Journalist Scolds Battling Craft Brewers

The trademark dispute between Bell’s Brewing and Innovation Brewing has exhausted the patience of business writer Jason Notte. In article posted on MarketWatch.com, Notte told the battling breweries to stop acting like children. Notte took particular offense to both breweries’ resorting to social media to air a dispute that ought to be decided by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He went on to say:

By trying this matter in the court of public opinion instead of, you know, the federal trademark office, both breweries succeeded only in airing some procedural dirty laundry that in no way helps beer drinkers or buyers. By opening those screeds with pap like “To Our Wonderful Craft Beer Community” and “To Bell’s customers and the passionate craft beer community,” each tried to play to what they clearly believe is craft beer fans’ inflated sense of justice and moral clarity. Never mind that the customers of each brewery are members of that same community, or that this whole thing could have been resolved behind closed doors if Bell’s just kept its mouth shut and Innovation had the good sense to, you know, bring a lawyer to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to defend its trademark application.

Notte calls this dispute a wasted opportunity: it could have been a lesson to other breweries about how to prepare for a trademark proceeding, and how to properly research a brand name before attempting to trademark it. Instead, Bell’s and Innovation aired one another’s dirty laundry—a tactic that does nothing to help either craft brewers or people who like their product.

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The Friday Mash (Iditarod Edition)

Thirty years ago today, Libby Riddles became the first woman to win the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. “Mushers,” as competitors are called, must brave dangerous cold, blizzards, and whiteout conditions on the 1,135-mile course from Willow to Nome, Alaska.

And now…The Mash!

We begin in St. Paul, where a delegation of Minnesotans—including state lawmakers—made a symbolic beer run to Wisconsin to protest their state’s ban on Sunday alcohol sales.

A group of writers at Fortune magazine took a stab at deciding what your choice of beer brand says about you. For instance, Amstel Light says, “Thank God the beer is free at this office party.”

Rhys Morgan, a student at the University of Cardiff in Wales, figured out how to make a bottle opener out of a sheet of paper. His YouTube tutorial has more than 350,000 views.

Civil engineer Dave McWilliams won first prize in a home brewing contest. And what a prize it was: the opportunity to brew a batch of IPA at Anheuser-Busch’s pilot brewery in St. Louis.

Tap beer is served at 38 degrees. That’s fine for mass-market lagers, but it’s too cold for craft beers, which should be served at temperatures between the mid-40s and the upper 50s.

Beer is expensive in New York City, but an app called Price Per Pint can help find the cheapest drinks, as well as specific happy-hour times and daily specials at hundreds of establishments.

Finally, staffers at the Electronic Frontier Foundation brewed up a beer protest of the National Security Agency’s “three-hop” surveillance program. Their beer is called “Stormbrew” and yes, the recipe is available to the public under a Creative Commons license.

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Yup. Another Nasty Trademark Dispute.

Earlier this month, Bell’s Brewery filed paperwork with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office challenging a tiny North Carolina brewery’s application for a federal trademark for its name, Innovation Brewing. Bell’s claims that “Innovation” infringes on its rights to the slogan, “Bottling Innovation Since 1985,” and would be confusing to customers. The dispute has prompted a spirited discussion among beer enthusiasts.

Innovation issued a statement responding to Bell’s trademark claim. Its owners said, among other things, that “We do not believe that any human on earth would confuse Innovation Brewing with Bell’s Brewery, despite their slogans.” Bell’s maintains that it is merely defending its trademark, and that it is not asking Innovation to pay damages or change its name.

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The Friday Mash (San Diego State U. Edition)

On this day in 1897, San Diego State University was established. The 35,000 students at SDSU have an amazing selection of craft beer to choose from. At the end of 2014, the county had nearly 100 breweries and brewpubs.

And now…The Mash!

We begin in Houston, where the Texas Beer Refinery has opened for business. Its fermenting tanks and brew kettles have been made to look like refinery towers from a distance.

