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Don’t Mess with a Vampire

undead

I am thinking this may be the best label ever, about lawyers. If I am not mistaken, that is a garden-variety lawyer, right below “Welcome, Trademark Attorneys!” and right above the briefcase. The lawyer just happens to be wearing a pink shirt, white suit, and closely resembles a werewolf.

It all started when Clown Shoes beer company got label approval for a Vampire Slayer beer in 2011. It is important to note that this beer claims to be made with “holy water” and “vampire killing stakes.”

In short order, the company that controls various VAMPIRE-related trademarks, pounced, and pushed Clown Shoes to cease and desist from using VAMPIRE terminology. Here is an example of a recent label approval, for a wine marketed by the company that controls the VAMPIRE mark. Clown Shoes explains:

Vampire Brands and TI Beverage Group, connected companies out of California that primarily market vampire themed wine, were suing us. They came to market six months after Vampire Slayer began distribution with a beer made in Belgium called Vampire Pale Ale, but they filed a trademark application prior to our distribution. Their position was that our use of the name Vampire Slayer was harming their ability to sell Vampire Pale Ale, literally costing them money.

Clown Shoes was not amused, and expressed its dismay on the label above. In addition to the not-so-flattering imagery, the label also says:  “Do we need the undead and trademark attorneys too? Clown Shoes says ‘No, Die Monsters, Die!’ Forces of darkness brought about a change in the name of this beer. …” Clown Shoes caved in because:

we felt that we stood an excellent chance of winning a court battle. Then we found out that litigation could cost between $300,000 to $400,000. … Ummmm… that sounds like stabbing ourselves in the face to cure foot pain. … A settlement, the terms of which I am not at liberty to disclose, was reached with [Vampire Brands] that licenses Clown Shoes to use the name Vampire Slayer. I can say that based on all factors, the Vampire Slayer name will soon be discontinued, despite the licensing agreement.

All of this just goes to show that nobody should mess with vampires, going into a trademark dispute without some protection, or the attorney at Vampire Brands. A good article about the dispute is here. Volokh has some other law-related labels here. And a good, recent, other lawyer-related label is right here.

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Beer, Pot and the Government

potJoe Sixpack this week has a good and thorough look at the many beer labels that talk about and tip a hat to their colleague, marijuana. The numbers and audacity are surely growing, as the old and antiquated laws fall by the wayside a bit. I like the quaint and funny reference to coats of arms:

With this month’s ballyhooed legalization of marijuana in Colorado, some beer makers are adding playful drug references to their brand names and labels, and regulators can do little to censor them.

Label oversight, a quirky if contentious area of federal alcohol law, has confounded breweries for years with often capricious standards that bear little on consumer protection.

Federal law, for example, oddly prohibits the use of coats of arms or wording that promises ‘pre-war strength,’ whatever that means.

Mr. Russell (aka Joe) also helped educate me that a safety meeting is not necessarily boring and dire:

Yes, there are limits. Dark Horse Brewing, in Michigan, lost its bid for Smells Like Weed IPA, though its hops, in fact, smell like pot. The name was later changed to Smells Like A Safety Meeting IPA. (A ‘safety meeting’ is slang for taking a break on the job to light up a doober.)

But expect to see fewer of those objections as more states move toward legalization.

Joe Sixpack has at least 16 label examples here and here.

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Shelton F’s with Beer, Art, and Commercial Speech

Way back in mid-December of 2012 I would have considered this Shelton Brothers COLA to be, perhaps, an aberration. But upon checking it again, today, I see a few more COLAs with the same word — arguably in need of the fig leafs above.

It is hard to believe that the government did not see the word at issue. On the above-linked COLA it appears no less than three times. This may signal that, as social mores liberalize and budgets shrink, the government has bigger (or fewer) fish to fry. Clearly, it signals that Daniel Shelton does not mind pushing the envelope, or many. The Amherst College magazine unabashedly explains that, after graduating from Amherst, Shelton:

went to a prestigious law school … then clerked for a judge (on a tropical Pacific isle, of all places) and finally secured a position at a venerable firm in Washington, D.C. (but convinced Shea & Gardner that he needed to spend a year bumming around Africa before starting.) … “My Amherst education has not been wasted at all. I use it more in this business than I ever did in lawyering. I never was completely comfortable with the idea of being a lawyer, anyway.”

