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UPDATED: Strange Brew vs Strange Brewing Company

UPDATED: Strange Brew vs Strange Brewing Company
Avg. Reading Time: 8 min

This morning it was announced that Marlboro, MA based Strange Brew Homebrew Shop and Denver, CO based Strange Brewing Company reached a mutual settlement on their year long trademark dispute.

“I am glad that we were finally able to come to a resolution which respects our right to the Strange Brew trademark while still keeping Strange Brewing Strange,” said Brian Powers, owner of Strange Brew Beer & Wine Making. “Now we can focus on providing quality home brewing supplies throughout the busy upcoming holiday season, and moving forward with the permitting and construction of our own nano brewery.”

“As a small craft brewery, our objective is to create exceptional craft beer for our local, Denver community,” said Strange Brewing co-founder and head brewer, Tim Myers. “We’re extremely optimistic about the future and look forward to finalizing the agreement so that we can continue doing what we love – brewing quality, small-batch craft beer.”

Despite the settlement which allows Denver’s Strange Brewing to keep it’s name, in the opinion of this blog, Massachusetts based Strange Brew Beer & Wine Making still remains a giant turd. For more background on the dispute, listed below is our previous post:

Recently, the Westword published a post explaining how a Massachusetts based homebrew store was taking legal actions against Colorado’s Strange Brewing Company.  What resulted was the craft beer community doing what would be expected of the craft beer community, which was to stand up for Denver’s Strange Brewing Co.  Since then, BeerPulse.com has published the home brew shop owner’s rebuttal letter.  Here is that letter in it’s entirety.  And following that letter is my editorial rant against Brian Powers.

Strange Brew faces trademark threat from Colorado brewery.

Attention loyal customers, friends of Strange Brew, and others who care to hear the whole story and who care about the truth.

As you may have recently heard, Strange Brew is in the midst of a trademark dispute with a small two year old start-up microbrewery in Colorado that “coincidentally” has decided to call itself “Strange Brewing Company.”    Simply put, they are trying to profit from the valuable reputation and the good will that we have built up over the last 16 years in our brand.  They have admitted they knew of us and our name when they started, but apparently they thought they would just slip under the radar.   We have demanded that they stop, but instead of facing up to the situation, they have decided to “fight back” by stirring up a social media lynch mob,  trashing us and our lawyer for protecting our brand.  This has included several media posts that contain a completely inaccurate distortion of the real situation.  This is becoming a distraction and it is time to set the record straight.  Enough is enough.

Draw any conclusions you want, but please don’t do so until you have all the facts.  Please consider the following.

Strange Brew LLC. in Marlborough Massachusetts is a small, family owned business, that has been in existence since 1997. We are a “local business” just like Strange Brewing Company.  We sell quality products, just like they do.   We have worked hard for years to provide quality home-brewing supplies and brewing advice to the local, national, and international brewing community. We currently hold a federal trademark for both beer, and beer and winemaking supplies. We are, in short, no bigger than the folks in Denver, the only difference is that we have been around for almost two decades, selling quality products and slowly building a valuable brand.  We have taken the right steps to protect our brand, like any other well run business, and for that we are now being  branded as bullies. We sell supplies through a number of retail, and online outlets, including dozens of current customers in Colorado, a place that has become one of the standout microbrewery capitals of the country, and we’re proud to be a part of it.

We are also  currently in the process of opening a small brewery in Massachusetts. Through the years we have also sold beer products, and we are now focused on expanding that division as our business continues to grow.

Strange Brewing Co. has admitted that they were aware of us when they started their own business using our name. They have stated their belief that due to our geographic distance, and the fact that they only sell beer, not beer supplies, there should be no reason to complain.  Here is the problem.  First, like it or not, their decision to copy our name is causing confusion.  We live in a wireless, digital age where geographic factors are more irrelevant each day.  The fact that we are on the East Coast is meaningless.  We continually do business with our Colorado customers, and have repeatedly had customers, both from Colorado and elsewhere,  comment to us that they tried “our beer” in Denver.  Some of our vendors and suppliers have also been confused, and in a couple of cases we were unable to purchase supplies on credit because of a negative credit reference that arose after payments were mistakenly applied to the wrong account, due to the similarity in our names.  Finally, we have been unfairly portrayed as trying to “steal” their name, as if this is a David and Goliath scenario in which we are some corporate giant, like Starbucks or Coca-Cola, mercilessly picking on the little guy.  That’s just not the case.    They try to portray us as thieves – but who is the real thief here?  The ones who have been around since 1997 or the ones who decided to copy our brand less than two years ago, instead of doing it the old fashioned way and coming with a brand of their own?  Who is stealing from whom?

