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Flying Dog Brewery defies UK Portman Group ruling

US brewery Flying Dog’s Easy IPA will continue to be distributed in the UK, despite UK alcohol industry regulator The Portman Group urging retailers to remove the beer from its shelves after it deemed its choice of packaging to irresponsibly encourage “immoderate consumption”.

The Portman Group ruled that the combination of an inebriated-looking character with the terms ‘easy’ and ‘session’ encouraged immoderate drinking.

Initially, the group’s independent complaints panel received a complaint from a member of the public who raised concerns that the can directly appealed to those aged under 18. While the panel did not uphold this complaint, it did go on to conclude that the packaging did encourage irresponsible or immoderate consumption.

It noted that the front of the can contained the terms ‘Easy IPA’, and ‘Session IPA,’ which is a commonly used descriptor in the craft beer category. But that the original meaning of the phrase was a prolonged drinking session. Although the panel did not consider these terms to be problematic in the right context, when used alongside an image of an inebriated looking creature balancing on one leg “presented an indication of drunkenness”.

The Portman Group is an independent, self regulatory body, and has urged the brewery to alter its packaging in the UK in the interests of the wider drinks industry, but does not hold any legal power to force a producer to do so.

Responding to the ruling, Flying Dog refuted the panel’s finding that the product indirectly encouraged immoderate consumption, and disagreed that the character visible on the front of Easy IPA had ‘red droopy eyes’, saying instead that the character’s characteristics were “whimsical and carefree rather than inebriated”.

The company also challenged the panel’s finding that the character appeared to be balancing on one leg while walking a line, noting that the line was an “element of artistic perspective and not indicative of a sobriety test”.

Despite the ruling, the brewery has said it will continue to distribute Easy IPA in the United Kingdom.

“Not surprisingly, the alleged complaint – by a sole individual – that a product labeled ‘Easy IPA Session India Pale Ale’ might be mistaken for a soft drink was, we believe, correctly dismissed by the Portman Group,” Jim Caruso, Flying Dog CEO and cofounder of the nonprofit 1st Amendment Society. “That should have been the end of it. However, the Portman Group then went on to ban the creative and carefree Easy IPA label art by the internationally-renowned UK artist Ralph Steadman.”

Steadman has illustrated all of Flying Dog’s labels since 1995.

“Without question, over-consumption, binge drinking and drunk-driving are serious health and public safety issues, and Flying Dog has always advocated for moderation and responsible social drinking,” Caruso said. “At the same time, there is no evidence to suggest that the whimsical Ralph Steadman art on the Easy IPA label causes any of those problems. We believe that British adults can think for themselves and Flying Dog, an independent U.S. craft brewer, will not honor the Portman Group’s request to discontinue shipping Easy IPA to the UK.”

John Timothy, secretary to the Independent Complaints Panel, added: “We are disappointed that Flying Dog Brewery do not appear to respect the decision or the process. Producers need to be extremely sensitive about the overall impact of their labelling. Use of a phrase that could have been innocuous on its own has taken on a different meaning when considered alongside a drunken looking character.”

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