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Idaho bans Utah's Five Wives Vodka from shelves over label

Published May 30, 2012 10:41 am

Alcohol • Five Wives depiction might be offensive to some, regulators rule.
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Idaho regulators have decided not to carry an Ogden distillery's Five Wives Vodka because of its label, while Utah booze cops have deemed acceptable the bottle's depiction of 19th century women in petticoats holding kittens near their lady parts.

Although some may see the label as a spoof on Utah's polygamy past, the inspiration actually came from a wagon traveling from Missouri several years before the arrival of Mormon pioneers, Ogden's Own Distillery owner Tim Smith said Tuesday.

The 1841 Bartleson–Bidwell caravan included 66 men and five women —hence the label Five Wives Vodka.

As for the strategically placed pets, Smith said the women are holding the kittens "in an area that's a little lower than their belly buttons, but I suppose you could say it's near their genitalia."

"We're not trying to offend anyone. It's just a cute historical photograph we found on the Internet."

Jeff Anderson, director of the Idaho Liquor Division, said the vodka was among 500 products the state declines to stock each year because of space limitations in state-controlled liquor stores.

"This product attempted to compete in a crowded category," he said. "If there would have been a tie-breaker on this vodka, the name and label would have been it" because a segment of the population might find it offensive. Idaho's position also blocks establishments from receiving special orders of the product.

"It's a rare move for them to ban a product outright from special orders," said John Challenger, president of the Idaho distributor Elite Spirits.

Steve Conlin, Ogden's Own partner and vice president of marketing, said in a statement released Tuesday that the ban has forced the company to withdraw its sponsorship of the Boise Music Festival, scheduled for July 7.

"Between sponsorship and attending the concert, we estimate the company would have spent nearly $10,000 in Boise over the weekend of the festival," said Conlin. "We'd love to bring a group and represent our brands at an event of this magnitude."

Last fall, Ogden's Own asked Utah regulators to approve listing Five Wives Vodka in state liquor outlets. A state tasting committee endorsed the product, and the U.S. Tax and Trade Bureau approved the label.

"If a label meets federal TTB guidelines, it is considered to be a sound indication of label integrity," said Tom Zdunich, purchasing director for the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Fives Wives Vodka, distilled from a 50/50 blend of wheat and corn, is the second spirit that the Ogden-based distillery has released. Three years ago, the company launched Underground Herbal Spirit, a liqueur flavored with herbs, spices and natural flavors. The firm stocks products in 11 other states, but does most of its business in Utah to generate annual sales totaling $85,000, said company officials.

dawn@sltrib.com

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Five Wives Vodka

Manufacturer • Ogden's Own Distillery

Launched • October 2011

Where available • Stocked in Utah liquor stores, while Wyoming accepts special orders

Other products • Underground Herbal Spirit, released three years ago and sold in 11 states

Sales • $85,000 annually