“Raging Bitch” Ban Heats Up in Michigan

It looks like Michigan wants nothing to do with bitchy beers.  Last year we saw the ban of Dogfish Head’s Bitches Brew because of the “b” word in the title, and now Flying Dog is suing the state to allow their Raging Bitch Belgian Ale to be sold there.

Raging Bitch was first banned in 2009, when Flying Dog first applied for a license to sell this delicious ale in Michigan, because the beer’s label was deemed “detrimental to the public health, safety and welfare” by the state’s Liquor Control Commission. Flying Dog unleashed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Friday, looking to get the ban lifted.  

Apparently Steadman's words are a bit too bitchy for Michigan's Liquor Control Commission.

The Commission has the ability to reject the registration of anything “deemed to promote violence, racism, sexism, intemperance or intoxication or to be detrimental to the health, safety or welfare of the general public.”  They think the Raging Bitch label fits this bill, taking particular exception to the beer’s name and a passage on the beer’s label, penned by Gonzo artist and the label’s designer Ralph Steadman.

Steadman is most famous for his collaboration with Hunter S. Thompson on the book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and has created many wonderful labels Flying Dog over the years. He thinks the Commission should get over themselves. “Freedom of speech and artistic expression is as fundamental to our being as the alphabet itself. I thought censorship went out with D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ about 50 years ago! So if you are feeling a strong itch to drink Raging Bitch, just do it and get on with life.”  Wise words indeed!

Flying Dog is suing for the state to reverse its ban based on their First Amendment rights to free speech.  They are also seeking to recover damages for revenue lost because of the ban, which are likely substantial.  Raging Bitch has become the brewery’s best selling beer and for good reason, namely it’s awesome.

We wish Flying Dog good luck in their pursuit of having the ban lifted.  If I was in Michigan, I’d be making some noise about this – you want this beer in your state.




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53 Comments on ““Raging Bitch” Ban Heats Up in Michigan”

  1. Don
    March 29, 2011 at 10:24 am #

    I understand that Michigan’s Liquor Control Commission is just one office of Michigan Government, but I would think that there needs to be consistency in how the law is applied. For example I’m pretty sure you can still purchase Miles Davis’ album Bitches Brew in numerous record stores. If you can, then you should be able to sell a beer that is similarly named. I would think that this sets up a very precarious legal precedent by banning something from the state based on a label that a few people deem as offensive. I gotta believe that Michigan doesn’t have a leg to stand on here.

    • March 29, 2011 at 10:28 am #

      And Flying Dog has four. 😉

  2. Alex
    March 29, 2011 at 10:29 am #

    Sounds like a job for freedom-loving Michigan native Ted Nugent and his compound bow. Maybe he can “persuade” the Liquor Control Commission to come around.

    • March 29, 2011 at 10:37 am #

      I actually just saw the whole thing unfold in my head Alex. That was cool!

    • Don
      March 29, 2011 at 10:40 am #

      I don’t think the Nuge has as much street cred as he once did, since he moved to Texas.

  3. johnking82
    March 29, 2011 at 10:31 am #

    Funny, I drank my version of Raging Bitch last night and Flyings Dogs version trumps mine beyond belief.

    Man, there is just a string of things coming out of the woodwork lately. Ain’t life being a craft beer drinker a b*tch.

    • March 29, 2011 at 10:38 am #

      I was thinking the same thing. So much strife – what happened to just drinking beer?!

  4. Bill
    March 29, 2011 at 10:34 am #

    Steadman does great work. Check out “The Curse of Lono,” another HST book.

    • March 29, 2011 at 11:13 am #

      His stuff is so distinctive. I could tell it was him the first time I glanced at a Flying Dog bottle. They are lucky to have him, as he’s created a very unique brand identity for Flying Dog.

  5. March 29, 2011 at 11:08 am #

    Dirty Bastard and the Raging Bitch…Hmmm. Sounds like a beer blog I read somedays.

