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Cheers and Jeers

'Little Bitch Otter' beer release unites critics of governor's same-sex marriage stance

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Within a half-hour of the May 29 launch of Crooked Fence Brewing's "Little Bitch Otter" beer, an employee of Boise's Pre Funk taphouse hopped up on a planter to survey a long line of thirsty downtowners. He had some bad news: the kegs of Little Bitch Otter, an India brown ale, were already depleted for the evening. Only 480 bottles of the stuff remained, and that was going at a brisk pace.

Little Bitch Otter was an instant hit--even before anyone tasted it. Brewed to poke fun at Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, who many Idahoans see as standing against the tide of history on the issue of same-sex marriage, the beer's name alone made it a social media phenomenon when it was announced May 16--three days after U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale ruled Idaho's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and one day after the 9th Circuit Court had issued a stay of the ruling pending an appeal filed by Otter and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.

Kelly Knopp, Crooked Fence marketing and events director, said the "Little Bitch" barb was directed at Otter's political position on LGBT issues, and as a result, Crooked Fence said it would earmark 10 percent of the release party's proceeds to LGBT advocacy groups Pride Foundation and the Add the Words campaign, which has worked for eight years to win legislative approval to add the words "sexual identity" and "gender orientation" to Idaho's human rights law.

"Anyone that is going to try to take away freedoms or not let someone be equal, Crooked Fence is against," Knopp told Boise State Public Radio May 28.

Crooked Fence ended up pouring more than four kegs of Little Bitch Otter, raising $700 for the two organizations. Hundreds of revelers squeezed into Pre Funk's Front Street bar while hundreds more stretched around the block.

"[Otter] says he listens to the people of Idaho. But what about these people?" Knopp said, gesturing to the crowd.

Though more than a few attendees came out for the beer, the evening's center of gravity was the brew's political implications; and many in attendance were there primarily to support LGBT causes. Add the Words campaign member Cindy Gross was proud to advertise her advocacy with her own yellow-on-black "Add the Words, Idaho" T-shirt, adding that she wasn't there to taste the beer, but to help the LGBT community and its allies send a message to Idaho political leaders.

"I don't even drink beer," she told Boise Weekly. "Obviously the public supports equality. [Otter] needs to support equality and give his constituents what they want."

Meanwhile, standing in the Pre Funk patio was another group of equality advocates (and self-professed beer lovers)--Roxanne Coate, Marian Boyer, Rob Newburn, John Saxton and David Grigg. Grigg and Saxton have been partners for 21 years. When Idaho's constitutional ban on gay marriage was struck down, they called their friends to say they'd finally get to be married in their home state. But when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued its stay of the ruling, those plans were waylaid. Grigg said the Little Bitch Otter release party showed how much society--including in Idaho--has evolved on the issue of same-sex marriage and gay rights in general.

"Times and opinions have changed," he said. "Over half these people are gay. What does that say?"

Saxton told BW that any argument that insisted same-sex marriage was some sort of special right is a red herring.

"We want to all be on the same keel," he said.

"Butch is old-school, and it sucks that he put the kibosh on [gay marriage]. My friends deserve to be married," added Coate.

Newburn chimed in, echoing Coate's feelings:

"It's an election year so he has to fight it," he said.

Little Bitch Otter has become shorthand for disaffection with the governor, but in the beginning, it was just India brown ale sitting, nameless, in Crooked Fence's tanks. At some point in the brewing process, Knopp said the company decided to make this beer a political statement. Coincidentally, Add the Words demonstrators were being arrested on a semi-regular basis at the Idaho Statehouse and four same-sex couples had sued the state over its ban on gay marriage. Knopp said at some point, someone asked, "Why don't we make a beer called 'Little Bitch Otter?'"

"It's unfortunate [Otter] has an animal name," he said.

It may be unfortunate for Otter, but it was a godsend for Crooked Fence Brewing, the LGBT community, beer lovers and punsters alike.