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Blue Moon Asserts it is Plenty Craft Enough

blastAt long last, MillerCoors filed its response, in the Blue Moon case, on July 13. The company makes some good arguments, and to my ear, these seem best:

  1. MillerCoors is expressly authorized by state and federal law to use the Blue Moon Brewing Company trade name.
    1. The safe harbor doctrine applies where either state or federal law has blessed the conduct at issue. (Here, MC nemesis, A-B, did the former a huge favor in the form of winning the Lime-A-Rita case just in time.) The company is careful to point out that the laws and regulations, not necessarily the label approvals, create the safe harbor.
    2. Should a court find liability under these circumstances, where a registered trade name is used instead of the parent company name, it would dramatically change the way that many corporations operate, effectively standing corporate America on its head. Trade names are used in many industries, and many brands have surprising corporate relationships. Just to name a few: Jiffy Lube is owned by Shell Oil Company, Haagen-Dazs is owned by Nestle in the U.S., Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken are owned by Yum! Corporation and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is owned by Unilever.
  2. The company’s trade name and trademark registrations put Plaintiff on notice of its ownership and use of Blue Moon Brewing Company.
  3. There is no definition of “craft beer,” much less a legal one. Plaintiff relies on ever changing guidelines promulgated by the Brewers’ Association (“BA”), a trade group that has zero rulemaking authority, which defines an “American Craft Brewer,” but not the term “craft beer.” A trade association’s arbitrary definition of “craft brewer” does not give the trade association the power to abscond or control the use of the word “craft” or “crafted” by all beer industry participants.

The case goes on from here. In related news, at the time of my first post related to this brand and controversy, I was able to see and comment upon the plaintiff’s side only. Above, I am happy to have a chance to show the other side. Outside the court papers, the company’s response has been:

MillerCoors is tremendously proud of Blue Moon and has always embraced our ownership and support of this wonderful brand. The class action filed against MillerCoors in California is without merit and contradicted by Blue Moon Brewing Company’s 20-year history of brewing creative beers of the highest quality. There are countless definitions of “craft,” none of which are legal definitions. We choose to judge beer by the quality, skill and passion that goes into brewing it. Back in 1995, Keith Villa, Blue Moon’s founder and head brewmaster had to work extremely hard to convince people to try his cloudy, Belgian-style beer. Today, MillerCoors is proud that Blue Moon has invited millions of drinkers to try something new, while helping pave the way for the current explosion of creativity in the brewing community.

If anyone wants to send funds I will consider setting up the Evan Parent Sympathy Society, to make reparations for the grave injustices he has encountered. It is not easy to be a beer aficionado. On a slightly more serious note, I propose that the company should seek to settle this suit by inviting the beer aficionado to spend a week at their brewery, brew it his way, up to 1,000 gallons, and see who wants to drink it.

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Rye Beer

 

Latrobe did a “brilliant” job here, picking up on a lot of important trends.

Let’s see how many instructive legal issues this one label raises. Extra points for anyone who can raise additional issues. No more ALS challenges, please.

  1. It is beer but it more or less screams spirits.
  2. In a variety of ways. (For example, the brand name refers to moonshine paraphernalia, as Tickle’s sidekick helpfully explains.*)
  3. Within the rules, probably.
  4. Even though spirits terms are not allowed on beer labels.
  5. Even though this product contains and purports to contain absolutely no whiskey of any sort.
  6. It mentions George Dickel at least three times.
  7. It mentions Rye but not Rye Whiskey. This is very smart in that, though they mean about the same thing to most people, rye is just a grain, and it’s not necessarily whiskey without the second word attached. Like Bourbon is not sufficient on even a Bourbon Whiskey label, without the second word.
  8. Latrobe used a formula, notwithstanding that TTB has eased way up on formula requirements.
  9. The label raises a lot of good trademark issues, tied up with Latrobe’s use of another company’s highly protected brand name.
  10. TTB seems to be allowing the term “refreshing” these days, on a pretty liberal basis, even though this policy has wavered a bit over the years.

This Tequila-themed beer shows that the above Whiskey-themed beer label is not just a fluke.

What did we miss?

* John’s parents will be proud that we have done some work for Tim Smith, Junior Johnson, The Hatfields & McCoys, Jesse Jane, Popcorn Sutton, Jesse James and other rapscallions. And this guy just looks guilty — I am not sure of what — but moonshining at least.

