Meet Tim Smith, a polite, pleasant, sensitive man, who loves adult beverages and beautiful women. He’s built a thriving company, Ogden’s Own Distillery, around his passions and made his fair share of waves along the way. He also made Five Wives Vodka.
Some of his success with Five Wives Vodka sprang up serendipitously. But, as is almost always the case, he only got lucky after years of grinding it out in relative obscurity and near-financial ruin.
That Is Not Your Beautiful Wife
Tim had a vision for Five Wives Vodka. After he poured his heart into perfecting the product, he happily dumped thousands of dollars into the production of proper labels.
His labels featured a flattering collage of “five wives” — his own stunning bride, two of her sisters and two of her friends — radiating peace, love and joy in their wedding gowns.
Then, his business partner, Steve Conlin, found a peculiar and provocative image on the Internet. It was a black-and-white photo of five conservatively dressed maidens carrying cats at crotch level.
“When Steve first showed it to me, I was a little worried,” Tim says. “I thought, ‘That’s going to cause some issues.’ ”
But Steve was persistent, perhaps even insistent. These guys are selling booze, after all, not hula hoops or Happy Meals. To sell enough booze to survive, especially in today’s rough-and-tumble market, you’ve got to stand out with a strong brand.
And so, Five Wives Vodka was born — complete with the iconic image of Vaudeville’s Barrison Sisters flaunting their crotch kitties in all of their in-your-face glory.
Drama at the Distillery
It didn’t take long before Tim was contacted by the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The DABC representative pointed out that he personally didn’t have a problem with the Five Wives label, but that he had received a complaint from a woman who found it offensive.
This was a moment of truth, so Tim played it straight.
“That’s a federally approved label,” he replied. “I can’t change it.”
And that was the end of that.
Until Tim tried to ship his irreverent vodka bottles into the heart of Spud Country.
The Spud State Has Spoken
Tim had a hell of a time getting the state of Idaho to approve his vodka for sale within its potato-protected borders.
On May 24, 2012, the State Liquor Division sent Ogden’s Own Distillery a rejection letter stating that Idaho had no intention of carrying the Five Wives brand. The letter indicated that the Five Wives label was offensive to a “prominent segment” of Idaho’s population.
Tim and Steve naturally assumed that the “prominent segment” of the population that Idaho was trying to protect referred to Mormons. A state spokesman later disputed that the brouhaha had anything to do with religion, saying instead that women, churchgoing or not, were likely to find the labels offensive.
Either way, Tim was not overly concerned by the sternly worded rejection from the Spudmaster General. He told his business partners that if he could just sit down with Idaho’s state regulators, he could talk them into approving his product.
But Steve is one of those fiery First Amendment types. He felt that an injustice had been done and that the company should protect its rights. So, the company informed all of its major stakeholders and crafted a plan of attack.
Free at Last
Steve wrote an impassioned press release and launched the “Free the Five Wives” campaign, which included T-shirts shouting that slogan. His message piqued the interest of prominent civil rights attorney Jonathan Turley.
The powerhouse attorney scared the Spud State straight. Idaho instantly had a change of heart and decided that Five Wives Vodka wasn’t evil incarnate, after all.
But not before the story spread like wildfire through the media with mentions in such high-profile news outlets as “The Los Angeles Times,” “USA Today” and NPR.
Sales shot up fast for both Five Wives Vodka and the distillery’s other herbal spirit, Underground. Revenue more than doubled in 2012 from the previous year, and Tim expects sales to double again in 2013.
Which just goes to show that sometimes it’s good to have five wives.