Strange Things Are Afoot At Strange And Strange

Good day, eh?

You’ve likely heard the news: it seems that our local Strange Brewing Company and some homebrew store in Massachusetts are having a little bit of a legal twist-up over the name “Strange” followed up by some iteration of the term “Brew.”

I am going to be up front. Where lawyers are involved I generally try mind my own business. I didn’t ask for comments or accusations from either side so they can attempt to sway this argument one way or the other. Instead, I am just going to muse about what I figure against what I have read in various small rags. I hope you don’t mind that I am going off half-cocked into this arena.

I don’t know exactly how this got started, the specifics are rather unclear. Strange Brewing Co has always had a lot of fans. Those fans are giving a lot of attention and publicity as they generally like to promote the things they like. Good for them. I like it. Word is getting out and people across the country know about Denver’s Strange Brewing Company.

Except for some homebrew store someplace out in Massachusetts who sells their stuff online sends a lawyer after Strange Brewing Co packing a copyright infringement claim. Watch out! While you can read the full correspondence over on Jonathan Shikes’ Westword article, I will try to cut out the critical bits for you. For the sake of ease, I am going to refer to Massachusetts Strange Brew as Evil Strange (ES) and Not Evil Strange (NES) for our hometown boys.

Now, the Blood Sucking Lawyer (BSL) for ES claims that there have been a number of problems with the sharing of names. This has to do with billing, supplier account management, customers assuming some connection, et cetera. General confusion. I get that it could be annoying to have to say, “Nope that is not me” every so often. It could even be worse to have a big bill charged to you by accident. Would it make me mad enough to get a BSL? I don’t know. Maybe. I guess that I would have to be within the situation to know for sure. The gist is that since ES had a trademark awarded to them in 2007 they think that NES, which is award-winning and popular enough to be on the national radar, should change their name.

NES responded and figured they would try and work something out. They made claims about how common the name “Strange Brew” is  throughout beer, coffee and other industries. NES also mentions that since it is so common, they always make an effort to be clear when they use their own name. They went so far as to offer collaboration in an attempt to make this whole thing a marketing ploy for both parties and using the famous Avery/Russian River Collaboration Not Litigation beer as an example. Seems like a sensible approach that attempts to avoid a protracted legal battle where both parties blow a shitload of cash on BSLs (who seem to be the real winners). This offer was rebuffed in a letter from ES‘s BSL and claimed offensive. What a dick!

OK, that catches us all up to speed. Now here is where I come from: First, I drink craft beer. Secondly I make it at home and shop from many different supply retailers, including some that are online. I am also a fan of SCTV and the movie Strange Brew. Considering all of these weighing biases, here are my thoughts on the situation and ensuing legal bullshit:

1. Strange Brew and any iteration of the term thereof that you choose to name your company or product is hacky and stupid. It is not creative or funny. I am not a marketing guy and I am about as brand-savvy as a toilet seat but even I roll my eyes when I hear about another “Strange Brew” on the market. It is dumb.

2. (or maybe 1.5 subset A) The term Strange Brew predates the movie in popular culture (see Cream’s 1967 song called Strange Brew) and while I could not find a specific history of the term, it seems to go back pretty far into the use of the English language referring to mystical potions and crap like that. Needless to say, the term is common, used constantly in conversation and well entrenched in the vernacular of English-speaking countries.

3. The ability to trademark commonly used terms like this and then have any legal leg to stand on in the case of confusion is bullshit. I can’t change the government but someone should look into how stupid that is and then move to revoke all laws that could be considered “stupid”.