Goose Island Brewing Company’s 20-year-old brewery on Chicago’s Near West Side will start offering tours and tastings later this month. The tasting room will also offer growler fills.

Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company has brewed a beer to benefit James Madison’s Montpelier. Ambition Ale, “a beer with checks and balances,” will be available in central Virginia this summer.

Widmer Brothers Hefeweizen, Oregon’s largest-selling craft beer, is now co-branded with Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers. Both the brewery and the team are Portland institutions.

Goldcrest 51 beer was popular in Memphis until the Tennessee Brewing Company closed its doors in 1955. Beer writer Kenn Flemmons plans to revive the beer this spring, using the original recipe.

A federal appeals court has ruled that Flying Dog Ales can sue Michigan for damages over its refusal to approve the label for Raging Bitch IPA. The state’s decision was overturned in court.

Finally, a new beer from Maine’s Allagash Brewing Company honors cherry farmer Nancy Bunting, who supplied it with thousands of pounds of cherries. Allagash has donated part of the proceeds from “Nancy” to a charity that helps farmworkers with health problems.

Pennsylvania Eases the Dreaded “Case Rule”

Beer lovers who live in Pennsylvania, or who pass through it, are aware of the dreaded “Case Rule.” Most of the beer sold in the Keystone State is sold by “distributors” who, by law, can’t sell you less than 24 bottles or cans–a big problem if you want to sample the local micro products. Six- and 12-packs are available at bars and delis, but some establishments have been known to charge sky-high prices.

That’s about to change, at least a little. The Liquor Control Board has issued an advisory opinion that allows distributors to sell “original containers” with 128 or more ounces of beer. In plain English, that means 12-packs. It’s a step in the right direction.

Why Iceland Banned Beer Until 1989

Twenty-five years ago, Iceland’s parliament voted to legalize beer—which had been prohibited since 1915. It was strange enough that a European country still imposed prohibition so late in the century, but what made it even stranger was that wine and liquor had been legal for decades.

An article posted last Saturday in the BBC News Magazine explained what happened:

When full prohibition became law 100 years ago, alcohol in general was frowned upon, and beer was especially out of favour–for political reasons. Iceland was engaged in a struggle for independence from Denmark at the time, and Icelanders strongly associated beer with Danish lifestyles.

Simply put, beer was unpatriotic—just as drinking tea was in America in the years leading up to the Revolution.

At first, Icelandic prohibition applied to all alcoholic beverages. In 1921, however, parliament bowed Spain’s demand that it allow wine imports or else face a boycott of its number-one export, salted cod. In 1933, the same year the U.S. repealed Prohibition, Iceland re-legalized alcoholic beverages—with one exception: beer stronger than 2.25 percent alcohol. Since beer was cheaper than stronger beverages, lawmakers were afraid that legalizing it would result in a substantial increase in alcohol abuse.

Support for the beer ban started to wane in the 1970s, when Icelanders spent “city breaks” in other European cities and discovered pub culture. In 1979, parliament allowed Icelanders who’d visited foreign countries to bring beer home. Public opinion swung in favor of legalizing beer, and lawmakers saw legal beer as a source of tax revenue.

Beer prohibition ended on March 1, 1989. Every March 1, Icelanders celebrate Bjordagur, or Beer Day.

The Friday Mash (Not Mr. Met Edition)

On this day in 1872, the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened in Manhattan. With more than two million works in its permanent collection, “The Met”—not to be confused with baseball mascot “Mr. Met”—is one of the largest art museums in the world.

And now…The Mash!

We begin in Turkey, where security guards red-carded a fan for trying to smuggle beer into a soccer stadium. A whole case of bottles, in an outfit he’d designed for that purpose.

The latest trademark fight pits New Belgium Brewing Company and Oasis, Texas Brewing Company, both of which brew a beer called “Slow Ride”. New Belgium filed its mark ahead of Oasis, but Oasis’s beer hit the market first.

