SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Brewery owner Greg Schirf came up with a provocative name for his beer Polygamy Porter and ran a radio ad in this predominately Mormon city asking: “Why have just one?”
Mr. Schirf planned a racy billboard, too, with a scantily clad man surrounded by women, and the slogan: “Take some home for the wives.” But that was where he crossed the line.
The ad was dropped by the billboard company, and conservative reaction was swift and brutal.
“We were just getting filleted,” he said.
The episode earlier this month illustrates the tension in Utah between the liquor industry and Mormon sensibilities a tension that is increasing with the approach of the 2002 Winter Olympics in February.
Seventy percent of Utah’s 2.1 million people are members of the Mormon church, which shuns alcohol. And the state’s liquor laws reflect that.
Utah law requires bars, called private clubs here, to sell individual annual memberships of at least $12 before a person can get a drink. Liquor stores must be state-run and are not open on Sundays.
Visitors often are able to buy drinks without joining private bars. At many ski resorts, for example, guests are automatically members of the resort’s club.
With the Olympics coming to town, however, a small but vocal minority of brewers and bar owners is hoping to make money on the tourist trade by easing or subverting the liquor laws.
Dead Goat Saloon owner Daniel Darger has recruited five bar owners in his war against what he calls Utah’s liquor-law lunacy. On his Web site, www.slcgetalife.com, he tells customers they can pay just $15 for a single membership card that will get them into six bars.
“It’s like the Boston Tea Party,” said Mr. Darger, who estimates he has sold 200 to 300 of the passes.
Utah law does not specifically address the legality of Mr. Darger’s multiclub membership system, probably because no one has ever tried this particular artful dodge. Liquor regulators have expressed concern, but Mr. Darger, a lawyer, said: “If they want to take me to the wall, I’m ready to go.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not opposed to responsible drinking among non-Mormons but does not want laws that encourage overconsumption or underage drinking, said Dale Bills, a church spokesman.
Last month, the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board abandoned a proposed ban on liquor ads with religious themes after a challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union.
For more than a year, Mr. Schirf’s Wasatch Brewery has been tweaking Mormons with its advertising. His billboards have touted beer as “Utah’s Other Local Religion” and urged customers to “Baptize Your Taste Buds.” Radio ads poked fun at the Mormon church’s proselytizing, with Elders “Rulon” and “Heber” declaring themselves on a “different kind of mission.”
Billboard company Reagan Outdoor Advertising pulled the Polygamy Porter ad before it ran. Mr. Schirf believes the company caved in to political pressure. Many Utah residents, including Republican Gov. Michael O. Leavitt, have polygamist ancestors.
“There’s not a state that remotely comes close to the control Mormons have in Utah,” said Mr. Schirf, a Roman Catholic from Wisconsin.
Reagan Outdoor Advertising President Dewey Reagan said the billboard company did not want to be associated with polygamy, which was renounced by the Mormon church in 1890.
“It’s simply a business decision,” he said. “Greg knows his market, and we know ours.”
Republican state Sen. Peter Knudson, a Mormon teetotaler who was on a citizen advisory board on alcohol before his election to the Legislature, said Utah’s liquor laws “work pretty well” but are subject to change.
“This issue will continue to be looked at,” he said. “The Olympics will give us a good chance to get input from the broader world.”