Brewing Controversy

By: Rob Symes
Never a stranger to controversy, the latest bone of contention came from left-field, and has left one Ottawa-area brewer still feeling the after-effects of a rather puzzling decision. Stalwart Brewing’s Dr. Feelgood IPA was due to go on sale through the Liquor Control Board of Ontario in January, but was pulled at the last minute after the retailer ruled that the beer label implied that the beer had special healing properties.
The offending can featured a snake coiled around a brewer’s paddle, and bears a striking resemblance to the Rod of Asclepius, an ancient Greek symbol often used in association with medicine and health care. It had previously been accepted by the board, and the reversal left the brewer in a state of shock and financially handicapped.
“There was a deep sense of disappointment, incredulity and helplessness among the partners”, says co-owner Adam Newlands “We didn’t take the decision personally, but we really felt it as a blow to our business. Among our fans, there was just disbelief that we still had laws “protecting“ us from being confused if a beer can design with particular symbolism was beer or something more than beer.”
The Canadian Medical Association appeared to agree. “While it’s not uncommon to see the Rod of Asclepius used in advertising, we trust that consumers will understand that alcoholic beverages are not medical products,” read a statement from the association. However, they also applied a caveat: “We recommend that medical symbols always be used accurately — even in humorous contexts — to avoid confusing or misinforming Canadian consumers.”
Fortunately, the easily-confused public rallied around the beleaguered brewery and flocked to their Carleton Place location to show support. “One guy walked in bellowing ‘I’m here for a case of that illegal beer!’”, recalls Newlands. “There is a silver lining in that we still have people coming in months later for the first time having heard of us from the story.” However, the support from consumers and local restaurants hasn’t made up all of the lost ground. “We anticipate lost potential revenue to outweigh new gains at the moment, but we try not to dwell on the negative things and simply push past them,”
There’s no way on earth that this is the last controversy to hit the shelves in Canada, or not hit the shelves as the case may be, but the future is beginning to clear for Stalwart. Dr. Feelgood will remain on their shelves and at restaurants, but in the LCBO it will go by the name Snake Oil IPA, where it’s in the final stages of approval for re-listing. The brewery is also exploring the flexibility of the grocery store channel, but they’ve not given up on the LCBO.
“Future labels will be tested against potential misinterpretation to a greater degree before submission”, says a wary Newlands “We’ll also be worry about a similar thing happening again and not completely trust that an LCBO decision is final. The uncertainty is difficult to work with, admittedly, but we’ll just do our level best.”