    • March 29, 2011 at 11:11 am #

      As long as I’m the Dirty Bastard, I think you’re right on track, John!

      • March 29, 2011 at 11:12 am #

        You two will have to decide who’s who.

        • March 29, 2011 at 11:13 am #

          I just did!! Now watch him bitch!!!

      • Don
        March 29, 2011 at 11:28 am #

        WRONG! You are the Bitchy one!

        • March 29, 2011 at 11:55 am #

          See what I mean?

        • Don
          March 29, 2011 at 12:08 pm #

          Sure…set me up so anything I say is Bitchy and proof of your supposition. Gee Jim, have you stopped beating you kids? 😉

        • March 29, 2011 at 12:16 pm #

          Not sure what you’re referring to, but let it be known that I’m the one getting beaten by those little monkeys!

  6. March 29, 2011 at 11:15 am #

    “Wonderful labels”?!?! Flying Dog has the WORST labels in American craft beer hands down! They are ugly as hell. They do not make the beer inside the bottle appealing to me.

    Hey I’m a huge First Amendment supporter, but just because you can say whatever you want doesn’t mean it’s the wisest strategy to take in a capitalist free enterprise economy. Perhaps Flying Dog is taking the Howard Stern route in hoping that shock value and controversy is good because it generates free publicity – but I find that approach whorish and quite frankly, lame.

    And yes I have had Raging Bitch and I’ll admit it’s a good beer. However, I don’t generally seek out Flying Dog beers in general because their entire marketing and design turn me off. Companies that purposely generate controversy are attention whores – BrewDog being the European equivalent.

    Brewers should rely on what’s INSIDE the bottle to generate sales, not what’s on the OUTSIDE of the bottle.

    my $0.02

    • March 29, 2011 at 11:24 am #

      I agree on many levels, except that I enjoy the artwork because I’m
      familiar with and appreciate the dude who made them. I agree in
      principle that attention-whoring labels and gimmicky names turn me
      off, but in this case it’s okay because I like the art.

      Also, Flying Dog’s average beers are just that (average) but I do
      enjoy Raging Bitch, which is easily my favorite of their brews.

      While the BrewDog comparison is understandable, I loathe them because
      they have messed with what’s INSIDE the bottle to garner attention. I
      say play with labels all you want at your own peril, but NEVER mess
      with the beer!!

      • March 29, 2011 at 11:38 am #

        I liked Fear and Loating and the art but really don’t care for the work on beer bottles. I may have to try this “Bitch” beer as it sounds pretty good. As for labeling you must have something to make me want to try your beer. Inside is most important but the outside makes me give it a chance.

        • Don
          March 29, 2011 at 11:44 am #

          You know we’ve had this discussion a lot. The bottom line is that different things appeal to different people. So no one label will appeal universally to every beer drinker. Some are whacky, some are sophisticated (looking at you Goose Isla..ahh Bud…ah whatever), some are childish, and some are just plain boring. My definitions of the labels that fit into these categories will differ widely from everyone else’s. So label makers are at a distinct disadvantage. Not much you can do about it, but try to weed out the good brews through information.

        • March 29, 2011 at 11:52 am #

          To be honest, the dog nipples are a little gross. Glad to get that off my chest…

      • johnking82
        March 29, 2011 at 11:51 am #

        Gonzo is their best offering IMO.

        • March 29, 2011 at 11:54 am #

          Gonzo was so talked up before I tried it, I thought it was kinda “meh” by the time I tasted it. Perhaps another go-round is required.

  7. March 29, 2011 at 11:40 am #

    I’m going to be the marketing ass that I am and ask, how much free press do you think Flying Dog will get for filing this suit? And furthermore, how many people will try or buy more of their beer because of that press?

    Having said that, I think it’s grand that Flying Dog is suing Michigan over this. I’m quite intrigued by it actually. It raises a lot of interesting legal questions. What is free speech? What is commerce? What is art? What is a commercial product? What is “offensive.” More power to them.