We have to protect our assets, just like any small business trying to make it in today’s world.  We have struggled hard to get where we are, not through harassing our competitors with some social media rant, but through selling good products and backing up our brand.   We would be disloyal to our customers and our families if we didn’t try to protect what we have earned.   To maintain OUR federal trademark rights, we cannot allow another similar business to use our name and hijack the good will we have earned.

We were forced to hire a lawyer and send a cease and desist letter to the infringing company.

Knowing that they have no legal defense here,  Strange Brewing Company in Colorado has decided, rather than to face up to the mistake they made, to start a social media war, hoping that they can beat us into submission.   Fortunately, the U.S. system of justice is not about popularity contests, or who is better at sending anonymous (but easily traceable) hate mail through web portals.  It  is based on application of the law to the facts, and in this case, if necessary, a court is going to find that the Strange Brewing Company has infringed our trademark rights.  It’s that simple. They claim that they want to avoid a costly legal battle and collaborate, but their only offer has been to allow us to clone their recipe kits. How exactly is that fair? They copy our valuable name, and then “offer” to let us sell their product?  Seriously?  We too would prefer to spend our time and money doing something besides going to court, but if that is the only offer on the table, then thanks but no thanks.   We have to, and will, protect our brand and the 16-year investment we have made, and we are tired of playing games.

I do not personally know the people from Strange Brewing Company. I am sure that they make good beer, and work hard and they obviously have a loyal following, but the issue of integrity and personal responsibility seems somehow to have been lost.  I  was ready to assume that they were also ‘nice guys’ but I question their approach to dealing with this clear-cut legal matter.  They have posted our privileged legal communications in an attempt to paint themselves as the victim here.  Not  so – if there is a victim here it is us, not them.  The local Denver press seems to have picked up on this as well, but so far not one of the journalists has bothered to get our side of the story or even attempt to get their facts straight.

‘Someone’ started a Facebook page called ‘Keep Strange Brewing Strange’ in support of the company that is currently infringing upon our trademark. This campaign is picking up steam, and spreading slanderous, hateful speech, which is causing damage to the brand that we have spent decades building.

We were forced to temporarily suspend our Facebook page while we deal with the barrage of untrue and hateful comments about Strange Brew.  The site is back up now, but our Yelp rating is dropping fast.  Please don’t let this happen.  We also invite you to come sample our products as well, and maybe you will understand the reputation we have worked so hard to earn.

While I am always hesitant to ask for help, I don’t think I can handle this alone.

Any support you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,

Brian Powers

Strange Brew
Beer and Beer and Winemaking Supplies

 

This is the most ridiculous rebuttal note I have ever read. Lets analyze this and break it down a bit…
1) “Simply put they are trying to profit from the valuable reputation and the good will that we have built up over the last 16 years in our brand.” Are you kidding me?

Are you really so narcissistic to believe that Strange Brewing chose their name to bank off of some irrelevant home brew store in Massachusetts, or are you just that out of touch with pop culture to think that the movie and song had no impression on any other beer/pop culture fan?
2) “We have demanded that they stop, but instead of facing up to the situation, they have decided to “fight back” by stirring up a social media lynch mob, trashing us and our lawyer for protecting our brand.”

Actually coverage of your suit was covered by a local online publication and the backlash was a result of the brewing community, which is based on community and cooperation, standing up for your lack of community and partnership. These are not the ideals which has helped to make the craft beer industry boom, this not what has made this industry as successful as it is today. And when you disrupt that community, those people and businesses as a whole will stand up for those who are being wronged.
3) Finally, we have been unfairly portrayed as trying to “steal” their name, as if this is a David and Goliath scenario in which we are some corporate giant, like Starbucks or Coca-Cola, mercilessly picking on the little guy.

