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Brewery sues North Carolina ABC Commission after beer label deemed ‘inappropriate’

By Kathy Hanrahan

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    RALEIGH, North Carolina (WRAL) — A Maryland-based brewery is suing the North Carolina Alcohol and Beverage Control Commission after one of its beer labels was rejected by the state for being “inappropriate.”

Flying Dog Brewery’s owners claim that the state has violated its First Amendment rights by rejecting a label for its Freezin’ Season Winter Ale, according to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for Eastern North Carolina on Aug. 26.

The artwork on the label contains the silhouette of a naked cartoon man standing next to a campfire. It was created by artist Ralph Steadman, who frequently collaborated with “gonzo” journalism founder Hunter S. Thompson.

The Frederick, Maryland, brewery was founded by George Stranahan and named for a painting of what appeared to be a flying dog that he saw in a Pakistani hotel. Stranahan was neighbors and friends with Thompson.

The label was submitted for approval from the ABC Commission in July, but was rejected a week later saying the image on the label was in “bad taste” and inappropriate, according to the lawsuit.

“If Flying Dog Brewery cannot sell Freezin’ Season in North Carolina in 2021, it risks losing hard-won shelf placements for all of its seasonal offerings. Seasonal beers rotate through liquor stores,” the lawsuit states.

The brewery’s label for its Freezin’ Season Winter Ale has been approved in every other state within its 24-state distribution network and received a Certificate of Label Approval from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which is part of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, according to the lawsuit.

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