Idaho reverses decision on ‘Five Wives’ prohibition

Posted at 6:16 PM, Jun 06, 2012
and last updated 2012-06-06 23:42:28-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The Idaho State Liquor Division, facing the threat of a First Amendment lawsuit, has agreed to begin selling Ogden’s Own Distillery’s “Five Wives Vodka” — by special order only.

“In a shared desire to avoid unnecessary litigation costs to Ogden’s Own Distillery and the people of Idaho, today we have informed the makers of ‘Five Wives’ vodka that we will immediately begin processing special order requests for both on-premise licensees and retail consumers,” Liquor Division Director Jeff Anderson said in a statement to FOX 13.

The decision does not mean that “Five Wives” will be sold in liquor stores. Ogden’s Own Distillery co-owner Steve Conlin told FOX 13 on Wednesday night they would be allowed to re-apply to have it listed in August.

“Idaho’s quick response has surprised us,” he said. “We expected them maybe to take a few days and think about it. And it seems they quickly recognized, after seeing our intent to sue, that they probably had some constitutional issues they weren’t going to be able to defend. We think they’ve chosen a wise route at this point.”

Conlin said the distillery’s owners would meet with their legal counsel on Thursday and decide if they would proceed with a lawsuit.

The state’s liquor authority has refused to sell the vodka in part because of its pricing point as well as its label which they deemed “offensive to women and Mormons.” It was that comment that prompted Ogden’s Own to hire Jonathan Turley, a renowned constitutional lawyer, to threaten litigation.

“The actions of this agency constitute flagrant violations of the United States Constitution and, as such, exceed the authority given to you as a state official,” Turley wrote in a letter sent to the Idaho State Liquor Division. “The actions take by your agency — as well as the product disparagement in public statements — have caused obvious injury to my client both within Idaho and nationally.”

In an interview with FOX 13 after announcing that “Five Wives” would not be sold in Idaho liquor stores, Anderson said the product’s mid-range price point was not appealing, but the label was the “tie breaker.”

“We didn’t believe the product or the bottle differentiated itself adequately for the listing,” Anderson told FOX 13. “In addition to that, we found the label to be in poor taste and offensive to women and Mormons.”

Ogden’s Own said the inspiration for the name was not polygamy-themed, but they certainly did not shy away from the association. The label, featuring five women with kittens peeking out of their skirts, is an archived photograph from the 1800s.

Since initial reports on “Five Wives” being “banned” from Idaho, Ogden’s Own said it has seen an increase in sales in the states the product is available — including Utah. The distillery is also selling T-shirts playing off the controversy that proclaim: “Free the Five Wives!”

Ironically, Turley represents reality TV show polygamist Kody Brown and his four wives.