20061129

It's a Christmas miracle


Never underestimate the capacity of government to waste its time and your money.

A year ago, the state of Connecticut decided to slap a ban on sales of certain English beers marketed under such names as Bad Elf and Very Bad Elf. The ill-conceived move was predicated on the "logic" that the colorful bottle labels might attract underage drinkers.

Cooler heads eventually prevailed, under pressure of a lawsuit from Massachusetts importer/distributor Shelton Brothers, and the ban was rescinded -- although not in time to keep from harming sales.

This month, New York State virtually re-ran the whole Connecticut episode, banning the sales of the same product and using the same "logic." Another lawsuit was filed, and another overzealous state agency folded.

The State Liquor Authority yesterday informed all parties involved that sales of Very Bad Elf, Seriously Bad Elf, Santa's Butt and several other seasonal beers would be allowed.

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20061125

Guinness getting colorful


"Barkeep, draw me a nice red Guinness."

Words never before uttered in the English language, but they're coming.

Diageo, the worldwide drinks conglomerate that owns the iconic Dublin brewery, is planning to test market in various UK spots a new version of the stout called Guinness Red, using toasted -- rather than roasted -- malt.

Guinness Red is the first major new launch since Extra Cold was introduced in pubs in 1999. There already are three Guinness variants selling in the UK — Draught, Original and Foreign Extra Stout. The original Guinness, still the major seller, is black with a distinctive thick white head.

“We can confirm (the new product)," said Katrina Ward, Guinness spokesperson. "It is a new variant of Guinness, lightly roasted for a rich red colour and a well-balanced bitter sweet character."

For the moment, the new product will be confined to taps, with no immediate plans to put it in cans or bottles.

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20061124

NY: We're No. 2 -- and still wrong


Poor New York. The onetime "Empire State" has difficulty setting any sort of trend these days, even stupid ones.

A year ago, I reported on the state of Connecticut's ill-advised attempt to stop a Massachusetts distributor from bringing certain beers into that state. Specifically, a set of English beers with such playful, seasonal names as Bad Elf, Seriously Bad Elf, Rudolph's Revenge and Santa's Butt. Not witty or classy names, to be sure, but sort of playful.

The Nutmeg State had claimed the labels made the brews look too much like fun so it would be an undue temptation to have them on store shelves where underage drinkers would be tempted to acquire them. Cooler heads prevailed and the objection was withdrawn, but not before Connecticut had befouled the distributor's holiday supply line and cost it a bundle of money.

This week, the New York State Liquor Authority dusted off Connecticut's foolishness, using the same "too attractive for children" logic to justify instituting a ban on the sale of a variety of the beers.

Daniel Shelton, owner of Shelton Brothers, a distributor in Belchertown, MA, that supplies dealers in 45 states, got attorney George Carpinello to immediately file suit in state Supreme Court in Albany. He called the ban a violation of both state liquor laws and federal freedom of speech.

Carpinello would appear to have a shot at getting the ban overturned. In 1998 he represented Bad Frog beer, which was banned because of a so-called "obscene" gesture a frog made on its label. Bad Frog prevailed.

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