Controversy over teaching evolution in public schools has been bottled up in a most unlikely place — the beer aisle.

Wasatch Beers is changing the label on its 2002 Unofficial Amber Ale — a title that once raised a ruckus with Olympic officials — to "Evolution Amber Ale."

The company says the change is inspired by Utah legislators and the debate here and nationally over whether public school evolution lessons should be balanced with "intelligent design," or the idea that life is too complex to be explained by Darwin's theory of evolution alone.

Wasatch Beers founder Greg Schirf, called a "counterculture brewer master" in a company press release, said the new label was intended to be light-hearted.

But Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, isn't laughing.

"I guess some people are going to get a chuckle out of it. I don't see anything funny about it," Buttars said. "Anytime someone (tries to) sarcastically exploit issues of morality in those kinds of ways is very unappealing. But it doesn't bother me, whatever they put on there."

Intelligent design has led to controversy in the handful of school districts discussing or adopting it nationwide. While it does not name the designer, critics say it's a thinly veiled reference to creationism, barred from public school lessons in a 1987 Supreme Court decision. A six-week trial over a church-state separation complaint wrapped up in Pennsylvania this month; a judge expects to rule in January.

Buttars says he is concerned about children learning human evolution as fact. He has requested a confidential bill file for a measure he says will challenge the State Board of Education's position that evolution still will be taught in high school biology class, where it is central to the state core curriculum.

Buttars would not say whether the bill, shielded from public view, would require intelligent design be taught in classes outside of biology, such as humanities, as he has pitched before. He expects to unveil the bill at the conservative Utah Eagle Forum's January convention.

Schirf's new label features several images of monkeys walking more and more upright behind a man, carrying a six-pack and swigging from a bottle. A stamp mark says "Darwin Approved" and "Created in 27 days, not 7."

"Really our intention was not to make anyone mad," Schirf said. "Our intention was to sell some beer with a funny beer label. We don't have any issue with what people want to believe. We just believe religion should be held in religion classes, and science should be held in public school classes."


E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com