This creaky old regulation still prohibits any beer labeling that is “obscene or indecent.” At this rate, however, it is difficult or uncomfortable to imagine something that goes too far — or too far for Dan. Many thanks to Mark for showing me these labels.

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Nobama Beer

What is it about beer that encourages people to say things — they would never want to say on cheese or ketchup labels? In the latest skirmish, an Oklahoma brewer came out with Nobama Beer during the past few weeks.

It appears that TTB was not too fond of this brand name, at least at first. But then Huebert Brewing Company, their lawyer, and the local NBC affiliate went on the offensive, to push the label through, as shown in this video. I must admit, I did not expect to see a TV news story about the finer points of TTB Form 5100.31, Exemptions from Label Approval, or TTB’s renowned beer label reviewer (the one person that has reviewed and approved the label for just about every beer currently available in the US). The first video shows that TTB at first allowed the beer only within Oklahoma, but the above approval, and this later video, shows that TTB shortly thereafter felt compelled to allow it more widely.

The examples of envelope-pushing beer labels are probably too numerous to mention here. And they are certainly not limited to the Obama bashers, as in this example.

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Gluten Free Ruling

TTB announced a big policy change — about gluten free — just before the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

For many years before the announcement, plenty of companies have tried to make “gluten free” claims, but we still didn’t see any approved TTB labels referring to “gluten free.” A few weeks back, we thought we had one, when we heard a lot of buzz about Omission beer as above. But alas, even the Omission label has had a big omission when it comes to this particular claim.

All this is about to change in a big way, as result of this TTB Ruling, released late last week. As a result, we may begin to see various gluten free claims on TTB labels in the very near future.

To show the earlier TTB policy, a fairly recent TTB rejection is here, and it may help explain why Widmer did not come out and say it louder or earlier. TTB’s caution may well have been justified; Brewbound has explained:  “The release of Omission Beer comes just a few months after a study published in the Journal of Proteome Research found that eight commercial beers currently labeled as ‘gluten-free’ contained as much gluten as regular beer.”

Brewbound further explained that there are plenty of other beers that seek to minimize or eliminate gluten, but most of the others (such as this Bard’s Tale) are made with sorghum as a substitute for malted barley:

Ordinarily a new product release wouldn’t be so newsworthy but the launch of Omission marks the first time a U.S. craft brewer has been able to produce a gluten-free beer while still using malted barley in the brew process.

In the same article, the beer company’s CEO explains:

Omission beer is brewed with malted barley, but we’ve developed a proprietary process to reduce the gluten levels to well below the internationally accepted gluten-free standard of 20 parts per million of gluten. We are currently working with the TTB and the FDA to update the definition of the term ‘gluten-free.’… The inspiration behind Omission beers was personal. I am a 12-year celiac, our brewmaster’s wife is a celiac, as are several other members of our team. … We’re also going to talk about the extensive testing that Omission beers go through to ensure that every batch of Omission beer is well below the international gluten-free standard of 20 ppm. In fact, each bottle of Omission Beer caries a date stamp connecting the brew to its specific batch. Consumers can visit www.OmissionTests.com, type in the date code stamped on their bottle, and see that beers’ test results. … An estimated three million Americans have celiac disease.

Even though there is little to no gluten talk on Omission’s approved label (so far), there is plenty of gluten talk on the brand’s website. For example, the FAQ says “Is Omission beer gluten free?  According to federal guidelines, we aren’t legally allowed to claim that Omission beer is gluten-free outside of Oregon … . While the FDA proposed to define the term ‘gluten free,’” that definition has not been formally adopted … .”

As a result of TTB Ruling 2012-2, look for Widmer and many others to push much further toward gluten free claims in the near future.

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