas beers are available in good beer stores everywhere – except, of course, New York State.

Meanwhile, back in Massachusetts, Daniel Shelton, evidently unable to contain himself, is still rattling on: “Giving Santa Claus the boot obviously won’t do anything to curb underage drinking. As we all know, there’s a ton of advertising out in the market playing on themes like partying and sex that’s infinitely more appealing to minors – and adults – than Santa will ever be, but the SLA apparently isn’t so bothered about that. Besides, the potential underage drinker cares much more about what’s in the bottle than what’s on it.”

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