International Bitterness Units

Photo Courtesy of New England Brewing Co.
Photo Courtesy of New England Brewing Co.

International Bitterness Units

By Corey Zutz, Staff Writer

Beer is good. Offending people is not good. Getting sued is bad. Getting sued for offending people with beer is very bad, as a Connecticut brewery discovered earlier this year. I took note of this situation when it first hit the news in January, as I lived in Connecticut at the time and have a healthy interest in craft beer. I recall it now as a law student to illustrate of two points; 1) the enforceability of foreign-country judgements within the U.S. and, 2) how the publicity generated by filing a lawsuit can have more impact than the action itself.

The New England Brewing Company is a small craft brewery based in Woodbridge, Connecticut, known for producing high-quality beers with idiosyncratic names, including “Fuzzy Baby Ducks IPA”, “Imperial Stout Trooper” and a Belgian strong pale ale called “668: Neighbor of the Beast”. [1] On January 2, 2015, the New England Brewing Company was sued in India for one such product, a double IPA style beer named “Gandhi-bot”. First introduced in 2010, Gandhi-bot featured a stylized image of Mohandas Gandhi as a robot on the label. A petition filed in Hyderabad by Advocate S. Janardhan Goud, claimed New England Brewing’s use of Gandhi’s name and image was a violation of several Indian laws, including the Prevention of Insults to National Honor Act, 1971, and Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code which criminalizes sedition. [2] Gandhi, recognized as the father of modern India, was staunchly opposed to the consumption of alcohol and a lifetime campaigner for temperance.

It is unlikely that this lawsuit would have been enforceable against New England Brewing Co. Enforcing judgements rendered by courts outside the United States raises more issues than can be appreciated in an article of this depth, but generally, U.S. courts will enforce judgements rendered abroad which do not violate our notions of due process or contravene public policy. [3] Connecticut has adopted statutory language to this effect. [4] New England Brewing Company is a small company which only distributes its products to three states (Connecticut, New York, and Florida), making it likely that a Connecticut court would find subjecting the company to personal jurisdiction in India to be a violation of due process. Furthermore, the Indian laws cited in the lawsuit criminalize speech in a way that is inconsistent with the protections of 1st Amendment.

Regardless of the lawsuit’s legal merit, enough backlash was created by the ensuing media coverage to induce New England Brewing to kill the product. The story was immediately spread by Indian news outlets, and was eventually picked up by mainstream American media and used as a punchline by late-night talk show hosts. Within days of the filing, the company posted an apology on its Facebook page, which was flooded by protest messages. [5] Within weeks the company had met with members of the local Indian-American community, including Connecticut State Representative Prasad Srinivasan, and issued a pledge to rename and rebrand the product through Representative Srinivasan’s website. [6] New England Brewing Company’s own website was dismantled in the wake of this controversy, and remains a shell, merely providing contact information and the promise “a new website is coming soon.”

Whether or not New England Brewing Company could ever have been held legally accountable for the claims in the lawsuit against them, the suit effectively shut down their website and took Gandhi-Bot off store shelves. While this episode may have left some beer buffs bitter, it demonstrates how lawsuit’s power can extend beyond its legal authority when used to focus public pressure on a specific issue.



[1] and

[2] The Hindu, Case against US firm for Gandhi image on beer cans (January 5, 2015 00:35 IST)

[3] Alan Reed. A New Model of Jurisdictional Propriety for Anglo-American Foreign Judgement Recognition and Enforcement: Something Old, Something Borrowed, Something New?, 25 Loy. L.A. Int’l & Comp. L. Rev. 243, 260

[4] Conn. Gen. Stat. § 50a-34

[5] Lou Papineau, The Gandhi-bot Controversy isn’t funny anymore. (January 8, 2015)

[6] Ben Simon,

Stephan, Paul B. Foreign Court Judgments and the United States Legal System. Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2014.


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