Beer tax protest

Utah brewer will dump '1st Amendment Lager' into Great Salt Lake

Mar 31, 2003 - Wasatch Brewery owner Greg Schirf will step back in time this week to protest a tax bill that raises already high beer taxes in Utah.


He plans to dress up as founding father Ben Franklin on Thursday, and in an updated version of the Boston Tea Party, pour the first kegs of his new 1st Amendment Lager into Great Salt Lake.

Schirf claims he was the prime target of a beer tax bill that mostly Mormon state lawmakers passed last month, and bill sponsor Sen. Mike Waddoups admits he doesn't like Schirf. "We're a brewery with a political agenda," said Schirf, who is also managing partner of the Utah Brewers Cooperative. "We have a political statement to make, but we want to do it with a smile on our face.

"Our First Amendment rights were impacted because (he) told us to shut up or (he'd) come after us, and (he) did."

Offended by Wasatch Brewery's billboard showing busty beer icon Provo Girl next to the caption, "Nice Cans", Waddoups cited it for "bad taste." "I personally was more offended by that particular company than the whole industry," Waddoups said.

Two years ago, Schirf launched the first of several ad runs that poked fun at Utah. Billboards touted beer as "Utah's Other Local Religion," and urged customers to "Baptize Your Taste Buds."

Schirf followed with even bolder advertising. He lampooned Utah's prudishness and history of polygamy with Polygamy Porter spots that asked, "Why have just one?" A billboard urged customers to "take some home for the wives."

After hearing rumors that the ads were irritating lawmakers, Utah Beer Wholesalers Association president Bill Christoffersen reminded Schirf that the industry was "mindful of the beliefs and practices" of the dominant culture and asked him to advertise his products "in a more responsible manner."

Schirf responded that using attractive females to sell beer was hardly a unique idea. "The First Amendment still applies," he said Friday.

So does the principle that taxation without representation is tyranny, he said -- which happens to be 1st Amendment Lager's ad slogan, only with "tyranny" crossed out and replaced with "Utah!"

The tax will raise about $12 million a year, with $2.5 million earmarked for drunken-driving enforcement in the first year. Because five of six liquor commission members and more than 90% of legislators belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which forbids the faithful from drinking alcohol, the beer industry never had a chance, Schirf said.

"They impose a tax on us they'll never have to pay, which I guess to their credit is kind of brilliant," Schirf said.

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