In Utah, you can never have too many wives bringing your vodka, but in Idaho? Not so much, please. The state Liquor Control Division in Boise has ruled that Five Wives Vodka, with a whimsical label featuring five lasses with hiked skirts, isn’t going on sale at state-controlled liquor stores.
In other words, you can buy vodka that winks at polygamy in Salt Lake City but not in Pocatello; there, it’s considered “offensive.”
“It is pretty ironic. And I think that’s the crux of it — the absurdity of the whole thing,” said Steve Conlin, vice president of Ogden’s Own Distillery, which produces Five Wives Vodka. He said Idaho has even barred private bar owners from ordering their own supplies.
In a letter last week, state liquor regulators made clear that the label, not just the stuff inside, was their concern.
“We feel [the] Five Wives Vodka concept is offensive to a broad segment of our population and will not be carried,” said the letter signed by Howard Wasserstein, deputy director for procurement, distribution and retail.
That must be a reference to Mormons, who are proportionally almost as numerous in Idaho as they are in Utah, Conlin said in an interview. He did concede that Idaho officials might also be wary of the strategically placed kittens peeping out of the center of the petticoats of the poly-wives on the label.
“I’m sure that’s part of it,” he said. “But they have a Hooters in Boise!”
Distillery managers say the label reflects the Old West themes that they hope to make a centerpiece of all their beverages. As for this specific image, Conlin said: “Obviously, polygamy has a past in Utah. Some would say it even has a present. If you watch ‘Big Love’ or whatever, there’s obviously a subculture of polygamy.”
But the label also commemorates the first wagon train that rolled through Utah, the 1841 Bartleson–Bidwell caravan, that included 66 men and five women. “We’re not poking fun at anybody; we’re just kind of acknowledging the past,” Conlin said.
Idaho liquor officials said the image on the bottle actually depicts the Barrison sisters, a risque vaudeville act from the 1890s.
“My team made the recommendation that this is offensive to women, and it’s offensive in addition to the whole [Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints] faith, because they’re playing on that whole polygamy thing,” Idaho liquor control division director Jeff Anderson told the Los Angeles Times.
The overriding factor, he added, was that Five Wives just wasn’t worth stocking -- in the tough competition for liquor store shelf space, there were better alternatives.
“In the last 12 months, we’ve seen upward of 500 new products that suppliers have requested us to carry. We’ve said yes to about 150, maybe. So we essentially say no more than yes,” Anderson said. “In this case, you’ve got an average product that was trying to compete in a premium price segment that’s overcrowded already. And on top of that, we thought the product was offensive to women.”