Banned In Idaho, 'Five Wives' Vodka Says It Meant No Offense

May 30, 2012
Originally published on May 30, 2012 3:47 pm

They're "five wives who just like to get together and have a cocktail."

They're not meant to be a direct reference to polygamy and those kittens they're holding in their laps are ... just part of a photograph that's reflective of the 1890s to early 1900s.

For all anyone knows, they might be lesbians.

Those are some of the things that Five Wives Vodka director of marketing Steve Conlin had to say this afternoon to All Things Considered co-host Robert Siegel about the news that the company's product has been banned in Idaho because its label and its name might offend Mormons and women.

Ironically, Five Wives Vodka is made — and sold — in Utah, home to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

As The Salt Lake Tribune reported this week, "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."

"Products that we feel are marketed toward children, or are in poor taste with respect to out citizens will not be authorized for distribution," Idaho State Liquor Division Deputy Director Howard Wasserstein wrote in a letter to the Ogden distillery.

As for how people or state officials interpret the name and label, Conlin said the company realizes that "people bring their own baggage to the label. We've never shied away from that." But polygamy wasn't the driving force behind the name or label, he said: "We were just searching for something to call our vodka ... with a nod to the historical West."

"We were quite stunned," by Idaho's ban,added Conlin. "We're not trying to make fun of anyone.

But while the distillery can't sell its product in Idaho, it is making some money there — on "Free the Five Wives" T-shirts that Conlin says are selling very well there.

More from Robert's conversation with Conlin is due on today's All Things Considered. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show. Later, we'll add the as-broadcast version of the interview to the top of this post.

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From the Idaho State Liquor Division comes an odd case of what's either censorship or perhaps the enforcement of community standards. The ISLD has barred from the shelves of its state package stores bottles of Five Wives Vodka. The administrator of the Idaho body, Jeff Anderson, called the brand offensive to a prominent segment of our population, and the state liquor division later clarified that the offended segment of the Idaho population were Mormons, who make up about a quarter of Idaho's population and women who presumably make up half of the state's population.

Here is an odd twist to this story. Five Wives Vodka is distilled in Utah. Joining us from Ogden, Utah, is Steve Conlin, partner and vice president for marketing at Ogden's Own Distillery.

Welcome to the program.

STEVE CONLIN: Hi. Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: And I'd like you to begin by describing the label of Five Wives Vodka.

CONLIN: The Five Wives label features a photograph from the 1890s to 1900s that has five women across the front and they're dressed in petticoats from head to toe and they're holding some kittens in their laps and they are reflective of the period.

SIEGEL: So reflective of the period it seems that the Idaho liquor regulators read this as an allusion to the days of Mormon polygamy. It doesn't say five wives, one husband, but I guess that's what they see implied by the picture. Is it an allusion to the old days?

CONLIN: You know, we've let people make their own interpretations of what the label is all about. Being in the Utah culture, the natural tendency is for people to make the polygamy connection, though we have never done it on our own.

SIEGEL: So you've never said that there weren't five husbands, for example...


SIEGEL: ...that would be related to the five wives?

CONLIN: No. We're not trying to make fun of anyone. We feel that our products can be interpreted in many different ways and, really, it's what the viewer or the reader of the label brings as baggage. I don't know if we presented Five Wives to someone in Florida that they would look at it as, say, a Five Guys Burgers type of product until they saw it was from Utah and then they'd have to make some association. What are they trying to say here?

And so the fact that someone in Idaho has decided they're going to make that judgment call for all the people in Idaho really seems to the extreme for me.

SIEGEL: Utah also has state stores, doesn't it?

CONLIN: It does. Yeah. Very much similar to Idaho in how they're run.

SIEGEL: And, presumably, you had to be approved by regulators in Utah.

CONLIN: We did. And the state here in Utah has taken the approach that if we have met the federal requirements and that we are not obscene, then they're going to let the federal guidelines for labeling control what comes into the state.

SIEGEL: Has anyone or anything given more publicity to Ogden's Own Distillery and Five Wives Vodka than Idaho's State Liquor Division has just done?

CONLIN: No. I mean, to be honest, it's been an amazing response. We're getting people buying t-shirts from us from Belgium and Brazil.

SIEGEL: You should describe the t-shirts that...

CONLIN: Our t-shirts have the logo on the front of them and then across it it says, banned in Idaho, and then in the back it says free the five wives with them in a jail cell. Out of all the t-shirts we sold, the ironic part is we're selling most of them to people in Idaho.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Conlin, thanks for talking with us about your product, Five Wives Vodka, evidently banned from the stores in Idaho.

CONLIN: Oh, I appreciate you giving me a chance to speak with you.

SIEGEL: Mr. Conlin is the vice president for marketing at Ogden's Own Distillery in Ogden, Utah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.