Will Lost Abbey Bow to Pagan Pressure, Change Witch’s Wit Label? (With Poll)

There’s controversy brewing over at Lost Abbey, where the label of their Witch’s Wit (above) has drawn the ire of a powerful pagan.  And, as the New York Times reports,  it all started with a trip to the beer store.  

Vicki Noble is a well known astrologist, spiritual healer and goddess lover.  She’s also a fan of good beer.  While perusing the selection at her local beer store, she came across a bottle of Lost Abbey Witch’s Wit, a Belgian white ale brewed with grapefruit zest, orange peel and coriander.

While the beer inside might have been tasty, the label made Vicki lose her thirst  altogether. It features a painting by Sean Dominguez, showing a witch being burned at the stake.

Totally offended, Vicki sent out an eblast to her friends and followers to share her outrage.  It included this passage:

“Can you imagine them showing a black person being lynched or a Jewish person going to the oven?” she wrote. “Such images are simply not tolerated in our society anymore (thank the Goddess) and this one should not be, either.”

The brewery received a flood of complaints from the pagan and Wiccan communities to change the label, which they have agreed to do.

Lost Abbey says the label was never meant to offend. According to brewery co-owner Tomme Arthur, it was meant to depict “smugness and righteousness in light of a horrific atrocity against mankind.” It’s a part of their Catholic-themed series of beers which includes Judgment Day and Inferno Ale.

Tomme says they’ll meet after Halloween to figure out what to do about the label.  They’re contemplating having a contest to determine what will replace the offending image.

Once it’s replaced, Vicki Noble is looking forward to sampling the beer.  “Maybe we can make a ceremony out of it,” she says.

At first blush I thought this was a silly protest, aimed at gaining attention and legitimacy for pagans.  But I can also see how a modern day witch (or wizard – if they have those) could be offended to see the murder of their kind used to sell beer, regardless of the artist’s or brewer’s intentions.

There are lots of ways to depict witches, so I say change it – just make sure the new witch is as hot sexy as the current Megan-Fox-look-alike one.

What about you? Do you think Lost Abbey should have agreed to change the image, or do you think Ms. Noble and her friends are overreacting? As always, let us know below.

UPDATE: Well I (actually it was the New York Times) spoke too soon.  It seems Lost Abbey has not made any decisions about changing the label, instead they have only confirmed they will be discussing it in November.  Tomme Arthur has addressed the issue on the company blog, and the Texas Office of Girl’s Pint Out gets the scoop here as well.  Apparently they don’t want to be making any decisions about witch labels during the Halloween media cycle, which sounds pretty smart to me.



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63 Comments on “Will Lost Abbey Bow to Pagan Pressure, Change Witch’s Wit Label? (With Poll)”

  1. Don
    October 25, 2010 at 12:10 pm #

    I think this is an over reaction by the brewery. I think her argument is wrong where she was talking about jews in the oven or lynching. Those things were done out of hate and pure evil. The witch burnings were done out of blind ignorance. So the intent is quite different. I personally think the label is cool, and am not offended by it in the least. I think 99.9% of beer buyers would feel the same.

    • October 25, 2010 at 12:19 pm #

      You could make an argument the other way, saying the label should be left alone because it shows just how horrible ignorance and intolerance can be. A “never forget” kind of thing. But whatever.

      • Don
        October 25, 2010 at 12:23 pm #

        I don’t like my beer labels making political statements, and I think I tend to be a face value kind of guy, so it is a witch on the stake, that happened, the beer is called witches wit…i get it. No big deal. We just need to stop caving to every stupid interest group out there with all their crazy demands. Oh I think Dogfish Head should get rid of their Bitches Brew name…do you know they say the work Bitch in there? Offensive! C’mon…

    • DK
      January 3, 2011 at 1:38 am #

      are you pagan Don? I doubt it so what would you know? What does difference in intention have to do with it? So your condoning the Witch Burnings right? Maybe you can help support the next Holocaust too!