False.

4)”We would be disloyal to our customers and our families if we didn’t try to protect what we have earned.”

You are being disloyal to the craft beer industry through your legal actions.

5)”Strange Brewing Company in Colorado has decided, rather than to face up to the mistake they made, to start a social media war, hoping that they can beat us into submission.”

The only thing Strange has done on social media to address those actions was one reposting of The Westword’s article on their own Facebook page.

6)”They have posted our privileged legal communications in an attempt to paint themselves as the victim here.”

Again false.

7)”We were forced to temporarily suspend our Facebook page while we deal with the barrage of untrue and hateful comments about Strange Brew. The site is back up now, but our Yelp rating is dropping fast. Please don’t let this happen.”

Cry me a river.

Here’s the deal Brian Powers, you are completely entitled to legal actions, but the whole PR shit storm you now face is a result of your own miscues. As I’ve mentioned before the beer community is about lending a helping hand, about promoting craft beer, and about supporting those like minded individuals who share those same ideals. This open letter about needing help is a joke, after following the events that have transpired since the Westword first published their post, your note seems to be the only one actively trying to victimize. So quit your pity party and take responsibility for your actions. Sure you can sue, but what good does it really do? Nothing. Go back to selling your product and let Strange Brewing Company go back to selling theirs.

Perhaps I am completely off base or perhaps you agree.  Let us know how you feel about this issue by posting in the comment section below.

Comments

  1. Keith Antul

    Two caveats before I comment: First off, I’m a Massachusetts resident and an occasional customer of Strange Brew.

    Secondly, any kind of meaningful dialogue on this topic has to accept the fact that Strange Brew holds two trademarks. One for the homebrew supplies, another for beer production. The first trademark creates an apples-to-oranges comparison: homebrew shops are not breweries, typically, just as breweries are not coffee shops. They exist in distinct trademark space. But you can file a trademark for intent-to-use to reserve a name for future business, as Strange Brew did. If they had a third trademark for surfboards, they’d have as much recourse against a new company trying to make Strange Brew surfboards. You own the mark as long as you pay for it and never let it lapse.

    More to the point, as I gather you are much into the Colorado beer scene, I would suggest polling Strange Brewing’s neighbor brewers throughout the state, and inquire as to how they might deal with, say, an ‘Avery Ale Company’ or a ‘Left Handed Brewing’ opening up in Massachusetts. I could be wrong, but I have a feeling they wouldn’t accept the dilution of their trademarked brands.

  2. CL

    I personally think that the Mass. company is probably right- they just may not be going about it in the best way. I think in this case that the newer company should simply take the high road and go ahead and change their name. I mean really, there have to be some other cool names for breweries out there, right? Why make a big deal out of it?

  3. Keith I think you make great points and I agree that Strange Brew is fully within their legal right to pursue legal action. My greater point however is that Powers should also understand the social ramifications of his actions. While it is within his legal right, the craft beer community is entitled to their own response as well. My best comparison would be to the unwritten bro code. If your buddy started dating your ex without you being ok with it, legal it’s within his right to do so but your group of friends would likely not approve and create backlash. While it’s not the same situation, its an example of breaking an unwritten rule within a like-minded community. Brew-code.
    -Tristan

  4. Keith Antul

    There are things I’d have done differently, if I owned the shop. I would have written a different letter, certainly, and I wouldn’t have led the discussion with a cease and desist. I tend to agonize on my choice of wording more than that.

    I’m awfully leery of the idea that social media pressure should discourage a business from defending its trademark, just because it’s a brewery. What happens when Strange Brewery, and Strange Brewhouse, etc, open up?

