For Sycamore Brewing, a provocative holiday beer label redesign started in good fun. Thursday morning, along came the grinch.
Several months ago, Sycamore decided to mix up the look of this year’s Christmas Cookie Winter Ale cans. In the past, the brewery wrapped its seasonal beer in a dark, wintery forest design with red lettering. Classic holiday stuff.
At some point, someone suggested a Kama Sutra-inspired redesign. At first they wanted to put it on a winter ale called Naughty Bear, as Queen City Nerve also wrote this week. But then, brewery co-owner Justin Brigham says, the team decided to apply it to a beer named Christmas Cookie.
You may have seen them when they came out around Thanksgiving. The label is deep blue and dotted with ornate little snowflakes. Also adorning the label: Little red and white cartoon reindeers resembling something out of an ’80s Atari video game — except they’re in various (very) compromising sexual positions.
Christmas Cookie cans were never intended for the grocery store shelves or any widescale distribution, says Sarah Brigham, Sycamore’s co-owner. That gave the owners the freedom to be a little more risqué with the design.
From a distance, the label is supposed to look like a tacky Christmas sweater.
“Then on a second look, you get a smile on your face and laugh a little bit,” Justin Brigham says, unable to contain his own laughter.
Apparently not everyone in Charlotte, a city long known as the city of churches, thought it was funny.
Someone sent an anonymous tip to the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. So the state’s Alcohol Law Enforcement sent an agent to Sycamore on Thursday to address the humping reindeer.
The problem with the labels was two-fold, says ALE Special Agent in Charge Omar Qureshi. He oversees Mecklenburg County but makes a point to say he wasn’t the agent present at the Sycamore visit.
The first issue: Sycamore didn’t get approval for the reindeer label, Qureshi says. That’s considered an administrative violation. The second: Regulators likely would have found the look obscene anyhow.
“Something’s telling me the ABC Commission probably would err on the side of caution and not approve that label,” Qureshi says.
Brigham apologized to the agent. The whole meeting was cordial and pretty matter-of-fact, Brigham says. A brief moment of silence ensued as the two discussed the design.
Then, they looked at each other and broke out in laughter.
The state’s ABC commission is notorious for being cautious when it comes to anything racy.
In August, the commission denied the request from a Utah brewery to distribute its “Polygamy Porter” throughout North Carolina. The label depicted a barely dressed man flanked by three women, who were also barely dressed.
In that case, the governing group cited a code that prohibits statements on labels that are “undignified, immodest, or in bad taste,” the local station WRAL reported.
For its sin — not attaining approval for its labels — Sycamore will be issued a notice of violation, which will probably arrive within a month, Qureshi says. Then they’ll likely face a fine. Around $500-$1,000, Qureshi estimates.