      • January 3, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

        Don’s not pagan, but he’s not overly sentimental or sensitive either (but I think you’re aware of that). 🙂

        I don’t think he’s condoning hurting anybody, either.

  2. October 25, 2010 at 12:25 pm #

    What’s wrong is that the label is only offensive to Pagans and witches. Women who refused to conform to strident gender roles were declared witches and persecuted, drowned, and, yes, burned at the stake. This is a bigger issue than just violence against witches. This is about oppression of women through violence. I believe Lost Abbey made a mistake with this image and the right thing to do is to change it before the next release.

    Don, on what is hate based if not blind ignorance? Depicting a woman (witch or not) being burnt at the stake celebrates a dark part of the history of violence against women.

    • Don
      October 25, 2010 at 12:41 pm #

      What if they came out with a beer label that had a bandit hanging from a tree and called it Hang em High Stout. Lets say the guy was innocent of the crime he was accused of, or make up whatever crazy story you want and put it in label form. Chances are no one would be offended, but make it a witch and a woman witch and then our offense meters go off. Maybe the label is in poor taste, but I’d hardly call it offensive.

      • October 25, 2010 at 12:47 pm #

        A little weak there, bro. Depicting frontier justice is not the same as depicting a woman being burned at the stake. BOC makes a good point that many women who suffer such a fate weren’t witches, they were feminists, individualists, odd-balls or just unliked by their accusers. Two very differnt matters IMO.

        That said, the label isn’t celebrating burning women, it was meant to depict just how awful it was.

        • Don
          October 25, 2010 at 12:59 pm #

          Are you truly offended by this label?

        • October 25, 2010 at 1:04 pm #

          No, I like it. I think it’s cool art. To me it speaks to a dark part of history without glamorizing it.

          But I’m not a witch. Actually, I kinda forgot people are into that stuff (it’s been a while since I’ve gone to the Renn Fair). But if I was a witch and it bothered me, I might pipe up about it.

        • Don
          October 25, 2010 at 1:06 pm #

          Me too, and I think most rational people would think the same. I’m just saying we are getting way too over sensitive in our PC, don’t ever talk about anything disturbing, world. Its run amuck and I think this is just another example of that.

        • October 25, 2010 at 1:11 pm #

          Well at least it was a pagan who complained and not some group out to protect the rights of people with alternative religious views. She saw something that offended her and she spoke her mind, which is cool by me. The brewery never realized it might be offensive to some people, so they agreed to change it. Also fine by me.

          I’d be more upset if a non-pagan pressured them to change it for PC reasons.

  3. George Shoemaker
    October 25, 2010 at 1:08 pm #

    Sure makes you think alot more than you have to about drinking a beer. Just for a picture, she seems pretty hot.

    • October 25, 2010 at 1:12 pm #

      Pardon the pun 🙂

  4. October 25, 2010 at 2:19 pm #

    Yes. I am offended. Burning women accused of witchcraft throughout history (and still today; see cases in Africa), is not something to glorify or romanticize. That’s what the label does, plain and simple. Witch hunts and their subsequent trials and punishments were akin to lynchings, the extermination of Native Americans, and even the Jewish Holocaust. There’s a reason we don’t feature images of the Trail of Tears or NAZI’s on beer labels. The same should go for this label.

    Of course, the worst part about all of this is the commentary in the beer community. From the Megan Fox reference in your post to George’s remark, it demonstrates just how much of a boys’ club this community is. Reducing women to looks and your own titillation is almost as offensive as Lost Abbey’s label. The difference is that I don’t think LA meant to degrade anyone.

    Calling my argument PC dribble only sidesteps the open contempt men in the beer world hold for women. It’s disappointing and no better than the advertising used to market the swill sold by A-B Inbev and the like.

    Think of it this way: Would you tolerate anyone talking about your wife, daughter, sister, or mother in this manner? Would it be OK if I accuse your wife of witchcraft because I thought she spoke out too much? Should I comment on your sister’s appearance and compare her to Megan Fox? What if I told your daughter that she shouldn’t try to attend college because math is hard for girls?

