Category Archives: Lagunitas

‘The Kerning…ing': An Amateur’s Look at the Lagunitas vs. Sierra Nevada Complaint

So are you saying all IPAs look alike?

Updated 1/14/15: Late in the evening of 1/13, Tony Magee took to Twitter to announce that Lagunitas would not continue its legal proceedings against Sierra Nevada. For whatever I thought of Magee’s tone in public statements related to the suit, I am a fan of his and Lagunitas (as well as a longtime Sierra Nevada fan) and I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of sadness to read his statement that 1/13 was “the worst day ever in 23 years of growing my brewery.” 

Discussing the merits of the case seems moot now that it’s not going forward, but there’s a very good analysis offered here. Regardless, I think the precedent set may have been a dangerous one: as fans and enthusiasts, we simply don’t see the business aspects of the industry in rational terms. I respect Magee’s decision to drop the case (and thank him for the nice note he dropped in my Twitter account’s DM box that I can’t reply to), but hope the decision doesn’t come back to bite him later on. 

For now, we’re left to take away whatever conclusions we see fit and move on to the next thing. I wish all the best for both breweries, and encourage everyone to listen to this podcast interview with Magee from December–with his perspective on the state of the industry, and how he sees the role of breweries like Lagunitas and Sierra Nevada going forward as the industry grows. It’s worth a listen.

Now, the original post from 1/13/15/. –Nick 

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So, this happened. A quick heads up: those looking for HOT TAEKS just move along now, as this post is basically going to take many words to say what Hipster Brewfus said here (albeit in a slightly less contentious manner).

It’s easy to be cynical about the Lagunitas complaint filed against Sierra Nevada over the labeling of its new Hop Hunter IPA; there are times when it seems there is nothing beer fans enjoy more than getting pissed off at brewers/breweries/retailers/distributors/each other. Lines are drawn; sides are taken. Nothing is accomplished save for online chest-puffery and desperate attempts at getting the last word.

I’m not going to take sides; I don’t think there’s any real basis for doing so here outside of one’s own personal biases/opinions. Outside of a small group of enthusiasts, no one will likely ever hear much about this no matter the outcome; at heart, this is an ‘inside baseball’ story that is only interesting in that it represents a look into the future of a growing industry. So let’s break it down:

What We Know

For good, more in-depth analysis of the complaint, check out Brendan Palfreyman’s Twitter timeline.  I’ve had the chance to read through the complaint myself; I’m not even close to a lawyer so I’m not going to make any declarations to that end, but it is an interesting document nonetheless. Here are some takeaways:

-“When Lagunitas began selling its now iconic IPA beer in 1995, there existed only a handful of other brewers who produced an India Pale Ale, and, on information and belief, no other company had marketed or sold its India Pale Ale using the acronym ‘IPA.'” Forgetting the first half of that statement, it’s the second part that is interesting here. I was a high school freshman/sophomore in 1995, so I missed a lot of the establishment of what today are the ‘bigger’ names in so-called ‘craft’ beer. The idea of Lagunitas specifically staking a claim to something like “the acronym IPA” had never even entered my mind until this morning.

-“…Lagunitas IPA has become the Company’s flagship beer. It is available year-round and has been the top-selling India Pale Ale in California for the past decade—and one of the best-selling India Pale Ales in the nation.” Not a lawyer alert: I don’t know what kind of legal threshold a document like this has to clear, but I’d love to see the numbers on that “top-selling India Pale Ale in California for the past decade” claim. I wouldn’t be surprised, but I’d just never heard any similar claim and wonder what that list looks like.

-“While other brewers have adopted the shorthand parlance of “IPA” to market their India Pale Ales, only Lagunitas is identified with the large, bold, black, centralized “IPA” lettering…In addition to its distinguishable IPA beer, much of the success of the Lagunitas IPA can be attributed to its iconic “IPA” family of trademarks.” Again, something I guess I’ve just always taken for granted given the ubiquity and history of Lagunitas in my home market, but when I think about it…I can’t argue with that.

-“Lagunitas is well-known for using its distinctive “IPA” lettering in a manner that it is the center and focal point of the overall design. The unique “IPA” lettering used in the Lagunitas “IPA” Family of Trademarks has a distinctive serif font, distinctive kerning (or letter spacing), between the “P” and the “A”, slightly aged or weathered look, with uneven areas on each of the letters, and the elimination of any periods between the letters. These elements together are unique to the iconic design of the Lagunitas IPA.” Here we have the beating heart of Lagunitas’ argument. Learn it. Live it. Love it.

