What's in a name? 'Five Wives' vodka banned as offensive to Mormons

This is the Five Wives Vodka label. The vodka has been banned in Idaho.
This is the Five Wives Vodka label. The vodka has been banned in Idaho.Five Wives Vodka / Today

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By Scott Stump

When Steve Conlin named his small-batch vodka Five Wives, he had no idea it would cause such a controversy. Now, Idaho has banned the liquor brand.

“We feel (the) Five Wives Vodka concept is offensive to a prominent segment of our population and (it) will not be carried,” the Idaho State Liquor Division wrote in a letter to Conlin’s distillery, Ogden’s Own.

The segment to which the letter refers is Mormons, a group with which Conlin is well acquainted, given that he lives in Utah.

“Here we are in the pit of Mormonism, and Idaho banned it — we were pretty shocked,” Conlin told TODAY.com. “We aren’t even making fun; we are making a nod to the historical past of the American West.”

The idea for the name came from a friend who thought companies like Three Olives (a premium vodka brand) and Five Guys Burgers had a nice ring to them. So she suggested Five Wives for the catchy rhyme. Ogden’s Own did some research after the name was developed, learning that one of the first trains to Utah carried five women on board.

“We thought we could tie it to that,” said Conlin over the phone. “But we aren’t trying to be intellectual; we just want to sell vodka and do it in a fun, lighthearted way.”

Conlin isn’t the only purveyor who has had problems with his branding. Flying Dog Brewery in Maryland is currently involved in a lawsuit against the state of Michigan, which temporarily banned its Belgian-style IPA, Raging Bitch.

“I thought censorship went away with 'Lady Chatterley’s Lover,'” said brewery owner Jim Caruso. “They are violating our rights by censoring beer labels.”

When Michigan denied Flying Dog a license to sell Raging Bitch, a top-rated beer that’s particularly popular with women, Caruso sued. After all, he told TODAY.com, the word "bitch" isn’t even banned on daytime television. In addition, he said, he was irked by the lack of guidelines around what is deemed offensive. Michigan permitted Founder’s Dirty Bastard, but not his beer. In Alabama, Dirty Bastard is banned, but Raging Bitch is sold. Each state has its own process for getting liquor licenses, so there aren’t any rules across the board.

While Michigan’s liquor board has since reversed his position, Caruso is continuing with his lawsuit, saying First Amendment rights were violated.

“I truly believe that freedom of speech applies to a beer label, so we won’t let it go,” Caruso said. “Everyone finds something offensive, and the real key is knowing your audience.”

These drinks aren’t the only ones with saucy names. You can find brews like Sexual Chocolate Stout by Foot Hills Brewing in North Carolina; Delaware’s Dog Fish Head made a commemorative beer to Miles Davis called Bitches Brew, and in Utah,Wasatch Brew Pub and Brewerymakes the award-winning Polygamy Porter, which isnot banned in Idaho.

As for Five Wives Vodka, the company is now selling “Free the Five Wives” T-shirts and shot glasses to raise money and help get the word out about the ban.

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