    Again, I have nothing against any of you and your opinion is likely to not change because I’m complaining on this comment thread. It’s just sad to think that we continually accept offensive images of women as the norm, especially in such an enlightened community as the one that supports independent craft brewing.

    • October 25, 2010 at 2:33 pm #

      I think you’re making a few too many assumptions about our attitudes towards women, Zac.

      • October 25, 2010 at 2:55 pm #

        No, I’m going on what I’ve seen in this post, the comments, and what I’ve experienced since really diving into craft beer. I hang out with a lot of craft beer folk and read everything that comes through my Google Reader. So, I’m not assuming anything. I go by what I see.

      • October 25, 2010 at 3:09 pm #

        I think the fact that she’s attractive is meant to make her a more sympathetic character.

        And I don’t think it’s degrading to women to point out that she’s attractive. I’m not saying “save her, she’s cute” and I’m not saying “let her burn, she’s not pretty.” I’m just saying she reminds me of Megan Fox, who is sexy.

        It’s natural for men to note the appearance of a woman, and it’s natural for women to note the appearance of men. It’s the importance you put on those appearances that matter.

      • Kate
        October 27, 2010 at 11:53 am #

        Me too.
        I do appreciate how well thought out all of the answers on here have been though. Yes, it’s just beer. Yes, it’s maybe part of a bigger issue. No, I wouldn’t have thought a thing of it.
        Now that I AM thinking of it, if there were a Trail Of Tears label I would probably buy it, and probably be glad someone remembered.

    • October 25, 2010 at 2:42 pm #

      And furthermore, I’ve looked at your site and you have excellent taste in music.

      Not sure how that fits in this debate, but I’d love to steal your iPod.

      • October 25, 2010 at 2:51 pm #

        Thanks. I do beer posts as well, but haven’t in a while.

        Thanks to all for a respectful debate. People often get defensive in such discussions, but everyone here has been pretty cool.

        Oh, and I still love this blog even if I don’t agree all the time.

        • October 25, 2010 at 2:54 pm #

          It’s a good crowd here – everyone usually plays nice.

          I think it’s cool that you feel so strongly about this.

        • Don
          October 25, 2010 at 2:58 pm #

          Well I will say, that I did not expect this much debate about this topic, so we have tapped into a microcosm of the debate that must have convinced Lost Abbey to take this seriously and ultimately make the label change. I don’t have to agree with it, but I do respect people’s opinions that they are somehow offended by the imagery. Who knew?

  5. October 25, 2010 at 2:21 pm #

    Ummm. yeah label you don’t like got it. Is the beer any good? How many people just went out and bought a Lost Abbey (never heard of them myself) just becasue of this controversey. Seems everyone just made a little press for themselves.

  6. Matt
    October 25, 2010 at 2:33 pm #

    I have to agree with builderofcoalitions on this one. While I’m neither a woman or a witch I think the label is in poor taste. The depiction of any human burning at the stake is in poor taste because regardless of the circumstances it’s an extremely inhumane form of punishment. Factor in the gendercide tilt of the label and I don’t think this is an overreaction.

    • October 25, 2010 at 2:40 pm #

      I agree with him, too, just perhaps not to the same degree.

  7. October 25, 2010 at 2:35 pm #

    I think it’s wonderful, maybe even brilliant.

    It’s a wonderful piece of PR right before Halloween. Like the label or hate the label. Appreciate the art or hate the depiction. Calculated or just an oversight. Regardless, it’s free viral press right around the time of year people might find it apropos to pick up a bottle of beer with a burning witch on it. Imagine that.

    Oh crap, just noticed I was wearing my advertising hat and not my craft beer fan hat. My apologies.

    • October 25, 2010 at 2:39 pm #

      As long as it’s not your witch’s hat, Chad.

      • October 25, 2010 at 2:51 pm #

        I’m a dude. I think that makes me a warlock. Do warlocks wear hats? I don’t think so. They should. Maybe they get wands, I can’t recall. Witches get all the cool stuff: hats, brooms, wands, cauldrons, spells and potions. Warlocks need to accessorize.