-This isn’t the first time Lagunitas has shut down someone’s “IPA” label: In November 2012, Tony Magee of Lagunitas took issue with Knee Deep’s IPA label, saying it was a little too close to his own. The Knee Deep case was a little more cut-and-dry perhaps, but still–we know Lagunitas will go to bat for what it perceives as its most important symbol.

-Intellectual Property (IP) law is insane and needs reforming–Not a lawyer alert (again): As I understand it, the way things are now, if you have a trademark and there’s any chance of another company infringing upon it, you have to make a case out of it. If you don’t protect your trademarks, you leave yourself open to abuse by any number of competitors. We’ll get back to this later in terms of public perception.

What We Can Infer (aka What We’ll be Arguing About Online)

-Tony takes this stuff personally: If you’re into beer at all, you know either from hanging out on forums or by following him on Twitter just how personally Tony Magee takes his business. That bleeds into the complaint in passages like these:

“The founder and current Chief Executive Officer of Lagunitas, Tony Magee, followed a different path for the Company’s flagship beer and designed the labels to prominently feature the acronym ‘IPA.'”

“Indeed, Lagunitas has invested substantial amounts of time and millions of dollars in promoting the Lagunitas IPA with the Lagunitas “IPA” family of trademarks. Lagunitas is unique among many of its competitors in that the Company’s founder, Tony Magee, still designs the beer labels and strives to instill personality into each of the beer recipes and the corresponding labels and packaging the Company makes.” 

Magee’s been very vocal in the past about breweries encroaching on what he sees as ‘his’ turf–the American IPA. Whether he’s right to see it that way or not is, of course, a matter of perspective.

-The Hop Hunter label is a departure from the regular Sierra Nevada branding: I’d only taken a passing notice of Hop Hunter’s label when I first read about it a couple weeks ago. I was more excited by the prospect of a potentially game-changing year-round ‘Wet Hop’ IPA–I think all of us were. In Lagunitas’ complaint, however, it is noted just how much different Hop Hunter’s packaging looks compared to other Sierra Nevada IPAs:

One of these things is definitely not like the others, but does that mean anything?

In and of itself, that drew a big “who cares?” from many–myself included. What I hadn’t thought of was the similarity between Hop Hunter’s label and the Sierra Nevada ‘Beer Camp’ collaboration labels:

hmmm…

“Particularly given this reputation for collaboration with other brewers, and based upon the obvious similarities to the Lagunitas ‘IPA’ Family of Trademarks, there exists a great likelihood that consumers mistakenly will believe that the ‘Hop Hunter IPA’ is a collaboration with Lagunitas, and, thereby, sponsored or approved by Lagunitas. This creates a consumer-perceived connection between the two breweries, thus providing Sierra Nevada with a shortcut to consumer acceptance of their India Pale Ale offering.”  I’m not sure I ever would’ve seen it if they didn’t call it out, but now that you mention it…

So What Does this Mean, if Anything? 

Like I said earlier, I’m not here to take sides or blast anyone. I will say for those out there who dismiss the complaint out-of-hand because ‘they don’t look that much alike’ to look at the image up top again and bear this in mind from a retailer with over 10 years in this business: people don’t read.

I’ll say it again: people don’t read. I write a weekly newsletter letting consumers who signed up for it know what new arrivals we’re getting in our shop that week, along with a listing of what beers I’ll be sampling that weekend. With the new arrivals, I include pricing, what day the beer will arrive, and if there are any purchasing limits applicable. I then immediately start getting phone calls or email replies asking how much something costs, or if a beer is coming in that day or the next, or how many bottles they can buy, or what I’m sampling that Saturday. We’re all busy; we all don’t have the time to parse over every newsletter or offering we get in our inboxes. We see what we want to see then move along to the next thing we have to do.

A co-worker saw me looking over a story about the complaint and scoffed “Oh GOD–beer people are so bad.” Then I showed them the picture of the sixers up top and they said “You know, at first glance I wouldn’t be able to tell them apart.” Substitute the average consumer at their local grocery store or independent retailer for my co-worker and you see why Tony Magee and Lagunitas filed this complaint; if there’s even a chance that a competitor’s packaging can be seen as infringing upon your trademark, you have to do something.

