Idaho regulators have decided not to carry Five Wives Vodka because of its label, while Utah booze cops have deemed the bottle’s depiction of 19th-century women in petticoats holding kittens near their lady parts as acceptable.
Although some may see the label as a spoof on Utah’s polygamy past, the inspiration actually came from a wagon traveling from Missouri several years before the arrival of Mormon pioneers, Ogden’s Own Distillery owner Tim Smith said.
The 1841 Bartleson–Bidwell caravan included 66 men and five women —hence the label Five Wives Vodka.
As for the strategically placed pets, Smith said the women are holding the kittens “in an area that’s a little lower than their belly buttons, but I suppose you could say it’s near their genitalia.”
“We’re not trying to offend anyone. It’s just a cute historical photograph we found on the Internet.”
Jeff Anderson, director of the Idaho Liquor Division, said the state declines to stock about 500 products each year because of space limitations in state-controlled liquor stores.
“This product attempted to compete in a crowded category,” he said. “If there would have been a tie-breaker on this vodka, the name and label would have been it” because a segment of the population might find it offensive. Idaho’s position also blocks establishments from receiving special orders of the product.
“It’s a rare move for them to ban a product outright from special orders,” said John Challenger, president of the Idaho distributor Elite Spirits.
Steve Conlin, Ogden’s Own partner and vice president of marketing, said in a statement released Tuesday (May 29) that the ban has forced the company to withdraw its sponsorship of the Boise Music Festival, scheduled for July 7.
“Between sponsorship and attending the concert, we estimate the company would have spent nearly $10,000 in Boise over the weekend of the festival,” said Conlin. “We’d love to bring a group and represent our brands at an event of this magnitude.”
Last fall, Ogden’s Own asked Utah regulators to approve listing Five Wives Vodka in state liquor outlets. A state tasting committee endorsed the product, and the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved the label.
“If a label meets federal TTB guidelines, it is considered to be a sound indication of label integrity,” said Tom Zdunich, purchasing director for the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
Tracy Simmons is an award winning journalist specializing in religion reporting, digital entrepreneurship and social journalism. In her 15 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti.
Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas and Connecticut. Currently she serves as the executive director of SpokaneFAVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Wash. She is also a Scholarly Assistant Professor at Washington State University.