    And, oh yeah. While we’re trying to figure that out in a court room, some press might run stories on it, and perhaps more people will see those stories and buy their beer. Also our brand will be bolstered as defenders of the first amendment and of course brewing good beer. What’s not to like about that? Flying Dog will likely win even if they don’t win.

    • Don
      March 29, 2011 at 11:48 am #

      I think they will win though Chad. Seems pretty clear that the banning is completely arbitrary. My guess is that they will settle. Flying Dog will be allowed to sell in Michigan, and in return for that they will drop the punitive damage part of their suit. Just a hunch. And you are completely correct. What’s the old saying…”there is no BAD publicity.”

      • March 29, 2011 at 11:57 am #

        Exactly! There’s really not a bad outcome for Flying Dog. Either they loose and still can’t sell Raging Bitch in Michigan—but more people have their beer top of mind when they enter the grocery store and buy it. Or they do win/settle and their best selling beer is in Michigan grocery stores and people buy it.

  8. March 29, 2011 at 4:01 pm #

    I think it sucks. I always think that stuff sucks.

    But… (and this is for sexy Jim).

    So how come its bad for nameless/faceless bureaucrats of the Michigan Liquor Control Commission to ban this drink for being “detrimental to the public health, safety and welfare”, but when similarly tasked people in NJ did it with 4 Loco that was OK with you, and even condoned?

    Wasn’t that decision also based on someone’s opinions and feelings about the product? Seems the situations are similar in some ways, but the reaction here is quite different.

    Is it only because YOU like Raging Bitch and NOT 4 Loco?

    Why can some unelected power-mongers protect us from ourselves in NJ, but other unelected power-mongers not protect the people of Michigan from themselves?

    • Don
      March 29, 2011 at 4:06 pm #

      Get ‘im Scott!

    • March 29, 2011 at 5:27 pm #

      I agree that it’s bureaucratic interference in both cases, but there’s a difference between a ban based on safety concerns and one based on art that isn’t a problem in 34 other states.

      • March 30, 2011 at 7:30 am #


        Still, I think from the all-knowing commissioners’ points of view, the label is “detrimental to the public health, safety and welfare”. See, they said it was a safety issue. What’s the difference? I’m sure similar silly wording was used to pull 4 Loco.

        • March 30, 2011 at 7:35 am #

          Not to rehash the issue (even though you seem to insist on it, you pain in the butt!) but Four Loco had emergency rooms in North Jersey overrun with stoopid college kids suffering from alcohol poisoning. Raging Bitch has a word that isn’t a swear when used to describe a female dog (also pictured on the label). While both situations were legislated against, I can see the distinction between the two.

  9. NicM
    March 29, 2011 at 4:15 pm #

    We’re on the same page, Jim. I love the artwork, but in general their beer is meh. The Raging Bitch was a pleasant surprise when I tried it though and my husband loved the introduction of “look honey, they made a beer just for me!” At this point it’s the only Flying Dog beer we buy except at this one sports bar where Doggie Style is the only craft beer on tap.

    • March 29, 2011 at 5:28 pm #

      It’s certainly a name a fella can have some fun with. 😉

  10. March 29, 2011 at 4:19 pm #

    They’ve always been a little out there, and the names and artwork go hand in hand. When they cut ties with Wynkoop (the old Broadway Brewing) they held a great press conference at the new facility and announced that they wanted people to enjoy beers with their dogs in the tasting room and restaurant (nothing ever came from it), and proceeded to hand out free six packs left & right.

    They also had Steadman do some gonzo live painting at GABF several years back, the paint was flying fast and furious.

    I personally like Steadman’s work, it adds an edge to FD that is refreshing. I don’t agree with you Chad that they are pulling a Howard Stern, I loathe that moron; FD are just being themselves, and have been this way for the past 20 years. If they were some upstart brewery then I might agree with you.

    The beef I have with FD is that they pulled out Colorado and the beers have suffered ever since.

