Nymph mania

Just when Alabama’s gourmet beer bill was starting to make the state look like a reasonable place to buy alcohol, the local control board has stepped in to ban a wine’s suggestive label:

Wine and scantily clad women may sound like some cad’s idea of a good time, but the combo spells trouble in Alabama, which last week banned the sale of a California-made wine bottle adorned with a naked nymph — helping boost its sales elsewhere in the nation.

Pursuant to the state’s administrative code, the Alabama Beverage Control Board ordered Hahn Family Wines to remove its Cycles Gladiator wines from shelves throughout the state, calling its label “immodest.” According to Hahn president Bill Legion, a small state board in Alabama rejected the artwork last year, but the ruling did not catch Legion’s eye. His apparent defiance of the state’s decision — he claims the paperwork “fell through the cracks” — led to the ban.

“It’s turned out to be a great thing for us,” laughs Legion, who says he’s received calls of support from oenophiles around the world.

The bottle’s eyebrow-raising label was designed in homage to a classic 1890s print ad featuring a lithe, long-haired cyclist clinging to a bicycle shuttling through a starry sky. The belle époque illustration has since become a popular poster, affixed to bike-shop bulletin boards and wannabe road racers’ walls.

Click through to see the label, which I think is perfectly delightful. Maybe Free the Hops will take on prudishness next?

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Save the Skull Splitter

Thorfinn Hausakluif, a.k.a. the Skull Splitter, seventh Viking earl of Orkney, was by all accounts a badass, at least until he converted to Christianity and presumably ceased splitting so many skulls. Yet now, more than 1,000 years after his death, old Thorfinn might face his final defeat at the hands of a bunch of nannying busybodies:

A Scottish brewery has jumped to the defence of its ale called Skull Splitter amid claims its Viking-branded bottles have an aggressive theme.

The Orkney Brewery fears Skull Splitter could be withdrawn from sale following a report commissioned by alcohol watchdog the Portman Group…

It was highlighted in a report by management consultancy PIPC on the grounds its name could imply violence and also the impact the strength may have on the drinker…

A Portman Group spokesman confirmed: “A complaint has been made by PIPC about this product to the Independent Complaints Panel.”

The name of this beer is less an inducement to drink than a warning — a warning I failed to heed at the end of one particularly memorable night at Birreria Paradiso with Crispy on the Outside blogger Baylen Linnekin that left me sleeping on the floor of the coffee shop and with a raging headache the next morning. Skull Splitter indeed.

It’s a wonderfully strong ale. At 8.5% abv, it’s rich, dark, and malty with distinctive sweetness and notes of dark fruit. Not an everyday beer by any means, but absolutely perfect on a cold winter night. It’s got 20 years of brand value behind it that could all be lost if the Portman paternalists get their way. Here’s hoping the complaints panel sends them packing.

Previous label nannyism from the US:
No such thing as legal weed

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Labels for everything

This is a monumentally bad idea:

A universal system of food labelling which takes into account everything from nutritional information to the product’s impact on the environment should be established to guide consumers, according to a food policy analyst.

Tim Lang, of City University, London, said a set of “omni standards” for labels could overcome public confusion over food. The labels could provide information about such things as food miles – the distance an item has covered to reach the shops – and the amount of water used in its production, as well as health information on fat content and nutritional benefits.

It would help to overcome confusing recommendations to the public, such as the health advice to eat more fish, which conflicts with environmental concerns about declining stocks because of overfishing, Professor Lang told the British Association’s science festival at Liverpool University yesterday.

“Whilst governments continue to let the market take its course, ill-informed consumer choices are contributing to massive crises in human health, food security and environmental degradation,” he said.

“Evidence from water use alone suggests that we need to think more about ‘hidden’ impacts. Each bean from Kenya has four litres of potable water embedded – this from a water-stressed country.”

Where to even begin with this? Assuming it’s possible to get accurate numbers for all these things — a huge assumption — there is no way this would help “overcome public confusion over food.” Take the Kenyan coffee example. Yes, Kenya is water stressed. But Kenya is not one big desert. The parts of Kenya where they grow coffee are lush and tropical. That’s why they grow coffee there. A customer at Tesco is in no position to decide if Kenyan rainfall is best used to grow a valuable export or collected and transferred to the more arid parts of the country. So what’s the point in telling him how much water goes into a coffee bean? If the label works, supposedly, he will choose not to buy it. I don’t see how this would be helpful to Kenya.

The same goes for food miles. It’s actually possible to grow coffee in Cornwall. Researchers at the Eden Project managed to coax enough beans for 50 cups out of their greenhouse this year. Going solely by distance traveled, it would seem that British consumers should drop their African coffee and ramp up production at home. But of course that’s ridiculous. It would be far more resource intensive to grow coffee in England than it would be to simply have it shipped from a suitable climate. This an extreme example, but the same logic applies to countless other goods. Putting food miles on a label tells consumers just a very small part of what they would need to know to make an environmentally conscious purchasing decision.

Trying to bombard consumers with all the relevant information they need to make the right choices is a futile effort. There are far too many factors to balance. That’s what prices are for. Rather than putting ever more information on food labels and hoping buyers pay attention, we should try to make the prices better reflect the costs of the inputs. Is water underpriced in Kenya? If so, we can look for ways to improve water markets there. Are greenhouse gases your concern? Fine, tax CO2 emissions. This will be much more accurate than measuring food miles. Declining fish stocks? That’s a tragedy of the commons issue. Assign property rights or enforce caps on harvesting.

Putting all this information on labels might make people feel morally upright, but even if they pay attention to it they likely won’t make the decisions that are truly good for the environment. Markets and pricing get the job done without people even having to think about it. And perhaps that’s the problem: sometimes thinking about doing good is more pleasing than actually doing it.

[Via Coldmud.]

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