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Archive for August, 2011

COLAs on the Front Page

It’s not every day that you see COLA news on the front page of the newspaper, but it does happen from time to time. On Saturday, The Wall Street Journal featured COLA news on the front page. The story explained that no less than three companies have been trying to use Buffalo Bill as part of their branding — with two of them fighting it out in court. “The two entrepreneurs are fighting in court for the exclusive right to sell beer that trades on the musky aura of adventure surrounding Army-scout-turned-bison-hunter-turned-sharpshooting-showman William F. Cody.”

Eric Bischoff got his first COLA in March of 2011 (and the second one is here). He is a “former professional wrestling icon.”

While Bischoff already has the COLAs and applied for the trademark, it looks like Mike Darby has been selling beer under the Buffalo Bill name since before Bischoff. But “Mr. Darby failed to get federal approval of his label, as required by the law. (Mr. Darby says he thought the brewer and distributor had taken care of that.)” Darby owns a hotel in Cody, Wyoming “built by Buffalo Bill in 1902.” Darby “had to pull his beer from the market” while awaiting label approval.

The third company is affiliated with Bill Owens, but is not interested in fighting over the brand name. The brewery does not even seem to claim trademark on the brand name. The story says Owens has moved on from making beer and now runs a trade group for craft distillers (“It’s much more fun to be involved with people making whiskey, vodka and absinthe, he says.”) This may allow him to avoid a roundhouse kick, a six-shooter, and the swirling lawsuits.

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Make Your Own Spirits

It’s clearly okay to go home, add some tomato juice to your vodka, and call it a bloody mary. And it’s almost certainly a bad idea to go home and fire up your small pot still, to make just a little spirits.

Somewhere in the middle, we now have “High Proof Micro-Batch Distilled Neutral Spirit Designed for Infusing.” It comes in a 375 ml. bottle, at 160 proof. It is made by The Northern Maine Distilling Company, of Houlton, Maine. The first related approval seems to go back about one year. It mentions that the vodka is designed for “infusions, extractions, mixology, and culinary applications.” The information-packed website explains:

160 Proof?  Yikes!  Don’t freak over the proof!  The high concentration of alcohol makes Twenty 2 HPS perfect for infusing fruits, vegetables, meats, or dairy into vibrant liqueurs or flavored vodkas.  Think of the 160 Proof like a very sharp knife in your kitchen.  If you handle the knife with respect, it can perform amazing tasks.  Same with the High Proof Spirit.  It’s “sharp blade” creates infusions in hours, not weeks.

We think Northern’s COLA is interesting because we don’t know of too many other products designed for this manner of use. Also, the label underscores that TTB has no problem with strength claims on certain spirits products. This one has “High Proof” in big letters. Plenty of other labels have “Overproof.”

The site has many copyrighted recipes, such as “The Dude’s Caucasian,” inspired by Jeff Bridges and The Big Lebowski. Other eye-opening recipes include:

  • Smoked Gouda Infused Vodka
  • Caramelized Red Onion Infused Vodka
  • Failed Recipes such as Bacon Infused Vodka (“One of the simple rules of this game, like distilling, is ‘junk in = junk out.’” “These are not soy based Bacos, but actual real bacon pieces packed with preservatives so that they don’t need to be refrigerated.  Yum?  Maybe on a salad, but not in an infusion.” “The flavor was of bacon, but not pleasant.  It just wasn’t good.”)

I spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out why Twenty 2 as a brand name. I assumed it had something to do with the consumer’s age, such that, e.g., 7 Teen would not be a good choice. The answer was not evident on the company’s website but may be here:

originally, the name for the vodka was Jewell Vodka. But a company out West already had a copyright [trademark?] on that name, so it was back to the drawing board. The couple decided to get a bit more abstract. … “We talked about doing Aroostook Vodka or Katahdin Vodka, but those are so obvious. We figured, let’s pick a word that can be freely associated with anything,” said Galbiati. “Twenty 2 could be anything. It could be your address, your birthday, a sports jersey. It can mean anything to anyone. It sticks in your mind. Plus, the alliteration is nice. A Twenty 2 and tonic sounds good.”

The same Bangor Daily News article also explains, about the owners and startup:

Starting in early 2006, Galbiati and Jewell quit their jobs and began the process of starting up their business. While getting a license for a winery or brewery is, relatively speaking, not uncommon, getting the license for a distillery is a much more involved process. According to federal law, a person can brew up to 100 gallons of beer on their own, or 200 gallons if two adults are present in a household. A person also can make up to 5 gallons of wine. Any more than those amounts, and a license is needed. … A person cannot under any circumstances distill any amount of spirits without a license. It took Galbiati and Jewell about three years to get the OK to start making Twenty 2.

