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Butts are legal this year

Must be a beer kind of day (see previous post). Could it be something in the air? Or just in the office?

In any case, state liquor officials have changed the rules governing beer labels, so Christmas-beer import specialists Shelton Brothers (of Belchertown, Massachusetts) have had no problems with getting approval to sell their beers in Maine. Which isn't how things were going this time last year.

You may remember the "Santa's Butt" controversy (see "State: One Santa Okay, Another No Way," by Jeff Inglis, December 8, 2006), which resulted in Shelton Brothers suing the state in federal court, on the basis of the First Amendment, to overturn the rules under which state police officials passed judgement on labels for beer bottles.

This year, Maine, like most other states, just requires federal approval for beer labels, which amounts to truth-in-advertising approval, like making sure a 12-ounce bottle doesn't say it contains 40 ounces, and that a beer's alcohol-content percentage is properly reported. All Maine added was "kind of a moral opinion on whether the label would corrupt youth," says Daniel Shelton, the importer's co-owner.

He's hoping you remember the controversy — really hoping. Shelton Brothers "ordered a lot, more than we should have, maybe" of Santa's Butt beer this season, hoping people would remember and buy a lot of it now that it's legal. (Maine regulators did reverse their ban last year, but only barely in time for Christmas. And the guy who defended the ban, Patrick Fleming, was promoted in April to be chief of the Maine State Police, so we can see that his career suffered no ill effects from getting the state sued on free-speech grounds.)

This year's other specials being imported by Shelton Brothers include "Reindeer's Revolt" and "Insanely Bad Elf."

Both of those ran afoul not of state regulators, but of the feds, who apparently ruled that "you couldn't talk about other intoxicating substances on a beer label," including tobacco and other forms of alcohol, Shelton says. Also, "we were not allowed to show the physical effects that drinking the product might have" - a rule that (if it weren't exclusive to booze) would prevent, say, photos of shiny hair from being affixed to shampoo bottles.

Shelton plans to "find out where the line is" over the course of the next few years, though, and we'll keep you posted on what he's up to.

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