        Oh crap, now I’ve put on my wiccan metrosexual hat.

        • October 25, 2010 at 2:52 pm #

          You wear it well!!

      • October 25, 2010 at 3:02 pm #

        I know you want to borrow it, Jim. It would look great on you as your prowling around the scary backwoods of upstate New Jersey. If I FedEx it, you’ll get it before the 31st!

        • October 25, 2010 at 3:10 pm #

          As long as it matches my man-purse, we’re good.

  8. The Crazy Cat Lady
    October 25, 2010 at 2:42 pm #

    I actually feel that this label is fairly offensive. I’m not a witch, but as someone who believes in religious tolerance, I have a really hard time seeing any intolerance being used for promotion purposes. I understand that sector of the population who practices witchcraft is very small, so I can understand why the feelings of this community were overlooked, but that’s not an excuse. I think it’s interesting that they say this is part of their series of beers that uses Catholic iconography, because, at least in the US, the witch trials and hunts were led primarily by protestants.

    • October 25, 2010 at 2:51 pm #

      It’s interesting how what you intend people to see and what people actually see can be very different.

      According to Tomme Arthur @ Lost Abbey, the woman is supposed to be the heroine in the image and the crowd the villain. It’s supposed to speak to their soullessness and self-righteousness, and to the fact that no one is stepping forward to help her.

      But none of that seems to come across. Everybody just sees a burning lady. The fact that she’s attractive might even sexualize it a bit, like she’s somewhere between ecstasy and agony.

      Anyway, I think if it offends folks, they should speak their mind, which they have. I think Lost Abbey is doing the right thing, as it was never their intent to glorify the harming of women, they just wanted an artistic label with a witch on it.

  9. Nicole
    October 25, 2010 at 3:19 pm #

    Better go buy some now and drink it while watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

    • October 25, 2010 at 3:28 pm #

      I guess she weighed the same as the duck…

  10. George
    October 25, 2010 at 3:52 pm #

    Thanks to Nicole’s good sense, I think It’s time for me to find this witches brew as well. Regards to Miss Lost

    Abey… Jim, may I say you really know how to get a guy to test different beers. Regarding the talent of the drawing of the picture, related to Lost Abbey, it really does look like she is hot over that fire. I hope no one took me wrong the first time. Happy Halloween!!!

  11. October 25, 2010 at 3:57 pm #

    So many beers, so little time George. You should buy two, as I bet this will be a collector item – you’ll have the “original” label.

    • October 25, 2010 at 4:08 pm #

      Some clarification on whether or not that bottle of Witches Wit will be collectible or not. From over at @girlspintout, Lost Abbey will be considering a label change. They have not currently made a decision to change it.


      • October 25, 2010 at 4:21 pm #

        Thanks for the heads up. I updated the post.

  12. George
    October 25, 2010 at 4:12 pm #

    Thank’s for your advice again and good topics, you sure got some laughs today. Keep the diversity it’s needed for your kind of work.

  13. October 25, 2010 at 4:47 pm #

    That’s the problem with art – it will mean different things to different people. The artist had different intent in his message than the witch people. Who’s view is more valid?

    I’ll agree that burning people is a crappy thing to do, but an artist’s interpretation of events doesn’t necessarily mean intentional disrespect toward women or witches. Dark episodes of history shouldn’t necessarily be avoided because they are painful for people to think about.

    I think they should keep the label, but make a some changes. Like make the whole crowd be on fire and the witch is magically protected. Or perhaps it would be better to portray the accused man-witch (Giles Corey) who was crushed with stones @ Salem instead. Maybe have the stones on fire.

    Its a free country, and the artist is expressing himself as protected by the 1st Amendment. If it were something else and he changed his picture because of an offended group, people would be complaining about a poor artist being silenced by right-wingers or something. Art is sometimes offensive. Tough boogers.

