March 25, 2011

Remember When I Said There Would Be More of This?

One of those newsy posts...

More Intellectual Property Fights
It's not just breweries that are dealing with intellectual property stuff; now Northern Brewer, the home brew supplier, has gotten a C&D from Bell's Brewery for a clone kit they sell. At first, NB was put off, but they came to support the move. For more, read Beersage's interview with NB, or Bell's response. As usual, Jim at the Beer and Whiskey Brothers gets it exactly right: This is about establishing a paper trail of defense of a trademark.

There are plenty of arguments against these IP disputes in the craft beer world. As Jim at B&W Bros puts it:
I think many of us see the craft beer industry as a handshake-deal kind of community, where brewers collaborate and most everyone gets along.  Fa-la-la-la-la.  In such a world, a cease and desist letter instead of a friendly phone call might seem harsh.
But most people by now realize it's a business, and such things happen. There is one argument I've heard, though, espoused by even robust craft beer fans, such as my good friend JimShan of Philly Beeraholic. That argument is that Bell's (or Troegs, or Sam Adams) should not send a letter to someone who poses no brand threat, but instead only send it when there is an infringing product. In other words, don't send a C&D to Northern Brewer, send it when a brewery opens up down the street and calls their IPA "Two Hearts IPA."

That argument would be fine, except that the law does not work like that.

Establishing a trademark requires a record of protecting it. It's just that simple. If you don't protect the brand, you lose it, and when the brewery down the street opens up and tries to steal your brand, you're SOL. So if you want everyone to be friends, or you don't believe in IP rights, those are fine veiwpoints to have (although you'll be disappointed), but the one argument that has no legal relevance is whether the brewery getting sued actually poses a threat. It's not about that, it's about establishing a record of protection.

More Beer Ticket Issues
I am one of the many people who did not get tickets to SAVOR when they had their now-famous site meltdown, after I missed pre-sale because I was in a meeting. Now, Dark Lord Day at 3Floyds has had what the B&W Bros called a "shibacle" with their own ticket sales, selling out in 23 minutes or something. In both cases, long-time fans and attendees missed out, and at least a few tickets went to brokers who are now selling them for ten times the asking price. 

I reached out to SAVOR organizers at the Brewers' Association to ask them some questions about organizing an event. I wanted to learn a little more about what goes into a ticket-ordering Website, the decisions involved with balancing exclusivity and insane demand, what if anything an event can do to keep brokers out and reward loyalty. This is stuff I know a bit about in other areas, but it seemed like it could be valuable insight, and it's certainly timely.

A Brewers' Association spokesperson, Barbara Fusco, got back to me and politely said that they didn't really think my blog was a media priority (hard to argue with that), and gave me some stats telling me just how insane the demand was for SAVOR tickets. I won't lie and say that I'm thrilled the BA didn't think a lowly blogger such as myself was worth their time, but maybe they'll carve some availability out for me another time. I think this is a cool topic that is very relevant to craft beer fans, and it warrants some closer looks.

Too Much Choice?
You can follow the debate about whether there is such a thing as too much choice in an industry, and whether craft beer is there at good places like the Beer-Stained Letter and Lew's blog. The difference seems to be that beer is so cheap and consumable that the usual rules do not apply, and that more choice remains in general a good thing.

I think that's likely true, but there is no question in my mind that, given the cash and distribution constraints in the brewing industry, we're going to sooner or later enter a period of consolidation. That may come in the form of alliances (like the ABI-backed Craft Brewers' Alliance), or straight-out acquisition. Of course, small breweries and brewpubs will be fine, but if they have larger ambitions, I don't see us continuing to gather craft breweries by the hundreds that all will be the next Dogfish or Sierra.

Links:
Your Reward Piece of Beer Art:
via Beersage, the Fantasy Brewmasters' Burdisson's Dwarven Ale
Fantasy Brewmasters is a decidedly cool/strange outfit making beers based on beer from fantasy writing. As a nerd, I love it. As a beer guy, I am intrigued. Also, the art for this is really damn cool.

They've really embraced the fantasy design elements, with the unraveling scrolls and the dramatic lighting from underneath the burly, industrial-looking dwarf. They even got the copper/black/gold color scheme common to so many fantasy epics. The one thing they could have done a little more with is the lettering, which is a standard serif and a tad too prosaic.

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