When I first saw the 2011 approval, I was concerned about blowing Twenty 2′s cover, before they were ready, in that the COLA is only a few days old. But they are clearly ready. Of course they have the 2010 COLA, along the same lines, and the 2011 COLA is a public record — but also, Northern has a big website with a lot of information about this idea (plus Twitter and Facebook). On this topic, I will take this opportunity to reconfirm that we have no real interest in publicizing anyone’s news, before they are ready. We make no claim to be journalists. We will be especially careful not to publicize any client news, before the client is good and ready. In the case of non-clients, we may ask, or be guided by generally available information (or the absence thereof). If, as here, the company website has a lot of the same information, it becomes difficult to ascertain what could be sensitive about the COLA.

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Trampy Beer and Wine, and a Vigorous Defense Thereof

Some of the Clown Shoes beer labels, such as Tramp Stamp and Lubrication, are leading to lots of controversy. This got us to reading about the graphic designer for both. While we reserve judgment about the labels at issue, the blog post by the label designer for Clown Shoes is so good and vigorous that we wanted to cover it here. The designer of the label on the left is Stacey George. She is based in Massachusetts, and she talks about the issues in a July 6, 2011 post entitled “Sometimes, a Pipe is Just a Pipe.”

“Are Clown Shoes’ labels offensive?” Sure. Why not? Offensive is a subjective term. If you look at the labels and find yourself offended, there you go. Do you have the right to say so? Abso-friggin-lutely! Shout it from the highest mountain, or your Twitter account, or your brothers’ website, whatever your bullhorn is, use it, loud and proud. Here, let me loan you a sandwich board and a bell, you can be offended Town-Crier style, I got your back.

My labels for Clown Shoes—which were named Best Craft Beer Art of 2011 by PourCurator.com—are not illustrated with a sexist intent. For instance, a Tramp Stamp is a tattoo placed on the lower back of a woman to emphasize her sexuality. In Germany, they call it, Arschgeweih, meaning, “Ass Antlers.” Can you imagine if we had named a beer Ass Antlers!? We have nicknames for these tattoos because they have a purpose. The woman who has one is confident in her sexuality and she is enticing the viewer to appreciate her. A woman who is comfortable in her own skin and likes how she looks is a sexy woman. Sexy is not sexist. In fact, sexist is rarely sexy.

As a woman, and an artist, I have a hard time with [the] images being labeled chauvinistic. Chauvinism is an attitude of superiority over the opposite sex. I’m not designing women who are inferior, I’m designing women who celebrate who they are. So, who is bringing the inferiority? The viewer? The offended? It’s a complicated question.

Stacey George probably did not design the wine label on the right. But while we are appreciating Stacey’s work, and thinking about tramps, we wanted to include at least one more tramp-related label. Stamp du Tramp is bottled by Greg & Greg, Inc. of Sebastopol, California.

Are Clown Shoes’ labels offensive?” Sure. Why not? Offensive is a subjective term. If you look at the labels and find yourself offended, there you go. Do you have the right to say so? Abso-friggin-lutely! Shout it from the highest mountain, or your Twitter account, or your brothers’ website, whatever your bullhorn is, use it, loud and proud. Here, let me loan you a sandwich board and a bell, you can be offended Town-Crier style, I got your back.

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Risque Beer

These brands may be sophomoric, but apparently they are not illegal. The first is bottled by Minhas Craft Brewery of Monroe, Wisconsin. The second is bottled by Arcadia Brewing Company of Battle Creek, Michigan. If it’s tough to imagine who would buy or drink these beers, or where are the limits, just try to imagine the opposite adjective.

For a lively discussion of whether such labels go too far, follow these links about Lubrication (by Clown Shoes).

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The Original Mountain Dew

I would have thought John Robert McCulloch would get his keester sued off. But maybe he’s right and it’s the soda people who grabbed his brand and ran with it. The approval mentions that “Mountain Dew is the brand John McCulloch sold vodka under from 1885 until put out of business by Prohibition.” I’d wager that’s earlier than Pepsi or any of its forebearers put the lithiated green soda into commerce.

As it turns out, Wikipedia confirms that:  “The original formula (for the soda) was invented in the 1940s by two Tennessee beverage bottlers, Barney and Ally Hartman, and was first marketed in Marion, VA, Knoxville and Johnson City, Tennessee. … The Mountain Dew brand and production rights were acquired by PepsiCo in 1964, at which point its distribution expanded more widely across the United States.” The Hartmans got the name from “a colloquial term for moonshine whiskey” and got the trademark rights soon after.

The McCulloch website makes it quite clear that Mountain Dew was widely used on spirits well before the soda came along. The site also has a lot of old-fashioned spirits advertising, along with the quaint and none too subtle tagline “The Whiskey Without a Headache.”

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