    • October 25, 2010 at 4:52 pm #

      Ahh, the Tough Boogers argument. Hard to beat that one, Scott. 🙂

    • JJ
      November 1, 2010 at 5:36 pm #

      My take on this is thus, I’m bothered by this label both as a woman who finds it offensive for a brewery to use the depiction of a horrific historical atrocity (which in this depiction uses a woman) to sell beer and as a professional marketer who finds the marketing tactics being used by Lost Abbey to be remedial and poor.

      First of all the, “its art” statement. Well its not just art….its marketing for a product. Marketing inherently glamorizes the subject matter used in visual representations. Exactly why should the image of a woman being burned alive be cool and hip? What does the use of this image say about the product or the company? Nothing good. That question is what should ALWAYS be asked when considering using an image for marketing purposes….”what does this image say about my product/company.” Lost Abbey doesn’t seem to have really done that type of consideration before selecting their marketing imagery.

      Previous posters commented about the intent of the artist vs the interpretation of the art. For that exact reason, usually a lot of thought goes into selecting images to use in primary labeling of products. Primary images should convey a clear concise association with the viewer immediately without need for explanation and Lost Abbey has utterly FAILED here with that. As others have stated, to me, the central image is the woman, not the “faceless” crowd. The fact that their faces are indistinct fades them into the background while the woman is detailed. Even after I read the “satire” on the back it still seemed like very weak and not very well done satire to me. The Flying Dog campaign is an example of very good, well done satire with their word play and image use. They are successfully using the concept of “bitch” without being offensive.

      I don’t think this label is the way to honor the memories of those who suffered this horrific fate which is what Tomme Arthur has stated was his intent with this label. Overall it’s my honest professional opinion that Tomme needs guidance from someone with more experience in marketing, he seems to be making a lot of rookie mistakes. And no I’m not volunteering myself. Based on his responses to this controversy, I got the impression that he’s not someone I’d even want to work with even if I took in outside clients.

      On a “bigger picture” note, we’re living in a world today where we do have very real problems with people not empathizing with one another, its not a new problem it’s one we’ve always struggled with. Where those who are somehow different from you are reviled and persecuted, or on a lesser level, dismissed out of hand because their views don’t coincide with yours. Do we really need to popularize images that convey and are synonymous with this sentiment by using them as pop culture advertising images? For me, this is the core of the problem with this label and yes, I think it should be changed. I’m also somewhat disturbed the level of misogynistic comments that I have seen in posts about this label, not so much here…but elsewhere.

      In summation, I ask this question. If it’s JUST a beer bottle, then why is it such a big deal to change it? Why are people arguing to vehemently for them to NOT change it. What’s the motivational force behind that sentiment? The expressed sentiment behind it seems to be that you shouldn’t have consideration for the sentiments of others who you don’t agree with and are dismissing. And round and round it goes. This is about more than just a beer bottle and it’s why I’m popping out of the background to say something.

      • November 1, 2010 at 6:04 pm #

        First off, thanks for “popping out of the background” and leaving a comment, JJ. This seems to be quite the hot-button issue with some folks, more than I would’ve predicted.

        I think what I’ve learned from the give and take here is just what burning witches actually represents to many people – cruelty against women. I really had no clue. Whenever I saw such imagery in the past, I always thought of the small-minded and self righteous asshats who were lighting the fire, usually for personal gain or moral ecstasy. I saw puritans burning witches, that was all. I didn’t recognize the larger issues that lead to events like this. Now I do, which is cool.

        Also, I like your example of how Flying Dog takes a concept that could be easily mishandled and deftly creates art and marketing messages without a misstep like we see here. It can be done, but as you said, Lost Abbey has failed to do it, even if their intention were pure.

      • November 1, 2010 at 7:00 pm #

        JJ made me think when she said what’s the big deal about changing it. I guess they could change it, keep a similar theme but maybe a better image that better represents the intent.

        Is this beer tasty? Wife thinks she saw it the other day and I’m wondering if I should make the 30 minutes drive to buy it.