    • March 29, 2011 at 5:29 pm #

      Yeah, it’s hard to see the Stranahan name and Delaware in the same sentence!

  11. March 30, 2011 at 9:49 am #


    True that bitch isn’t a swear word when describing a female dog, but if you look right on their label up there in the picture, it clearly says “Two inflammatory words…one wild drink.” and not much at all to do with describing female dogs like animal-handlers might.

    Flying Dog pretty much stated their intent, and provided some low-hanging fruit for the safety-overlords to pick.

    And what’s whit the hatin’ on the dog nipples?

  12. Chas Parks
    March 30, 2011 at 3:53 pm #

    Im a college student here in Michigan so I sent some piece of mind because I have never tried this beer before and i feel its my right as an american to do so:

    “My name is Charles Parks and i am a student a Journalism student at Northern Michigan University. I was shocked and appalled to find out that one of the best beers from the brewery Flying Dog is not available in Michigan due to its name “Raging Bitch.” As a media student i have learned through case studies that every american has the first amendment right of free speech. How can you take such an amazing beer away from the great beer state? Micro breweries are popping up everywhere around this wonderful state and know your denying people the freedom to try one of the best micro brews in the country? that aint right. I work for Buffalo Wild Wings in Marquette and we have a beer on tap from Founders Brewery in Grand Rapids Michigan called “Dirty Bastard” and i have not had one customer complain about the name and were a family place. And in the end what is this really all about…a word. We have wars going on and people are still getting worked up over another name for a female dog. So lift the ban on this great beer so all Michiganders can enjoy!”

    • March 30, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

      Nice Chas!! Thanks for copying us on your well-crafted email.

      I wouldn’t hold my breath for a response…. 😉

  13. Chas Parks
    March 30, 2011 at 4:17 pm #

    yea theres a Michigan Fall Beer Festival here in Marquette and micro brews from all over the state come to show everyone what they’ve got. There were close too 40 breweries there from the biggest in the state, Bells to local ones around up here in the U.P. called KBC. If your ever have a chance to visit it, I highly suggest that you do!

    • March 30, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

      Our sister lives in Royal Oak, but we never get out there. We meet at our folks house most summers, which is in Wisconsin, where I load up on New Glarus (and some Bell’s as well).

  14. Chas Parks
    March 30, 2011 at 4:40 pm #

    Nice! My hometown is really close to royal oak but i live in the Upper Peninsula which is actually connected to Wisconsin. we dont get New Glarus here which i found weird but their are many other micro brews from around the country we dont get either. What Bell’s do you get? im a big fan of the Two Hearted IPA.

    • March 30, 2011 at 4:43 pm #

      Love the Two Hearted (despite all the legal stuff) and their stouts. Not a huge Oberon fan, mostly because it didn’t live up to the hype.

  15. Chas Parks
    March 30, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

    yea Oberon has lost its touch over the years. The recipe has been changed at least 4-5 times and there is way too much hype over it. But it is the beer that got me hooked on micro beers so i must give it that. If you ever get a chance to try a beer from Short’s Brewery jump on that. They have an IPA called “Huma-Lupa-Licious” that gives two hearted a run for its money.

    Here is a link to some of their beers. They have some specialty beers that will blow your socks off!


    • March 30, 2011 at 5:00 pm #

      Thanks for the heads up. I’ll keep an eye out for their stuff. I’ve heard of them, but never have tasted any.

  16. Chas Parks
    March 30, 2011 at 5:23 pm #

    hey jim me being a Journalism major….how does one get started writing about craft beer professionally ??

    • Don
      March 30, 2011 at 5:29 pm #

      You know that is a really good question Chaz, and when we figure it out, we’ll let you know!

    • March 30, 2011 at 6:27 pm #

      I dunno – when you figure it out, tell me!

      Or you can ask Bryce Eddings on facebook – he writes the beer section of about.com. Lew Bryson is also a pro beer writer from the Philly area who you can reach out to. You can tell them both I sent you their way – we’ll see how far that gets you! 😉


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