If you've ever brewed beer commercially in the United States, chances are you're familiar with a one Kent "Battle" Martin. Because as far as brewers are concerned, he is the Alpha and the Omega of beer labels — without his approval, you're effectively screwed.
Officially, Battle (as he prefers to be called) is employed by the Treasury Department's Tax and Trade Bureau. The Daily Beast recounted some of the legends circulating around the label design despot, and it is a fascinating look into an aspect of the industry that most people have no idea even exists. As The Daily Beast explains:
Brewers and legal experts speak of him in hushed tones, with equal parts irritation and reverence.
"He's the king of beer. His will is law," said one lawyer who works with him regularly. The lawyer asked to remain anonymous, for fear of crossing the beer specialist. "There's one dude in the government who gets to control a multibillion-dollar industry with almost no supervision."
While it might seem bizarre from afar, brewers' fearful awe makes sense when you realise that a brewers' entire livelihood could rest on the decision of just one man. And this one man makes a lot of decisions; last year alone, he approved 29,500 separate labels — that's somewhere in the realm of 80 labels a day. And he is equally scrupulous with every single one. According to The Daily Beast:
Battle has rejected a beer label for the King of Hearts, which had a playing card image on it, because the heart implied that the beer would have a health benefit....
He rejected a beer called Pickled Santa because Santa's eyes were too "googly" on the label, and labels cannot advertise the physical effects of alcohol. (A less googly-eyed Santa was later approved.)
He rejected a beer called Bad Elf because it featured an "Elf Warning", suggesting that elves not operate toy-making machinery while drinking the ale. The label was not approved on the grounds that the warning was confusing to consumers.
Considering how elaborate and entirely subjective the world of beer labelling can be (along with the fact that alcohol is a mind-altering drug), it's understandable that Battle feels the need to draw such hard lines on what others might consider a non-issue, just to be crystal clear. To read more about the biggest bully in beer labelling, head on over to The Daily Beast for the full profile. [The Daily Beast]