That said, Magee does Lagunitas no favors when he takes to Twitter to throw stuff like this out (stitched together from his timeline during the day on 1/13/15):

“Trademarks r a big part of what craft brewers do…like a cattle brand or aboriginal peeps tattoo. The 1st TM was Bass Ale’s ‘red triangle’. It represents an awful lot. It’s how u know us as individuals. Maker’s-marks were like that in medieval craft guilds. Identity is subtle biz…We TM’d our IPA as a ‘design mark’. Can’t claim the letters. 1000’s of us make IPAs. Most have found their own cool way t say it w/strength. That work is a genuine tribute to the forces of creativity present in CraftBrewing today. That voice of the individual brewer is very pure. Finding a uniquely individual voice is hard in life&even harder in design: a visual language w/o words. Archetypes. Symbols. Cypheric memes. When doin sumpin new its best to build fr the ground up. It’s time-consuming. Easier to use a sky-hook and lever up on someone else’s works. But there’s a certain cheapness to that & u don’t own the ground you stand on, cuz there is no ground. But it’s easier. And it’s cheaper. Can you imagine what would happen if I used a crown logo or a golden scroll or a red star or a red triangle or a harp on my own label?There would be hell to pay and we’d have it coming…This is a course of action I did not want to take- I tried to work w Ken (Grossman of Sierra Nevada) without succes. Deeply saddened and & I wish it was otherwise.” 

All Magee needed to say was the last sentence of that, along with something to the effect of “If you don’t protect your trademarks against EVERY perceived infringement, they mean nothing. It will be resolved in time.” For its part, Sierra Nevada released a terse statement essentially saying “We’ve been making IPAs since ’81, and put it in big letters on the label so folks know they’re getting an IPA because kidz today like teh IPAs.” (Not a knock; I actually enjoyed the brevity of the statement and suspect brevity was the point.)

These are two of the breweries that got me into beer. I’ve never had anything but great interactions with the folks I’ve had the pleasure of working with from both breweries over the years. I like to think Sierra Nevada designed Hop Hunter’s packaging to stand out in its lineup because as a new year-round beer there’s a lot riding on it (if it’s as good as I’ve heard, they’ve got a winner on their hands) and they wanted to brand it strongly, rather than specifically targeting Lagunitas IPA. I like to think Magee reached out to Grossman early enough that there was a genuine opportunity for Sierra to redo the label if it so chose, rather than spring a complaint against them and their potentially ‘game-changing’ beer at the last-minute.

As usual you’re right, Dwayne.

Fair enough. Here’s what I know: while this case isn’t interesting in-and-of itself, it merits watching because with the growth of ‘craft’, ‘crafty’, ‘artisanal’ beer or whatever you want to call it, this is far from the last time two big players have at each other–and as the business gets bigger, the fights will get uglier.

The future is bright, but it’s far from clean.

Until next time.

 

ArlNow.com Column 6.20.14. (Beer Advertising) Supplemental

(Note: I’m going to start doing these occasionally when there’s a train of thought or a set of ideas that don’t fit into what I’ve written for a particular week’s Your Beermonger column for ArlNow.com. –Nick)

–Stone’ Greg Koch can continue to rail against everything from breweries advertising on TV to ketchup (I swear I’m not making that up); he’s an intelligent, eloquent voice speaking out for those of us who want to take The Man down. Despite Stone’s anti-corporate stance, though, it is undeniably a big business whose beers increasingly are popping up on the shelves of Big Box chain stores and groceries. While Stone continues to rage against the machine, Schlafly’s getting one of those ‘faceless multinationals’ to promote its brewery without the expense of its own national TV campaign. Just something to think about.–

That’s a pretty close approximation of how this week’s ArlNow column was originally going to wrap up. As I was writing, I thought it was needlessly antagonistic toward Stone and Greg Koch personally (who I’m a gigantic fan of), so I scrapped it. But there is a deeper issue for those of us who work with beer and who love beer, and I’d like to delve into that for a moment.

I think Greg speaks for a lot of us with his self-described “screeds”; some of us want our small breweries to take a stand against the corporations whose first commitment isn’t to making the best beer possible, but to increasing the value of its stock. I may take some issue to seeing chains like Total Wine or Whole Foods being allocated so much of Stone’s special releases in light of Koch’s philosopy, or feel an odd ping trying to reconcile Stone’s own corporate ethos and its beers becoming increasingly available in groceries like Giant, Safeway, etc., but there are two important factors to keep in mind here:

1.That beer is being sold by distributors, not Stone. Once the beer is sold to a distributor, breweries have varying degrees of influence as to how its products are sold or to whom they are sold.

2. The beer business is a business. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum; there are real-world issues at play here, and one of them is that Stone is an incredibly popular national name in the beer industry. Any brewers worth a damn is going to want their beers featured in as many supportive markets and retailers withing those markets as possible. There’s a certain extent to which we all need to grow up a little about this.

The achievements of Stone and other top 10 craft brewers (Bell’s, Lagunitas, etc) are remarkable because of the lack of major national ad campaigns involved in their growth. Stone stands out for essentially having a policy of not spending money on advertising. It’s not like Stone doesn’t get into marketing in any way, of course, but it’s still pretty incredible to have the 10th largest craft beer sales by volume without a penny’s worth of bought advertising.

