Competing For The Most Creative Beer Names | KCUR

Competing For The Most Creative Beer Names

Jul 10, 2013
Originally published on July 11, 2013 10:50 am

There are more than 2,300 breweries operating in the United States, according to The Brewers Association. That’s the highest number since the 1880s.

You probably know these small brewers by the interesting names they have for their suds: Smooth Hoperator, Polygamy Porter and Donkey Punch come to mind.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Megan Verlee of Colorado Public Radio reports that as more and more small breweries open up, some of their choices apparently aren’t creative enough.

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Our breweries, the next Starbucks, one in every corner. According to The Brewers Association, there are more than 2,300 breweries operating in the U.S. That's the highest number since the 1880s. But there is a hangover at this party, and it has to do with the names that craft brewers often come up with for their drinks. They are as creative as the drinks themselves. But as more and more breweries open up, not creative enough.

From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, Colorado Public Radio's Megan Verlee has this story of what happened to one Denver brewer who got caught up in a trademark dispute.

MEGAN VERLEE, BYLINE: Crammed in between giant fermentation tanks at Renegade Brewing, packing machines squirt frothy ale to yellow cans, four at a time. Renegade started canning its beers last year, a move design to bring the brewery new markets and new attention.

BRIAN O'CONNELL: The first beer that we put into cans is our flagship beer called Rye-teous, which is rye IPA.

VERLEE: Brian O'Connell is Renegade's founder. He says giving his beer the punning name Rye-teous seemed like a good idea at the time. It was such a good idea someone else had already thought of it.

O'CONNELL: I was contacted by Sixpoint Brewery in Brooklyn. They had a beer under the name Righteous, also a rye IPA.

VERLEE: New York-based Sixpoint doesn't sell its brews in Colorado. And while O'Connell would love to go national someday, he says he can't see it happening anytime soon. So he called Sixpoint's owner, hoping to work something out.

O'CONNELL: We finished our phone conversation, and basically they followed it up with a cease and desist letter from an attorney.

VERLEE: Sixpoint's owner says his company had to defend its trademark or risk losing it under federal patent rules, and the cease and desist letter was just a legal formality. He'd warned O'Connell it was coming. Sixpoint had the legal higher ground, so O'Connell had to rename his beer, and he did, making a statement about trademarks at the same time. He stuck with the original design for the cans, but now a black bar blocks out the old name, Rye-teous. The new name, Redacted, stands in its place. It's a joke but one O'Connell finds bittersweet.

O'CONNELL: It was definitely not an easy decision for me. You know, the name Rye-teous was becoming synonymous with the name Renegade, and we're definitely known for this beer.

VERLEE: It only takes a few minutes of perusing the shelves at a well-stock liquor store to realize that creative labels are a big part of the craft beer identity. Brews with names like Puppy's Breath Porter, Smooth Hoperator, Hazed & Infused, a seemingly endless assortment of puns, pop culture references and inside jokes. Turns out the linguistic possibilities aren't limitless. And as the industry has taken off in recent years, craft brewers now have to worry as much about trademark infringement as fermenting schedules.

DOUGLAS REISER: It's shocking how many times you think you've come up with a creative name and you're like, man, this is awesome. And you go online and some other breweries use it. Wineries already trademarked it.

VERLEE: That's Douglas Reiser, a beverage attorney who recently opened a small brewery in North Carolina. He says trademark disputes make up more and more of his business these days. So he warns clients to be proactive.

REISER: When I talk to brewers, maybe the first thing I say to him is, hey, we can get you licensed, but let's talk about branding. And it is really the most important first legal step that you'd probably take as a brewer.

VERLEE: Starting a brewery is an expensive process, and brewers don't always think to budget for the legal fees to register and defend trademarks. And Steve Kurowski of the Colorado Brewers Guild says all of this legal wrangling is taking another toll. It goes against the spirit of his industry.

STEVE KUROWSKI: One thing the craft beer industry really prides itself on is working together. Brewers get together and brew beers together. They go to beer festivals together and tastings together. So it is unusual to see some of this, sort of, action go on in our industry when we're so used to such a collaborative environment.

VERLEE: Not all of these disputes end up with lawyers and hurt feelings. Some brewers have found ways to share overlapping names.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I'm going to do a taster of the Saison(ph), the Twenty and Arimedia(ph) Five.

VERLEE: At the Avery Tap House in Boulder, customers belly up three deep at the bar. Several years ago, founder Adam Avery discovered he and a California company were both making beers called Salvation. Instead of calling lawyers, the two brewers decided to work together. They named the resulting beer Collaboration Not Litigation. The Belgian style ale has become the poster child for how breweries should settle disputes. But Avery understands why people sometimes call in the lawyers

ADAM AVERY: It's not just a bunch of homebrewers any more, you know, run amok. There's a lot of money invested and so, you know, people want to protect, you know, what's theirs and, you know, a name is - can be huge.

VERLEE: Avery says he's started giving many of his beers Latin names. With the field for English language beer names getting ever more crowded, turning to a dead tongue might be a wise choice. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Megan Verlee in Denver.

YOUNG: So, perhaps, a cautionary tale for you homebrewers out there, have you ever had to settle a dispute over a name, or you think you have the most creative name? Let us know at Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.