Seriously Bad Elf Beer Battle

It would be “really awful” for persons (including adults) under the age of 21 to see the label on “Seriously Bad Elf” seasonal beer, insists the state of Connecticut. Does it show the mean-looking elf engaging in some bizarre sexual act? Does it show him torturing children or small animals? No. It shows him with a slingshot shooting Christmas tree ornaments at Santa’s sleigh which is safely high and away in the sky.

Although the bitter winter ale is sold in 30 other states, the Connecticut Liquor Control division prohibited the sale of “Seriously Bad Elf” in that state. It contended that any image of Santa Claus on a label is illegal and could cause children to want to buy it. The beer is sold in specialty and gourmet stores and each “Seriously Bad Elf” costs $5.99.

Last year the Connecticut Liquor Control Division approved the sale of “Santa’s Butt” beer. Did Liquor Control think that children wouldn’t recognize Santa’s rear? Presumably the company would have experienced no difficulty had it stuck with its original idea of picturing the elf roasting a reindeer on a spit without any image of Santa.

The importer of the British product said it would go to court to defend its First Amendment right to free speech as it had successfully done earlier in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington. Its lawyer said that the state’s prohibition is a violation of the Constitution’s establishment clause. In a hearing she cited the Bad Frog vs. New York beer label case as precedent. The court ruled that an image that might attract a child is not enough reason to ban it from a beer container because there are already laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol to anyone the age of 21.

One thing appears clear. The state’s prohibition would benefit the company by giving it high visibility (free advertising) and increase sales among experienced beer drinkers in those many markets where it is available. It would almost certainly be a sell-out. On the other hand, young people would not likely to want it because very few would like bitter ale.

According to press reports, the Office of Consumer Protection, which oversees the Connecticut Liquor Control Board, decided that the law applies only to distilled spirits labels, not to beer labels.

Confusing the matter, the Commissioner of the Office of Consumer Protection said that “our regulations specifically exempt labels.” That would mean that the regulations would not apply to distilled spirits labels either. Apparently the commissioner and his own office don’t agree.

The Liquor Control Division has reversed its earlier position, has decided that the law doesn’t prohibit the label after all, and is now permitting the sale of “Seriously Bad Elf.”

State officials may not understand their own presumably confusing laws and regulations and therefore may not be applying them fairly and equitably. There’s apparently a “Seriously Bad Bureaucratic Mess” in the State of Connecticut.

Pity anyone trying to do business in the state.


  • Eaton-Robb, Pat. Connecticut wants to ban beer with elf label: State says “Seriously Bad Elf” markets to kids. Huffington Post, October 29, 2005; Dager, Wendy. “Seriously Bad Elf” won’t corrupt children. Ventura County Star, November 10, 2005; State drops prohibition against “Bad Elf“ beer. First Amendment Center website, November 12, 2005; “Bad Elf” gets green light. Join Together website, November 23, 2005.