There is room enough in beer for many ideas and approaches, all of which can be correct and all of which can work to the benefit of those implementing them. Even if you’re not politically minded, your decisions as a consumer are inherently political ones: you do in fact vote with your wallet. I do it in my role as a buyer–there are breweries whose items I don’t have an interest in stocking because I don’t want to support their business models. There are brands I won’t carry because I don’t like the imagery of their packaging. That’s my decision to make, just as it’s your decision to think I’m a haughty douchebag for making it, or thinking Greg Koch is an insufferable hipster asshat for not offering you ketchup at the Stone World Bistro and Gardens.

In the end, none of that is as important as recognizing that we can all be right and that when we attack the approaches of well-meaning small breweries, we do the Big Guy’s jobs for them. I don’t get pissed off because Stone, Dogfish, Bell’s, Lagunitas and the like are available at the Giant across the street from me–them being there means we’re winning; that consumers are choosing well-made, interesting, high-quality beer over the stuff that’s been sold to them for decades by, among other methods, gigantic TV ad campaigns.

I’m increasingly becoming fed-up with the term ‘craft beer’, because the point is that there’s nothing ‘special’ about using the highest-quality ingredients to make flavorful, interesting beers–it’s simply doing things the way they should be done. Continuing to say ‘craft beer’ sets us all up to be categorized as just another trend; something for SABInBevMillerCoors to laugh about at their stockholder’s meeting 20 years from now: “Hey remember ‘craft beer’? (everyone erupts in laughter while lighting cigars with Cease & Desist letters and defaulted-upon bank notes)”

History is written by the winners, folks, and as strong as ‘craft beer’ is becoming, it can very easily in-fight itself into ‘passing trend’ status. Stay focused. As the Bard himself said so well:

 

There endeth the lesson.

Thursday Tasting Notes; 12.1.11

Every now and then, I get to try a bunch of stuff out at once. I don’t take notes nearly as often as I used to (or should, for that matter) so it felt like a good enough excuse to post some thoughts as I tried things out tonight. Let’s get going, eh?

Lagunitas Sucks Holiday Ale (BrownShugga’ Replacement)

We all by now have heard the story of how the gang in Petaluma just plain ran out of capacity to brew the ever-popular BrownShugga’ seasonal this year. In its stead we get this IPA that I swear to Flying Spaghetti Monster is a repackaged version of their Kill Ugly Radio release from a few years ago. Not a compliant, mind you; I loved that beer and I love this one too. Aromas are sharp and spicy–black pepper spicy rather than coriander spicy. The palate is a quick rush of tropical fruits with a firm hop backbone establishing itself and carrying through the finish. I got a feeling we’re going to sell through a ton of this (in fact, we went through about 1/2 the 5 cases we got just today).

Le Bilboquet Mackroken Flower Scotch Ale

Now this is some serious cool. The nose alone, with with its sweet toffee malts and hint of honey, is worth the price of admission. The palate is a real treat, though; amid the sweetness of the honey and malt there’s a restrained roastyness that too many breweries tend to dismiss these days. It’s a beautiful thing when done right, and it’s done way right here. Imagine a richer, more robust Scotch de Silly and you’re starting to get the level of craftsmanship and enjoyment Mackroken Flower brings to bear.

Le Bilboquet La Corriveau Oat Stout

These guys in Quebec know what they’re doing: the La Corriveau is a complex, subtle Stout. With some of the nutty notes that I usually associate with aged Barleywines, Corriveau starts off on the palate a bit confusing. A few revisits reveals a mix of grains, chocolate (with a hint of dark chocolate ‘tang’ contributing to the feel–nice touch), and super-subtle hoppiness building to a rich finish. Between the two, I much prefer the Mackroken personally but I think La Corriveau may end up proving the more popular of the two.

Sierra Nevada Ovila Quad

Before I get to the beer itself: good lord I’ve never fought so hard with a cork in my life. No lie; not in a still wine, sparkling, dessert–nothing was like trying to pry the cork from this monster. Something to keep an eye out for if you pick one of these up.

But should you pick one of these up? I…don’t know. There are many different way too look at this beer, and almost all of them lead to different conclusions about it. As a Belgian Quad, Ovila’s a bit tame and thin; the aroma has a fair amount of the medicinal sweetness expected in the style but on the palate it feels lacking, and that medicinal quality goes almost vegetal on the back palate. The finish dissipates all too quickly. As a beer it’s enjoyable enough, but doesn’t stand out among the vast array of great Belgian options out there. Even as a Sierra Nevada beer, it doesn’t offer anything to the drinker that Life & Limb hasn’t already done (and done much better at that).

