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Idaho approves sale of banned vodka

The Idaho State Liquor Division approved the sale of a Utah-made vodka in Idaho after initially banning the drink because of fears that the product’s name would offend a portion of the state’s population.

Five Wives vodka, which is made by Ogden’s Own Distillery, was previously blocked from sale in Idaho on May 24, according to a document issued by the Idaho State Liquor Division.

“Products that we feel … are in poor taste with respect to our citizens will not be authorized for distribution. We feel [the] Five Wives vodka concept is offensive to a prominent segment of our population and will not be carried,” wrote Howard Wasserstein, of the Idaho State Liquor Division, in a letter to Elite Spirits, the company that distributes Five Wives vodka.

“We can only presume he means Mormons,” said Steve Conlin, vice president of marketing at Ogden’s Own.

Census data indicates that 27 percent of Idaho’s population consists of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“If the reaction is because of a religious concern, we think they are extremely misguided,” Conlin said.

He said the product had sold nearly 1,000 cases in Utah, which has a higher percentage of LDS population than Idaho.

Aubree Helton, a freshman studying history, said she didn’t think the name was offensive.

“It’s their choice what they name the vodka. I think it’s kind of a silly name, but I wouldn’t choose to be offended by it,” Helton said.

After its product was blocked from sale, Ogden’s Own enlisted Jonathan Turley, a constitutional lawyer, and served the Idaho State Liquor Division with an intent to sue for the right to sell Five Wives in Idaho.

In a letter to Jeffrey R. Anderson, the director of the Idaho State Liquor Division, Turley wrote that the division was violating the Constitution by impeding inter-state commerce and denying free speech and the right to due process to Ogden’s Own.

“It is about the right of fair and equal treatment for citizens in dealing with government agencies like your own,” according to the letter. “Businesses and citizens in Idaho have asked to buy Five Wives vodka, and this small American business wants to sell that product in your state.”

William Mosca, a freshman studying psychology, said some people could be offended, but it didn’t bother him, even if the name could be interpreted as a play on Mormonism and polygamy.

“Mormons don’t drink alcohol anyway, so there’s no reason we should ever see the vodka in the first place,” Mosca said.

Turley said that the obstacle to Five Wives’ sale hadn’t been a lack of distributor or consumer interest; it had been “an arbitrary imposition of religions objections” by the division of liquor. Following the potential lawsuit, the division of liquor reversed its decision on June 6, allowing Five Wives to be sold in Idaho.

In a press release, Ogden’s Own expressed thanks to Turley and to sporters from Idaho.

The vodka is still banned from store shelves but is approved for special order sales. Ogden’s Own will reapply for general distribution soon.
“We feel it should be only a matter of time as we will trust that the liquor division will base the decision on demand when we re-apply for general listing,” according to the press release.

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