Berrong on Beer - Can't we all just brew along?
CNN — The beer world has been up in arms this week as word spread that established brewery, Magic Hat, was filing a lawsuit against newly formed West Sixth Brewery, out of Lexington, Kentucky. Both breweries have weighed in and countless others have opined online.
The storyline sounds like a typical one: big corporation bullies the mom-and-pop little guys in order to get their way. But, when you look at both sides, it's not so black and white.
Here's the Cliff's Notes version of the story. Magic Hat out of Burlington, Vermont, has been a brewery since 1994 and makes a beer, their flagship, called #9. West Sixth has been brewing beer for about a year in Lexington, Kentucky. The brewery and beer names have little in common but, you don't have to be a graphic designer to realize the labels are similar.
Magic Hat, via their attorney, wrote a letter to West Sixth last fall asking them to change their logo and account for royalties from sales or face legal action. West Sixth responded with a rebuttal letter and denied the similarities but also agreed to alter its logo and phase out the existing inventory of the design in question. Then a series of back-and-forth letters were exchanged between the two breweries and it almost seemed like a resolution was forthcoming.
But, West Sixth reneged on their offer, arguing that replacing their logo entirely would be too costly and thus, would remain to use the logo in question. And so Magic Hat filed a lawsuit. And West Sixth countered with a social media campaign encouraging people to sign a petition and pledge "No More Magic Hat."
And then the small percentage of the internet reserved for arguing beer geeks, exploded.
Reading the attorney's letters to each respective brewery is a total bore and I wouldn't recommend reading them unless you enjoy punishing yourself.
But, I really wish the dialogue between the breweries would have continued. I wish it didn't get to a breaking point and cause a lawsuit followed by a social media campaign engineered to raise a stink.
The craft beer world is better than that. (It's worth noting that many do not consider Magic Hat a craft brewery due to their ownership by a foreign corporation, Florida Ice & Farm, based in Costa Rica.)
I've heard countless stories of breweries in the same town, competing for the same customers, borrowing ingredients from each other. Or breweries coming together to raise money for a worthy cause.
And then there's the story of Russian River and Avery, two breweries that realized they were brewing a beer with the exact same name -- Salvation. Instead of legal action, which applies much more in this case than the one mentioned above, the two breweries decided to blend the two Salvations together and release one beer appropriately named, Collaboration Not Litigation.
And that's my humble advice to Magic Hat and West Sixth: work this matter out, outside the walls of a courtroom, and then brew a beer together that shows solidarity, not separation. In fact, you can even name it that. Plus, I don't think the obvious choice of "69" is going to get the green-light in the marketplace.
I tweeted this proposal out to both breweries yesterday and West Sixth seems to be on board:
@WestSixth: Sure! RT @nathanberrong Hey @WestSixth and @MagicHat, when all of dust settles, how about a collaboration beer? RT if agree #craftbeer #beer
That's a start. Now it's your turn, Magic Hat. Once everything's sorted out, is there a chance of a collaboration beer with West Sixth? The beer's in your court.
Collaboration beers have become somewhat of a trend recently. Most are collaborations between friends or craft breweries that admire each other's work. And then others collaborate on a beer to signify unity instead of division. Which, for me, is a big part of why I drink craft beer.
Regardless of the reasons, here are eight brewery collaborations worth checking out:
Avery (CO) and Russian River (CA) Collaboration Not Litigation (pictured)
New Belgium (CO) and Red Rock (UT) Paardebloem
Jester King (TX) and Mikkeller (Denmark) Drink'in The Sunbelt
Green Flash (CA) and Founders (MI) Linchpin IPA
Sierra Nevada (CA) and Boulevard (MO) Terra Incognita
Stone (CA) Aleman (IL) and Two Brothers (IL) Dayman Coffee IPA
Maui Brewing (HI) and Lost Abbey (CA) Lemongrass Saison
Yazoo (TN) and Calfkiller (TN) The Beacon
What is your favorite collaboration beer and what advice would you give on how to resolve the Magic Hat-West Sixth snafu?