Maryland’s Flying Dog wins another court fight over its edgy beer labels

Maryland’s Flying Dog Brewery is known for its sometimes edgy beer labels and beer names and, on occasion, has gone to court to defend them.

In the latest victory for the Frederick-based brewery, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina has ruled in favor of Flying Dog and against the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Commission over a regulation allowing it to ban labels the commissioners deem undignified, immodest or in bad taste.

The label was designed by English artist Ralph Steadman, who has been creating Flying Dog’s eye-catching labels since 1995. (Courtesy Flying Dog Brewery)

Flying Dog argued the regulation is a violation of First Amendment rights.

Flying Dog filed its lawsuit last August after the North Carolina ABC rejected its label for “Freezin’ Season Winter Ale,” whose cartoon label featured a naked man standing next to a campfire. The label was designed by English artist Ralph Steadman, who has been creating Flying Dog’s eye-catching labels since 1995.

The label was originally denied by the ABC as being “in bad taste.”

“The First Amendment is the last defense against authoritarian and arbitrary government and it must be protected against any and all threats. With the First Amendment seemingly under attack from all sides, it is heartening to see court decisions like this that protect the freedoms it embodies,” said Flying Dog CEO Jim Caruso.

The Court ruling, issued on May 13, also requires North Carolina to remove the current regulation.

“The NC ABC Commission respects Judge Boyle’s decision and appreciates his time and consideration in hearing this case,” commission spokesperson Jeff Strickland said in an email to The Associated Press on Tuesday. “NC ABC Commission staff are reviewing the decision to determine the appropriate next steps.”

Flying Dog won a similar court case in Michigan in 2015 over the sale of its “Raging Bitch” beer, and in Colorado over sale of its “Road Dog” porter, whose label had a tag Line saying “Good Beer, No Shit.” While that case was pending in court, Flying Dog temporarily changed that tag line to “Good Beer, No Censorship.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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