Craft beer's logo is bad medicine, officials say

An Ottawa-area brewer will have to wait to launch its latest product with the provincial liquor retailer after it said the logo could leave shoppers with the impression that the beer has special healing powers.

Ontario brewer forced to delay launch after provincial retailer rejects design

Stalwart Brewing Company co-owner Adam Newlands shows off a can of Dr. Feelgood IPA featuring the logo rejected by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. (Submitted)

An Ottawa-area brewer will have to wait to launch its latest product with the provincial liquor retailer after it said the logo could leave shoppers with the impression that the beer has special healing powers.

Stalwart Brewing Company's Dr. Feelgood India Pale Ale was supposed to go on sale at Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) stores this week. The can features the image of a snake coiled around a pole that resembles the Rod of Asclepius, the ancient Greek symbol associated today with medicine and health care.

We followed the system.— Adam Newlands, Stalwart Brewing Company

Stalwart co-owner Adam Newlands told CBC News the LCBO originally OK'd the label, then revoked its approval.

"We followed the system, all the steps," said Newlands. "We went through all the normal processes of labs and label reviews, and in early December we were going to have an active listing very shortly."

The Carleton Place, Ont.-based craft brewer kicked production into high gear in anticipation of the launch before the LCBO demanded changes to the label, Newlands said.

He said at first the retailer relented, agreeing to allow the sale of cans that had already been produced.

"They were helpful and considered how we might be able to move forward," said Newlands. "Actually, it was pretty great and I was pleasantly surprised." 

The offending can, centre, features a take on the Rod of Asclepius, a symbol commonly used in health care and medicine. (Facebook/Stalwart Brewing Company)

Then, on Wednesday, Newlands said the LCBO changed its mind and refused to stock the beer with its current design.

That leaves Stalwart with 5,000 cans of Dr. Feelgood that will have to be sold elsewhere, the cost of a new design, and a delay in what was supposed to be a lucrative product launch.

Newlands estimates the run of 20,000 labels cost Stalwart about $3,000

No medicinal claims

Newlands admits the design is a play on the common medical symbol, but said Stalwart's snake is wrapped around a mash paddle used in brewing, not the Rod of Asclepius.

In addition to the snake, one letter of the logo resembles an Rx, the common abbreviation for medical prescriptions. 

But Dr. Feelgood makes no explicit medical claims, Newlands said; with an alcohol content of 6.8 per cent, it's merely labelled "strong beer."

"I don't think anyone would fool themselves and think this beer that has a snake and a mash paddle on it is somehow more beneficial or less harmful than anything else on the shelf right beside it," Newlands said.

'Regrettably' late

The Canadian Medical Association, which uses the Rod of Asclepius in its own logo, says that, while most consumers are unlikely to confuse beer and medicine, the symbol shouldn't be used lightly.

We recommend that medical symbols always be used accurately.— Canadian Medical Association

"While it's not uncommon to see the Rod of Asclepius used in advertising, we trust that consumers will understand that alcoholic beverages are not medical products," the association said in a statement.

"We recommend that medical symbols always be used accurately — even in humorous contexts — to avoid confusing or misinforming Canadian consumers." 

The LCBO says it's up to manufacturers to make sure labels conform to federal and provincial rules. In this case, the LCBO says, its assessment was "regrettably" late. 

"Should we find reason to believe that a product's label is out of line with any regulations we aim to share that with the manufacturer as early as possible and if needed, work closely with them on solutions prior to approving going to market in our stores," the retailer said in a statement attributed to Jennifer Bell, executive director of corporate communications. 

"In this case, our assessment that the current product label does not comply with the Liquor Licence Act regulatory prohibition on health claims was regrettably provided at a later stage. It is never our intention to contribute to any inconvenience to our partners."