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the image as offensive to practicing pagans, and women in general, and argue that it is inappropriate to use a violent historical reference to sell beer.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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