PORTLAND, Maine — It's a bit late for the holidays, but the state's beer sellers are now free to let Santa's Butt Winter Porter sit on their shelves.
The Maine Bureau of Liquor Enforcement had blocked a beer importer from selling the brew, along with two beers with labels depicting bare-breasted women. Those decisions were reversed after the state attorney general's office determined that the company probably would win the lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union filed on its behalf last month.
Chris Taub, an assistant state attorney general, said Friday a court probably would find the beer labels in question to be protected under the First Amendment.
State officials had barred the English-made Santa's Butt out of concern its label might appeal to children. It depicts a rear view of a beer-drinking Santa sitting on a "butt," a large barrel brewers once used to store beer.
The other previously banned beers feature paintings of bare-breasted women on their labels. One of the paintings hangs in the Louvre - Eugene Delacroix's "Liberty Leading the People" - and the other was commissioned by the importer, Belchertown, Massachusetts-based Shelton Brothers.
The company was notified of the reversal in a letter dated December 22, but owner Dan Shelton was out of the country and didn't learn of it until this week.
Shelton, whose company has challenged similar bans in other states, said Thursday he has no plans to drop his lawsuit because state law still allows officials to deny applications for beer labels that contain "undignified or improper" illustrations. About a dozen beer and wine labels, out of 10,000 to 12,000 reviewed, are rejected each year on such grounds.
"You can't have a law based on propriety and dignity. It's too vague," Shelton said.
Taub said his office is reviewing the rule about undignified or improper illustrations but declined to comment further.