Bad Elf beer battle

Connecticut nixes Seriously Bad Elf label, says it appeals to children

Oct 30, 2005 - State officials in Connecticut want to ban a holiday beer label they worry might entice children to drink beer, sparking a possible constitutional battle and virtually guaranteeing the beer will sell out.


At issue is the label on the British import Seriously Bad Elf. It shows a scowling elf with a slingshot firing Christmas ornaments at Santa's sleigh as it flies overhead.

Seriously Bad ElfState liquor regulations bar alcohol advertising with images that might appeal to children, and the regulations specifically mention Santa. "There are certain symbols and images that appeal more strongly to children and this regulation includes the most obvious among them," Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said. "The state has wide discretion to regulate the sales of alcohol."

The state Liquor Control Division notified Massachusetts-based Shelton Brothers distributors that it was rejecting its application to sell the beer, a bitter winter ale brewed at the Ridgeway Brewery in England. Bad Elf and Seriously Bad Elf are sold in 30 other states without any problems.

"We even had a beer called Santa's Butt last year," said Dan Shelton of Shelton Brothers. "They didn't notice Santa's Butt, but they notice this one. How can you miss that big red thing? Minors are not going to be looking to buy beer because Santa Claus is on the label."

Shelton enlisted the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut and demanded a hearing before the Liquor Control Commission.

At that hearing last week, ACLU attorney Annette Lamoreaux argued that the regulation has serious constitutional flaws. Not only does it violate Shelton's free speech rights, she said, but protecting Santa Claus is a violation of the Constitution's establishment clause, which prohibits government endorsement or disapproval of religion.

She also cited a decision in another beer-label case, Bad Frog vs. New York. A court ruled that the potential for an image to attract a child is not reason enough to ban it from a beer bottle because there are already laws against selling beer to children.

"The state of Connecticut must not have enough to think about," said Gary A. Lippincott, the Massachusetts artist responsible for the image. "The funny thing is that it is really tame compared to what they originally wanted. I believe the original idea started with him roasting a reindeer on a spit. I wonder how that would have gone over."

The state has also indicated that it will not allow Shelton Brothers to sell Warm Welcome Nut Brown Ale, which also has a picture of Santa Claus on the label.