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Pot References By Beer Companies And How They Tried To Evade The Feds

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OK, we'll be the first to admit that the whole idea of turning 4/20 into a pot-smoking holiday is pretty stupid. If you're an adult, you should be able decide if and when you want to smoke on your own, without a numerical coincidence putting any extra emphasis on the activity.

But the date has become something more than just a busy day for working reggae bands. It's also taken on political significance, with pro-cannabis groups using it as an opportunity to rally support for legalizing the plant so many decades after its prohibition has proved an utter failure with an incalculably high cost in dollars and lives lost or ruined.

It's not just pot smokers and other drug users whose rights are trampled by prohibition, though. While there is no specific policy banning drug references, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, formerly the ATF, sniffs out dope innuendo (along with sex and nudity) on alcohol packaging with the fervor of a German shepherd at a border checkpoint. If it weren't such a blatant and depressing disregard for the First Amendment and an example of thought policing, the irony of banning references to a far less harmful substance on the packaging for another, and the irony of banning even the mildest suggestion of sex on an item intended for consumers well over the age of consent, would be hilarious.

So with that, we salute these brewers who have thumbed their noses, successfully or not, at the TTB's illegitimate anti-toking campaign.

Independence Stash IPA
India Pale Ales, the most hop-forward of beer styles, are the obvious choice for a pot reference, as hops -- a close cousin in the plant family to cannabis -- often smell like fresh bud. So the name of this IPA seems pretty likely to allude to a dope stash. Though the font style wouldn't look too out of place on a '60s gig poster, the packaging on this beer doesn't have any obvious weed references unless the fire is a subtle nod to lighting up. Nothing to prevent it from passing muster with the feds. As for the beer itself, it's a decent IPA, though not as reminiscent of the sticky icky as many others of its style.

Magic Hat hI.P.A.
The press material, at least, was full of dope innuendo: "Magic Hat encourages hop lovers to get high on hops." It's pronounced High-P.A., and the label, designed by famed psychedelic rock poster designer Stanley Mouse, looks like it belongs on a blacklight poster. But while the aesthetic is all stoner, there's nothing in the packaging itself that the TTB could pin them with, as the word "high" alone isn't enough to constitute a drug reference. Right, Miller High Life?

SweetWater Brewing Company's 420 Pale Ale
Interstate 420 was never actually built, but that doesn't stop Atlanta's SweetWater Brewing Company from using the sign on merchandise. With a regular release called 420 Pale Ale, an Oak-Aged Creeper and a series of releases from the brewery's "Dank Tank," the brewery makes little effort to disguise the weed innuendo -- claiming that April 20 just happened to be the date 420 Pale Ale was conceived, and urging customers to "Drink 'Em If You Got 'Em!" So far, the wink-and-nod approach hasn't triggered an inquisition.

Dark Horse Brewing Co. Smells Like Weed IPA
About as straightforward as can be, this one is only available on tap at the brewery and at special events, so they don't have to worry about the packaging.

Ale Industries Orange Shush (aka Orange Kush)
Despite Ale Industries' protests that the beer, made with orange peel, coriander and chamomile, was named for the citrus and the region from which the chamomile originated rather than the type of marijuana, the TTB declared that the average consumer would think the beer contained drugs and that the brewery was marketing its product in a "socially unacceptable manner."

Lemurian Lager
Three years ago, Vaune Dillmann found out the hard way just how humorless the feds are when it comes to joking about weed on alcohol packaging. "Try LEGAL Weed," read the bottlecaps on his Lemurian Lager. Why the slogan? Because Mt. Shasta Brewing Co. is based in Weed, California, where the city name is apparently a great source of fun for local businesses and even civic leaders. Dillmann maintained he was encouraging legal behavior, not drug use, but the government did not relent. 

Kettlehouse Brewing Olde Bongwater Hemp Porter and Fresh Bongwater Pale Ale 
Like Dark Horse's Smells Like Weed, these two offerings -- both of which are made with hemp seed -- are primarily available on tap at the brewery in Missoula, Montana. The porter has placed at the 2008 and 2009 North American Brewers Association brewfest, so it must taste a hell of a lot better than its nasty namesake.

Lagunitas Censored (aka The Kronik) 
The original name for this red ale was The Kronik, but the feds put a stop to that tomfoolery. As a response, the brewery gave it the even more appropriate name Censored, with the letters for the original name peeking out around the stark black bar protecting impressionable young drinkers.

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