Bottle Caps One, Nanny State Zero

September 3, 2008

All Posts, News

Vaune Dillmann, lives and works in a place named Weed.

Weed is a little town on the 5 Freeway, off exit 747, near Mount Shasta in northern California. The nearest big town is either Redding or Medford, Oregon.

Just about anybody who has ever ridden through gets the joke and stops to take a picture. The town was actually named for a man. Abner Weed was a lumber tycoon who got elected to the state senate and thought it would be a fine thing if his town was named for him. But the lumber business isn’t the economic engine it once was.

Having Fun With Weed

So ever since about the Summer of Love Weed has been trying to make a dollar here and there from its name. A large metal arch downtown announces the name in big letters. “WEED.” People like to take pictures of that. It is a way to get tourists to stop downtown. While they are there sometimes they actually buy something.

As you ride out of town another signs tells you that you are “Temporarily Out of Weed.” The town sits at an elevation of about 3,500 feet so when you stop to gas up you can also go inside and buy a tee-shirt that announces you are “High on Weed.”

The high school is “Weed High.” Nobody seems to mind that.

Having Fun With Beer

Dillmann, who used to live in Milwaukee, decided to go into the brewing business about five years ago. He owns Mount Shasta Brewing Company and his products include Weed golden and amber ales, a brew called “Mountain High” and “Shastafarian Porter.” If you are a government regulator and you don’t get it yet you might as well know right now that Shastafarian is a pun on Rastafarian. If you don’t know who Rastafarians are or what they smoke you are on your own.

The brewery sits in an abandoned creamery and for the last five years it has provided an income for Dillmann and six employees. At first, Dillmann sold his beers in kegs. He starting to sell it in bottles in 2004. The first bottles had plain caps. Then Dillmann thought it might get him some attention and help him sell some beer if he put the words, “Try Legal Weed,” on the caps. Many people found the caps amusing.

Business grew and eventually Dillmann started to bottle another beer, called Lemurian Lager. That was when the trouble started.

People Must Be Protected From Fun

Amazing though it may seem, before you can sell a bottle of beer in this country you need to submit the label to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) for approval. In this case, the ATF refused to approve the label because they didn’t like the bottle cap, “Try Legal Weed.”

“We interpret it as a drug reference,” Art Resnick, a spokesman for the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau said last May, two months after the dispute began. “It’s misleading as to the possibility of what’s in the beverage and possible effects of the beverage.”

Dillmann replied, logically, that if he couldn’t ask his customers to “Try Legal Weed” why was his competitor allowed to advertise, “This Bud’s for you?”

“We brew fantastically delicious beer with pure tasty mountain spring water.” Dillmann wrote. “We put pride and love in every pint and bottle we create, and we urge everyone to give it a try! Our product is legal and it is brewed, filled and capped in Weed, not with weeds.”

Were We Deceived

Nobody backed down. Nobody blinked for months. The ATF warned Dillmann he might have to recall 40,000 bottles of beer. They didn’t tell him how he was supposed to get the beer back in the empties.

Finally, last month the ATF sent Dillmann a brief letter. “Based on the context of the entire label, we agree that the phrase in question refers to the brand name of the product and does not mislead consumers,” the letter stated.

A call by The Aging Rebel to ATF spokesman Art Resnick in Washington, D.C., was not returned.

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