Young and Hungry

Lost Abbey Burning Witch Beer Label Riles Wiccans

Just in time for Halloween, a commotion has been brewing over the past week about Lost Abbey Witch's Wit, a beer with a label that has an image of a woman being burned at the stake. The Wiccan community, led by popular astrologer and healer Vicki Noble, has lashed out against the California brewery that makes the beer by launching an internet campaign to change the label.

After noticing the bottle in a store, Noble sent an email to her many friends and followers comparing the image to "a black person being lynched or a Jewish person going to the oven." Since then complaints about the beer and its label started popping up all over the internet, including a "Boycott Lost Abbey" group on Facebook. The conflict has caused such a stir that the New York Times ran a piece on it Friday.

Those against the label condemn the image as offensive to practicing pagans, and women in general, and argue that it is inappropriate to use a violent historical reference to sell beer. People who stand behind the label call attention to Lost Abbey's artistically satirical take on packaging their line of craft beers. According to the brewery's media liaison, Sage Osterfeld (quoted here from a blog post that published her email response):

I encourage you to look at all of Lost Abbey’s beers and consider them in context. Each of the Lost Abbey beers features a label which depicts a theme of Catholic excess — good and bad — on the front, and tells a moral story on the back. (Our founder is a recovering Catholic.)

In the case of Witch’s Wit, the back label is a story of the bad consequences of religious intolerance and oppression. The woman on the front is referred to as a “healer” on the label and accuses the Church of being narrow-minded and violent, threatening the same fate to anyone who would help the woman. The label ends with a note that this beer — a light, sweet and golden ale — is brewed in honor of that woman (and all those who died for their convictions).

Our other beers — Devotion, Deliverance, Judgment Day, Inferno, The Angel’s Share, etc. — all have similar messages of morality. Unfortunately, the people who started this meme either didn’t bother or didn’t care to actually read the label and simply chose to fan the flames of ignorance and intolerance — which, ironically, is what the beer is actually against.

The text on the back of the Witch's Wit label reads:

Whether you’re a wonder healer, a caller of spirits or a lover of black magic, they will find you. And on that day, they will boil your blood, singe your skin and make a point to burn your soul to the ground. From that lonely stake, you’ll be left to contemplate your life of spell casting, obscure texts and a world operated between the shadows of night and day.

Convicted of a dark art, the crowd will gather to watch as they raze your earthen existence. An intolerable pain is the cross you’ll bear that day as you are removed from this righteous world. No one will summon the courage to save you in fear of their life. It sucks. But such is the life of a witch. In honor of your fleeting existence, we brewed Witch’s Wit. A light and refreshing wheat beer, it’s exactly the sort of thing you might expect to find being passed around the center of town on witch burning day. Say hello to the Prince of Darkness for us.

Despite several reports that Port Brewing Company / Lost Abbey had agreed to change the label, the official word is the brewery has not yet made a decision and does not plan to until after Halloween. This week you could hear about the issue in person from the "recovering Catholic" himself, Lost Abbey founder and brewmaster Tomme Arthur. Arthur is in D.C. today and tomorrow to lead a two-night run of Fresh Harvest Ale tastings at The Brickskeller.

As for the beer, the Brick's tasting is not slated to include Witch's Wit and you are not likely to find any more on shelves this year. Lost Abbey beers are rare in D.C. to begin with (we have spotted a few at the Brickskeller, ChurchKey, and Connecticut Avenue Wine & Spirits), but Witch's Wit is a summer release, making it that much more difficult to find in late October.

The Lagerheads have a bottle (pictured above) and plan to enjoy this Belgian Wit spiced with grapefruit zest, orange peel, and coriander, regardless of all the brewhaha. It seems timely to pop the cork this weekend for Halloween. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on the beer and/or its label?

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  • J.D. Hammond

    Haha. Speaking as a Pagan, I can say that the only ones who are really offended are those Wiccans that construct elaborate "Burning Times" fantasies using accused women that were never actually witches (much less Wiccan) as props so they can feel righteously indignant and oppressed. I've come to expect this behavior from Scientologists and Christian fundamentalists, but every time I see it coming out of the mouths of self-styled Pagans, it embarrasses me.

  • Wigmeister

    Just when you thought every bastion of political correctness had been exploited, along comes the wiccans with their attempt to cry foul - gimme a 'effin break...leave the label as is and go into overdrive with your production of Burning Witch Beer! And while you're at it, list where it can be bought on the east coast too!!!

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    As the descendant of Druids from Ireland and of a strong Catholic family, I object to the label on one specific ground. The Cross is the Iona Cross, from the abbey founded by St Columba of Co Donegal, off the coast of Scotland. The Irish accepted Chritainity because it built on and accepted the true elements of natural religion, paganism if one likes and there are NO martyrs of Christians by the Druids and their followers in Ireland. Neither should that Iona or Celtic Cross be used to reflect on anything negative to be associated with Ireland's treatment of followers of natural religion. One could but I would reject use of the Iona Cross to depict the savagery of Scotland's extremist reformers Protestants who destroyed the monastery and killed Catholics all over the Lowlands ( as the Highlands remained faithful to their fun-loving natural earthy Druidic roots and their Catholicism and their love of Life and nature). A "recovering Catholic" who uses religious symbols to market his beers could use better history and better judgment and not add to the woeful ignorance which "recovering" Catholics and others use to distort its full picture and thus wallow in their own nateful self-pity and adolescent lashing out against the Catholic Church. The Church champions the moderate use of beer and other alcohol as most Protestants officially condemn its use. I do not expect that the Bavarian-born Bishop of Rome shall hoist a glass of this insulting label.

  • Jon

    Wow...who cares and whoever is "offended" please STFU!!!

    BTW because of this story I ran down to my local liquor store that carries a great and large selection of craft beers and they had this on hand! It was rather expensive too! $10 for a ~25 ounce bottle. I hope it tastes as good as the label looks! p.s. The liquor store must be a buncha of misogynists too for carry this "highly offensive" beer. Hey, the PC dispatch called...the just got another call for the PC police. Move along.

  • Tyrone

    American when did you become so Politically Correct? Oh right when liberal nut job's starting brain washing our children in public school's.

  • doyen Keaton

    Man U R Nuts Ban TV Violence and Judges letting child killers out on bail... and leave this Label and his Constitutional law alone .... the worlds religion's (Not Jehovah's) witch was in bed with the Rulers burned people at the stake and it is history and should be taught in schools. William Tisdale ....Strangled before burned.. and for What GIving us a Bible in Latin.... Wake up America and get to the real problems.... before it is tooo...Late.

  • Doyen Keaton

    just bought my first Lost Abbey a beer called Angels Share, can't wait to try it ( altho way more expensive then real Abbey from Belgium ) like 3 times the cost... anywho it is high time a label like this came out history should be taught to our kids... and God Serving people was literally burned at the stake, tar and feathered... now it would be justice to pay back the innocent blood that has been shed and start with the keepers of the aliens in washington and then the dammed unnatural sicko's tied to the stake what a good poem on your bottle. it is high time the evil murders get their reward. very happy ending indeed. Jehovah will rid the earth of the unworthy ... you can count on it.