Flying Dog Brewery terminated its membership with the Brewers Association over free speech concerns on June 1, marking the first time that a craft beer manufacturer split with the powerful trade group. The move was made in protest of a policy the Brewers Association announced in April aimed at cracking down on "sexually explicit, lewd, or demeaning brand names, language, text, graphics, photos, video, or other images."
Flying Dog, who produces a popular Belgian IPA called Raging Bitch, is no stranger to censorship challenges. In 2009, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission barred the sale of Raging Bitch in the Wolverine State, claiming that the label is "detrimental to the public health, safety, and welfare." Oddly enough, the label was designed by renowned artist Ralph Steadman, who is best known for illustrating many of Hunter S. Thompson's best-known works, including Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
After a long legal battle, Flying Dog won a decisive victory for free speech in May 2016, with the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the Michigan Liquor Control Commission's ban violated the brewery's First Amendment rights. Flying Dog used the damages it received from the ruling to found the 1st Amendment Society, a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about free speech issues. Over the past year, the 1st Amendment Society has held numerous educational events at Flying Dog's headquarters in Frederick, Md.
Thus, Flying Dog's decision to leave the Brewers Association should come as no surprise. Their steadfast defense of free expression is integral not just to its beer labels but to its core values as a company.
Flying Dog CEO Jim Caruso explains in Brewbound:
Free enterprise doesn't exist without freedom of expression … If you've suppressed my ability to communicate my marketing message to my potential consumers, you are anti-free enterprise. It's appalling to think that the brewers who sit on the board of directors and the [Brewers Association] management are interfering in the industry, trying suppress free enterprise and suppress craft brewers from communicating their marketing message to their consumers.
These days, free speech is not just under threat by governments. Private institutions like universities and trade groups often embrace censorship, creating a chilling effect where individuals are afraid to share knowledge. While it's perfectly within their rights to impose such rules, their customers should not be afraid to raise their objection or vote with their dollars.
Such is the case case with the Brewers Association's unnecessary decision to regulate its members' brands. Flying Dog should be applauded for standing up for "good beer and no censorship."
Casey Given (@CaseyJGiven) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is the executive director of Young Voices.
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