It’s not bad. It’s just not outstanding, and to make a mark for itself the Ovila beers need to kick the living hell out of expectations. My advice? Wait for the Brandy barrel aged version coming in 2012. That should be interesting.

Avery Rumpkin

*cracks knuckles*

Ok, let’s do this. How do I start to explain this thing? Let’s try…

Hmm. Good, but not quite it. How about…

Yeah; going with that. It’s got funk, dirt, sweet spice. Boozy as all hell. Will get you completely twisted if you aren’t careful. Rumpkin is freakin’ Go-Go made into a beer.

On the first sniff of Rumpkin, I wondered if something was wrong with it. Where was the spice, the gourd, the Rum? All I got off it was dirt-dog earthiness and nose-twitching heat. So I gave it a couple minutes.

(If you don’t think this isn’t turning into an excuse to post random Go-Go classics, just walk away now ’cause it is on over here.)

So, with a few minutes to air out and warm up a bit Rumpkin lets a bit more of the spice and pumpkin loose. The first taste is where Rumpkin gets you loose; it’s sweet without cloying and the rum barrel makes all kinds of sense in all the right/wrong ways. Beware: Rumpkin doesn’t feel 15.9% ABV and that only encourages you to roll with it. The lack of sweetness and overwhelming alcohol feel lets you enjoy Rumpkin for the great Pumpkin Ale it is. If you can snag some of this, do it.

I’m genuinely stunned at how much I dig this beer. I was expecting an over-the-top booze/sugar bomb with some pumpkin and spice thrown in to justify its existence–and I would’ve been down with that, if not totally enamored. But this is a legit creation with nuance and soul.

And it’ll make you want to get up and shake your ass. Can I just say, in summation: Goddamn I love the Northeast Groovers. ‘Til next time.

Cheers!

-Beermonger

Local Kicks Column, Weekend Preview….and The Beermonger Mini-Review: Stone Vertical Epic 8.8.08

Hey Hey,

Local Kicks Column here. Kind of past-due now that I’ve had a chance to try this year’s Vertical, but oh well.

Friday Tasting at Rick’s Wine & Gourmet:

-Victory Festbier

-Paulaner Oktoberfest

-Ayinger Oktoberfest

-Just for the hell of it, I’m tasting out Allagash Four. I’m very curious to try it, and it’s my beer department so that’s what we’re going to do.

Saturday Beer Tasting at Rick’s Wine & Gourmet:

-Allagash Fluxus. Tried this tonight. Very cool beer. Ginger is very much the big flavor here, and it drinks so much bigger than the average Belgian White. This is the beer for your friends who give you shit for drinking White Rascal or Southampton Double White. You show ’em.

-Lagunitas We’re Only In It For The Money. Surprise! The boys in Petaluma weren’t going to send this one out (didn’t want to deal with the state’s label approval bullshit—understandable) but apparently changed their foggy little blessed minds. I’ve heard it’s a Belgian-style Tripel.

-Stone Vertical Epic 8.8.08 (More info below)

-Rogue Brewers Ale 2008. Bigass ceramic bottle. Bigass amber hoppy beer. What else do you need to know?

-Weyerbacher XIII. Trying this out tomorrow. Sounds like an absolute monster. A 13.6% ABV Belgian-style (notice a pattern here?) Stout. I’ll be bringing some serious beer food to handle this beast.

So, Vertical Epic…Always a highlight of the Beer Year for me (it’s like Advent, except not). The ’08 version is a Belgian IPA, and boy is it. It really is San Diego by way of Ghent. I’ll give a shout out to thebeersnob who mentioned mango and banana notes in it. Those are there—the yeasts are very specific in flavor and are huge even for the style. The story here is the hoppiness, which is a ballsy lupulin smack that I don’t think the Belgians have quite nailed yet. Even the biggest of the Belgian IPA’s are finesse; nothing too crazy, hoppy but never leaving your mouth slightly numb. This isn’t a Belgian IPA, per se: It’s an IPA-Tripel.

I think the fruity flavors are great in the beer, though it will be interesting to see how it develops over time. I think in about 8-12 months this is going to be a shockingly refreshing Belgian Strong Pale Ale. Almost like some of the De Dolle stuff, but more exaggerated.

Overall, 8.8.08 is kick-ass. Impressive in all kinds of new ways, as the guys at Stone (who don’t spend a lot of focus on Belgian-style ales, thought that seems to be changing) keep upping their game. Good on ya, gargoyle. See you Saturday if you can make it out.

Beermonger