Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Idaho Liquor Division relents (sort of) on "Five Wives" vodka

By Associated Press, Updated: Wednesday, June 6, 7:48 PM

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho reversed direction in the face of a lawsuit Wednesday and said it will sell Five Wives Vodka, but the liquor producer whose label makes an unmistakable reference to polygamy would not immediately rule out legal action.

The Idaho State Liquor Division rejected as offensive last week the product that features an antiqued sketch of five women hiking up their skirts. Idaho is more than 25 percent Mormon and the church at one time allowed polygamy but abandoned the practice in 1890.

The vodka originates from Ogden’s Own Distillery in Utah, where the Mormon church is based. The company said it would sue Idaho on principle if necessary.

Then on Wednesday George Washington University professor Jonathan Turley in a letter to Idaho officials and posted on his website said he planned to sue on behalf of the producer of Five Wives Vodka. He called the ban unconstitutional and gave the state 10 days to reverse its position.

The state only took hours:

“In a shared desire to avoid unnecessary litigation costs to Ogden’s Own Distillery and the people of Idaho, today we have informed the makers of ‘Five Wives’ vodka that we will immediately begin processing special order requests for both on-premise licensees and retail consumers,” Anderson said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

Steve Conlin, a partner and marketing chief for Ogden’s Own Distillery, said Wednesday the company’s attorneys would review Idaho’s decision before making a statement, likely on Thursday.

But he said selling the vodka as a special order request meant it wouldn’t be available on store shelves but only as a special order. Bars would face the same hurdle.

“It’s a cumbersome process on special orders,” Conlin said. “But I’m not saying that it’s not a solution for us at this point. I can’t say one way or the other right now.”

The company is also apparently still smarting from comments made by state officials questioning the quality of Five Wives Vodka as part of the state’s initial decision not to sell it in Idaho.

Anderson, in a letter to alcohol distribution company Elite Spirits Distribution owner John Challenger and officials at Ogden’s Own Distillery informing them of the change in Idaho’s policy, included an apology that wasn’t a part of his public statement.

“I apologize for comments reported in the media that may have led consumers to believe ‘Five Wives’ is an inferior vodka product,” Anderson wrote. A copy of the letter, obtained by The Associated Press, was also sent to Idaho Deputy Attorney General Tim Davis.

Turley did not respond to an email Wednesday evening concerning the change in Idaho’s position and his website had not been updated to reflect the change either. Earlier he wrote, “Idaho is the only state to raise religious and social sensibilities as a basis to deny entry to this product.”

Five Wives Vodka was first sold in Utah in December 2011. Shortly after the ban was announced in Idaho the company started selling T-shirts with the five women behind bars and the caption “Free the Five Wives.”

Conlin said the publicity from the ban has been good for the company but hasn’t boosted sales much because the vodka has only been available in Utah.