        • November 1, 2010 at 7:20 pm #

          IMO no wit is worth a 30 minute drive. Perhaps others can chime in here…

      • November 1, 2010 at 7:23 pm #

        The Wit is okay, but not special. Definitely not worth a half-hour drive. It’s one of Lost Abbey’s more prosaic beers.

  14. October 25, 2010 at 5:00 pm #

    So I did a whole post on this, but you guys have more of a debate going on here, so I’m chiming in:

    I think it’s a huge opportunity to do some education and continue to keep a great piece of label art. Lost Abbey can use the same art but add some interpretive text on the side panels about the tens/hundreds of thousands of women who died because of tribal, superstitious ignorance. That way, you’re raising awareness about an issue many feel is lost in the season’s skimpy outfits with pointy hats, and you’re not saying that the brewery is going to get rid of quality art because it happens to cause an emotional reaction in some (which is, sort of, the point after all).

    Ask Noble and co. to write the text for you. Good feelings and PR abound, no new costs, and maybe a few of us drunkards learn something while we enjoy a nice Wit.

    As for Zac’s assertion about the old boy club, that’s been a pet interest of mine as I look at the design in the field. While it’s tough to comment in absolutes about a field where the market is overwhelmingly male, I can say with some degree of certainty that, while craft beer may remain largely a male industry, it’s not reflected in label art. Many label pieces, like this one, may feature attractive women, but the style and technique of Lost Abbey’s art – which tends toward landscapes, hazy images, and softer curves and thick brushstrokes – is decidedly gender neutral or even slightly feminine. In this case, she is a witch, which is generally considered a feminine noun, so she has to be a woman, and the options are either to portray her as the warted, pointy-nosed caricature (hardly sensitive to the pagan community), or more attractive. Maybe they could have done without the cleavage, but the art of the craft beer community is actually more gynocentric than one might expect.

    Put it this way: Appropriateness of subject matter aside, compare labels like this to the marketing work of Coors and Budweiser… which is more sexist?

    • October 25, 2010 at 5:19 pm #

      I think you nailed it, Greg, and when they do exactly what you’re suggesting, you can feel free to gloat!

    • October 25, 2010 at 5:42 pm #

      That’s the most thought-out perspective I’ve read so far on this topic. I’ll look for your post for sure. Thanks.

      • October 25, 2010 at 5:47 pm #

        Mine certainly wasn’t!

        • Don
          October 25, 2010 at 5:48 pm #


  15. October 25, 2010 at 5:49 pm #

    wow. i hear everyone’s point, all good ones for the most part, and wow. Who would have thought? Not this guy. It’s just a beer label and if Lost Abbey’s intent was what they said then I see no issue. Greg has a great idea. I love when there is stuff to read on beer.

    • October 25, 2010 at 6:06 pm #

      Thanks everyone for the kind words. I think it’s a real testament to how cool the craft beer community is that we can have these back-and-forths on blogs like this with no hard feelings and honest differences of opinion.

      Now let’s all congratulate ourselves with a beer (or whiskey, Don)

      I also think we should toast Lost Abbey for changing their mind and not making any decisions in the heat of the moment. Lots of mistakes get made when people react too quickly to emotional responses. The labels are out there and nothing’s going to change until they need another print run; they have time, and their willingness to use it to take a step back is a sign of wisdom.

  16. October 31, 2010 at 10:44 am #

    I know that I’m pretty late to this fray. Why should the Lost Abbey change their label? Be sure that there is someone out there who will be offended by anything you do. They chose their label and shouldn’t be changing it based on someone being hurt but it. Rest assured, if you or I had been bothered by it and said something, nothing would have changed. It just so happens that the person bothered in this case was from the New York Times.

    What is a famous beer critic didn’t like what was inside, would they consult that person about changing the recipe. I think it’s cowardly to change the thing based on self-indulgent petty bickering. I think the real problem is that space exists for someone like this woman to be writing a whole piece on that topic of a their offensive beer label.

    Just my irritation…but it seems that she herself was on a bit of a witch hunt and found a victim to burn.


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