    I do wish people could objectively consider this from more than the angle for which they have sympathy. I’d be irked if I built up a ~17 year business, taking it from a hole-in-the-wall to a fairly huge shop (certainly one of the biggest on the east coast), and then I see Mr. Myers’ very first quote in Westword dismissing it as “a shop that sells Mr. Beer kits.” (I’d first wonder how many Mr. Beer kits it takes to fill up one of those 27-gallon Blichmann conicals on the shop floor). Because people tend to side with the perceived underdog, Strange Brewing isn’t really getting called out for their own responsibility in all of this.

    I’ve been in very nearly the same sort of trademark situation as Strange Brewing, so I really do sympathize with their situation. I honestly believe it’ll be better for them in the long run, and ultimately, it will be an opportunity to establish a more unique brand in a market that is rapidly cluttering.

  5. Buzz Hooker

    Tristan,

    Do you think the folks at Strange Brewing ever considered calling themselves Coors Brewing. Probalby not. And it should be for the same reason they should’t have considered calling themselves Strange Brewing, the name was already taken.

    Buzz

  6. Buzz you make a good point but I think the major difference here is that a) The home brew shop is exactly that… a home brew shop and not a brewery and b) the term Strange Brew was already part of the American lexicon as a part of pop culture. This movie and song reference has resonated with many, and thus has inspired more than one person within the beer community. Hopefully both sides find a peaceful resolution without having to take legal action.

  7. Captain Hindsight

    The Denver-based company should have picked a unique name. The odds of spending precious resources on legal fees would have been drastically cut. Picking an already taken name was, therefore, silly.

    The Marlborough-based company should have avoided going straight to a cease and desist order. This would have limited the chances of a media backlash. Approaching things in an oafish manner will get you labeled as such.

    Though making predictions is not my forte, I am guessing both companies will benefit from the publicity. Yay!

  8. EP

    I think think the big point that is being missed here is that both companies are part of this craft brewing community, with the Mass. store actually being a part of it before the industry explosion. Name calling on either side of the aisle – and especially from PD – is not useful dialogue nor does it carry the kind of camaraderie we want the craft beer community to carry.

    This is reminiscent of the West Sixth/Magic Hat incident. I immediately had a visceral reaction to that case because I am a Lexington native. But, when you actually examine the legal details, Magic Hat had a strong and well-founded case. I love West Sixth, but the agency that designed their trademark was legally ignorant and did not do their due-diligence. Neither did the brewery. This is likely what happened with Strange Brewing. You cannot make a similar or tangentially related product without doing your legal due diligence, which absolutely includes any possibilities for trademark and/or copy right infringement.

    We all love being part of the craft beer community but many times forget that at the end of the day, breweries are businesses and subject to laws and regulations just like any other business. These laws and regulations must be respected so that consumers get safe products, we can continue to grow the industry, and keep it profitable. If craft brewing is no longer profitable, we wouldn’t have the beers around that we enjoy.

  9. Great points raised by all. However here’s where I’m coming from, Strange Brew Beer and Wine Making was a homebrew shop at the time when Denver’s Strange Brewery was founded. Just because they sold supplies for brewing beer does that automatically give them domain for eventually expanding to starting a brewery in the future? Let’s not also forget that “Strange Brew” is a part of the American lexicon due to it originating from a movie/song. Strange Brewing did their diligence to ensure that there wasn’t another Strange Brewery out there but it shouldn’t fall on their shoulders to check every Liquor Store, Homebrew shop, and Hop Farm out there. Does a grocery story have trademarking domain over every restaurant in the US?

    Also to clarify, I do completely believe in supporting the beer community and the brotherhood aspect within that community. But I believe once you break that trust of the community, we have the right to call them out on the unnecessary decision of immediately turning to litigation.

    • Captain Hindsight

      Your grocery store/restaurant illustration makes sense, except that the Mass. company did have their name trademarked for brewing. Unless, of course, I am ill-informed.

      Either way, does it count as breaking the trust of the community, if you knowingly steel the name of an existing company in a related business? I know if I were to start my own winery in California, I would not call it “Stomp Dem Grapes.” It just doesn’t seem like a nice thing to do. Ultimately, had Strange Brewing given their brewery a unique name, no trust would have been broken.

      I should also note that I am a fan of Strange Brewing Company’s beer and will continue to imbibe. Their past poor decision making has not affected my taste for their product.

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