4. The BSL for ES claims that “In the 16 years in which my client has been in business, through aggressive and diligent efforts and the sales and marketing of extremely high quality products and services, my client has generated a massive customer base spanning the entire United States, including well over two dozen active customers throughout Colorado and Metropolitan Denver.”  This is corny. I have been homebrewing for the better part of a decade. I am also cheap as shit. I look for the best deals wherever I can get them. I have never heard of this place. In fact, if you google Strange Brew, ES does not show up for several pages. Links to NES, coffee shops, the movie, Cream’s song lyrics, bars, and one website to purchase products of the occult precedes ES. In fact, I’m not sure what page ES shows up on, as I got bored after page 15 and gave up. If you are a douche who thinks you are clever (or a non-douche homebrewer in Marlboro or Marlborough, Mass) and google Strange Brew homebrew, ES is the first listing. To me, it seems that they do not have a huge influence. 24 people does not constitute “massive,” in anyone’s book. Hell, even if they have 24 customers per state. Better yet, lets round up to 2000 customers. That is a laughable number compared to the online juggernaut of a Northern Brewer or Midwest Supply. More people take a dump in Northern Brewer’s brick and mortar store than shop online at ES.

5. I want to return to my previous example of the naming conflict between Avery and Russian River. In this case we saw two very influential and successful companies come together to avoid a crippling legal battle. In a simpler sense, they came together to avoid the irritation of changing the name of their products. I have met the respective owners of these companies a few times over the years. They are nice guys but they have massive egos and care about their products and reputations foremost above all things. They overcame professional pride together and worked it out in a way that benefited them and their consumers. This is a good example. On the other hand Gordon Biersch or some BSL representative made Oskar Blues change the name of one of my favorite beers. (I realize that CraftWorks, claims that OB broke a verbal agreement, but still.) Gordon is now named G’Knight. It did not change the beer and I drink it every chance that I get. Here is the real result: I would rather swill a gallon of hobo piss to catch a buzz than drink a Gordon Biersch product again. Regardless of reasoning or reality, this type of litigation has an effect on folks in an industry with very fickle non-brand-loyal consumers. The backlash is already apparent on ES’s Facebook page. Simply, their page is fucking gone. Poor guy must be catching a lot of nasty comments.

I could go on all day about this. Both companies used a completely prosaic name that in no way sets them apart from the crowd. This is the fault of both parties. Considering that, your laziness (or misguided lack of cleverness) in no way justifies bringing legal action against the other. Sure, it is annoying to have to deal with accounting mistakes and it probably does sting a bit to have customers asking about a company that isn’t yours. I think that NES should assuage some of that sting by being proactive in finding ways to prevent the mistakes and regularly sending kegs of beer to ES. That would be cool right? Regardless, if you can be petty and have fights like this in the national limelight when you are a small homebrew store trying to scratch out a living, you should be really goddamned ashamed of yourself. Don’t you have grain to stock?

So comment below if you have not blown out your ire on other pages. I guess the take home is this: Be better than the next guy in every thing that you do in your craft. Be clever and set yourself apart, but there is no reason not to work together with those in your craft and field of influence. Stop being a fucking dick to other small guys like yourself, you might all get big together.

One more thing: What do you call a million lawyers on the bottom of the ocean? A good fucking start.

About Chris Washenberger

What is my favorite drink? Huh... That is a tough one. What do you have? That is probably it.

  • T Beseda

    Yeah, pretty much bullshit. Same as the Vermonster debacle…

  • matt hughes

    nice column, eh! what’s the deal with these dicks from Massachusetts, anyway? Still haven’t met one that i like…

  • seth gerard

    interesting to note as well that the BSL for ES is based right here in the napa valley of beer. (17th st to be precise).

    Its a shame really, strange is one of my favorite local breweries.

  • Chris Washenberger

    It is just generally asinine. There have been a few updates since I wrote this. Brian Powers responded personally in the comments at Westword and on the Keep Strange Brewing Strange facebook page. I don’t know what to do with that.

    He justifies his position, which I get – and again, I am not sure that I would not do the same if I had vendors giving me issues at my own business. I am just gobsmacked that he did not expect this (Strange Brewing Co, I am looking at you too. I hope you were not surprised) type of thing under the circumstances.

    Anyway, the chips have to fall. I hope both companies survive if they go to court. It sucks to see one small business go after another. I think as a sign of good faith to drinkers and homebrewers, they should both have to pick a name that shows some sign of creativity.

  • Chris

    A trademark is a trademark look apple sues Samsung Samsung sues apple. Apple corp sue apple all the time. This is america

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