Five Wives Vodka has been sold in Mormon-dominated Utah since December without creating too much of a stir, according to the distillery. But the brand -- and its not-so-subtle reference to polygamy -- is too much for liquor regulators in neighboring Idaho.
"We feel Five Wives Vodka concept is offensive to a prominent segment of our population and will not be carried," according to a letter from the Idaho State Liquor Division to an Idaho distributor wishing to carry it. (Brand owner Ogden's Own Distillery posted the letter.)
The letter makes no reference to Mormons, which make up an estimated 23% of the population in Idaho (compared with 62% in Utah). But "I can only assume it's the Mormons they are referring to," Steve Conlin, director of marketing and a partner at Ogden's Own, a micro-distiller in Ogden, said in a statement. But "that makes little sense is they allow Polygamy Porter from Wasatch Beers of Utah to be sold. We're a little dumbfounded by it all."
Jeff Anderson, director of the Idaho State Liquor Division, told Ad Age that "we're a state agency that represents all of the people. Presumably, people of the LDS faith would not be shopping in our [liquor] stores, but that does not mean that we are not sensitive to them." But he said Five Wives was rejected for other reasons, too, including the fact that vodka is a "crowded and competitive category" and that "there was nothing that really differentiated [Five Wives] other than its name and its label that had five women with cats in their crotches covering their genitals. We make decisions all the time in what we can fit into our stores."
Mr. Conlin told Ad Age that the distillery is considering a lawsuit, calling the state's action "a blatant violation of commercial speech that is covered by the First Amendment." He added: "If you're practicing polygamy, then maybe you are going to be offended." But "Mormons are not supposed to be practicing polygamy," referring to the fact that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints officially abandoned polygamy long ago.
Of course, the rejection brings a marketing opportunity: The brand has started selling "Free the Five Wives" t-shirts.
While Mr. Conlin concedes the name could be seen as referencing polygamy (especially since it's made in Utah), he said it carries many meanings. "The person who came up with name, she really liked the idea of five wives sitting around having a drink. There really is no pointed meaning to it and everyone can bring what they want to it ... it's not about making fun of Mormons at all. Quite simply it's a name that seemed to fit."
As for Polygamy Porter, Mr. Anderson said his division does not oversee beer, rejecting Mr. Conlin's allegation of hypocrisy. The brew -- the label declares "Why have just one?" -- has gotten some complaints in Utah, where it is brewed. But it's also had strong sales, said Kevin Henry, general manager of the Wasatch Brew Pub in Park City, Utah. The brewery once promoted a beer called "St. Provo Girl," which Wasatch has promoted in billboards showing a woman holding a six pack with the caption, "nice cans." (The brew was later renamed "Provo Girl" after St. Pauli Girl complained about possible trademark infringement.)
"We've made a little fun of the great state of Utah," Mr. Henry said.