Vietnam’s robust drinking culture—there is no word for “hangover”—is raising concerns about health as citizens grow wealthier. A glass of beer costs just 30 U.S. cents.

Screenwriter and director Matthew Vaughn says that Guinness provided the inspiration for Kingsman: The Secret Service. Over pints, Vaughn and comic book maestro Mark Miller came up with the idea of an old-school spy movie.

The popularity of IPA and other craft beer has forced Iowa lawmakers to revisit the definition of “beer”. Beverages with 5 to 8 percent ABV currently exist in a legal twilight zone.

An Austin, Texas, company has developed a product called Kube, which combines a high-quality portable sound system and a beverage cooler. It’s designed to be used at parties and outdoor events.

Finally, Empire Brewing Company is collaborating with China’s Jingwei Fu Tea Company to brew Two Dragons beer. It starts out mellow and woody, and finishes with a sweet tea-like taste. Empire hopes to export it to China.

On Capitol Hill, Dueling Beer Tax Bills

Large and small breweries are lining up behind competing bills that would provide tax relief to the industry.

The Small BREW Act would cut excise taxes for small brewers, which it defines as those making less than six million barrels a year. (The current definition tops out at two million, and thus excludes Boston Brewing Company and D.G. Yuengling & Son.) The Brewers Association, which represents smaller breweries, supports this bill.

On the other hand, the Fair BEER Act would halve the excise tax for the smallest brewers—those making less than 60,000 barrels a year—but give only modest relief to brewers in the 60,000-to-two-million-barel range. It would also apply to importing producers such as Corona and Heineken. The legislation is backed by the Beer Institute, whose membership includes the industry giants.

With millions of dollars in tax breaks at stake, both sides are lining up heavyweight lobbying firms to make their case to lawmakers.

The Friday Mash (Railroad Tycoon Edition)

Two hundred years ago today, the state of New Jersey awarded the first-ever railroad franchise to Colonel John Stevens III, the inventor who constructed America’s first steam locomotive.

And the bar car is open!

Fore! We begin at the 16th hole of the Phoenix Open, where rowdy spectators celebrated Francesco Molinari’s hole-in-one by showering him with beer and other flying objects.

A Minnesota brewery found out that it can’t sell “Rated R” beer. Not because of violence or sex, but because the Motion Picture Association of America trademarked the phrase. Molson’s XXX is, presumably, still in the clear.

MillerCoors has installed 10,000 solar panels at its Irwindale, California, brewery. The new system will generate enough electricity to brew seven million cases of beer each year.

Blank Slate Brewing Company joined forces with Oskar Blues Brewery to brew “Cincy 3-Way Porter.” The beer contains cumin, coriander, allspice and cinnamon, which are found in Cincinnati-style chili.

Researchers in China have discovered that xanthohumol, a substance found in hops, contains anti-oxidants that may delay or even prevent the onset of dementia and other forms of cognitive decline.

Ontario’s government plans some changes to its relationship with The Beer Store, the province’s quasi-monopoly. However, those changes won’t bring beer into convenience stores.

Finally, Yeti Coolers has invented a super-luxury koozie. The Colster, which retails for $30, wraps a beer in a stainless steel, double-walled, vacuum-insulated enclosure; and its “No Sweat” design prevents condensation from forming.

In Florida, A Fight Over Tasting Rooms

In recent years, dozens of small breweries have opened in Florida. However, a lawsuit filed earlier this month by the Florida Retail Federation could put them in jeopardy.

The suit alleges that the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which issues liquor licenses, overstepped its legal authority in allowing breweries to open tasting rooms. Many breweries depend on tasting-room traffic to stay viable.

Currently, there are two exceptions to the three-tier licensing scheme under which a brewery can sell directly to customers. One exception applies to breweries that offered tourist amenities. (The exception was originally create for the Busch Gardens theme park.) The other applies to brewpubs. According to the Retail Federation, some breweries fall under neither exemption but operate tasting rooms anyway.

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