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TTB Eases Way Up on Formulas for Many Beers

There is some big news from TTB, via dcbrewlaw. TTB has recently decided to ease up on the formula requirements for malt beverages made with common ingredients and processes such as some barrel aging, as well as various fruits and spices. This should help considerably with TTB’s overwhelming workload, and the related delays.

At dcbrewlaw, Dan reports:

There is good news for brewers who are tired of waiting for formula approvals from TTB (currently 74 days):  you may not need it. On June 5, 2014, TTB issued a fairly significant ruling, Ingredients and Processes Used in the Production of Beer Not Subject to Formula Requirements. The ruling clearly spells out which Exempt Ingredients and Processes are now deemed “traditional” and, therefore, do not require a TTB formula approval.

The new ruling expands upon the rules as of 2013. Here are two good examples of products that needed formula approval under the old rules, before this week, and will continue to need a formula approval prior to label approval:  Bud Light Lime; Joose. By contrast, here are two products that would no longer need formula approval:  Bourbon County, Harlem. On each, the formula is highlighted in yellow. Read more about TTB Ruling 2014-4 at dcbrewlaw and TTB’s site.

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Stout Brewed with Bull Testicles

rmo

Not so long ago, beer with (actual) oysters seemed unusual. But Wynkoop’s beer goes quite a bit further. It contains no oysters. Instead it is brewed with bull testicles.

Denver Westword reports:

head brewer Andy Brown secured 25 pounds of Rocky Mountain oysters, a local delicacy, which the staff in the Wynkoop’s kitchen hand-sliced and then roasted.

“Initially, [TTB] wanted us to provide some information on bull testicles as a food additive,” Wynkoop spokesman Marty Jones says of the [TTB]. “I am not sure they were aware that bull testicles are an actual food and that they are a regional delicacy out west.”

TTB not only was concerned about Wynkoop’s “oysters,” but also about the manner in which they were described. For example, the term “oysters” should not be larger than “Rocky Mountain.” And it’s ok to describe the nutty, ballsy “notes” but best not to talk about their “flavors.” For many more examples of beverages made with — meat — see here.

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Dogs + Fishes, Beer + Wine

Shanken News Daily recently alerted us to Dogfish Noble Rot. It is:

a wine/beer hybrid that combines traditional barley, hops, water and yeast with winegrapes. Named for the grape fungus botrytis, which is associated with Sauternes and Tokaji dessert wines, Noble Rot uses Viognier and Pinot Gris grapes sourced from Washington’s Alexandria Nicole Cellars. The 9%-abv offering will be available in about 27 states this week, priced at $13 a 750-ml.

The statement of composition on this product looks a bit redundant, with two references to grape must — but upon closer review it nicely underscores the distinction about adding the grape must before and after fermentation. I wonder if the must added before fermentation could or should be considered wine. Dogfish explains:

The first addition is unfermented juice, known as must, from viognier grapes that have been infected with a benevolent fungus called botrytis. This noble rot reduces the water content in the grapes while magnifying their sweetness and complexity. The second is pinot gris must intensified by a process called dropping fruit, where large clusters of grapes are clipped to amplify the quality of those left behind. “This is the absolute closest to equal meshing of the wine world and the beer world thats ever been done commercially,” says Dogfish’s Sam Calagione.

The Washington Post apparently saw this beer a long time ago and added many crucial details:

Thousands of years ago, notes Sam Calagione, our distant ancestors didn’t draw a semantic line in the sand between beer and wine. Whatever fermentables they had, whether grain or fruit, went into a common pot to produce their unique tipples.

What is noteworthy is that the grapes and the grain each contribute about half of the fermentable sugars.

Given that beer and wine are taxed and regulated differently, did Calagione get any flack from alcohol regulatory authorities? “The only challenge was that the TTB [Tax and Trade Bureau] wanted a better description of at what point we added the grapes,” noted Calagione. For the record, the botrytis-infected must (the unfermented grape juice) is added after the boil, and the pinot gris juice post-fermentation, primarily for extra aroma.

Calagione estimated that he made about 4,400 cases of Noble Rot and expected it to linger on shelves until May. He anticipated prices of $12-13 for a 750-mililiter bottle. That will scarcely recoup his costs, he added. “I paid $62,000 alone to transport a tanker truck of temperature-controlled grape must from coast to coast,” he noted.

Aside from the joy of experimentation, Calagione confesses that he had another reason for producing this beer: “We always wanted to see if a beer with the word ‘rot’ in the name would actually sell.”

We’ve seen plenty of beers and whiskies aged in wine barrels, and beers that look like wine and we will be on the prowl for actual beers with actual wine added. It sounds better than wine with beer added.

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