The craft beer business is a thriving industry—there are now more than 3,000 breweries operating in America, and last year’s craft sales climbed 17.2 percent. With so many craft breweries now in operation, just about every beer name you can think of is taken. NPR’s The Salt explains,
For example, there are multiple beers named “Hopscotch,” and at least three India Pale Ales with the name “Bitter End.” (It also seems that craft breweries are running our of creativity when naming their beers, and will more often than not default to a hop-related pun.)
Name overlaps can get ugly. Since the ’90s, SweetWater Brewing Co. in Atlanta has been making a beer called 420 Extra Pale Ale. Last summer, Lagunitas Brewing Co.’s owner, Tony Magee, received a cease-and-desist order from SweetWater. The order demanded that Lagunitas stop using the term “420” in the artwork and messaging found on many Lagunitas beer labels. Magee bit back at SweetWater on Twitter, then acquiesced.
In the world of crowded spaces, a brewery out of Atlanta sent me a letter today demanding that we never ever use the term 420 again…
— LagunitasT (@lagunitasT) July 8, 2013
Magee tells NPR, “I decided, ‘You want to own 420, fine, you can have it.’ And it’s true: They legitimately owned it.” And Magee admits that he has called out other breweries for printing labels similar to Lagunitas’.
As is expected with any booming market, the community spirit that once dominated the craft brewery scene is getting a little lost in all the competition. Dogfish Head president Sam Calagione recently told Bon Appetit, “We’re heading into an incredibly competitive era of craft brewing. There’s a bloodbath coming.”
As we previously argued, a more competitive landscape isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it would be naive to think that craft brewers don’t need to push their products and protect their trademarks as much as any other small business owner. But it’s a slippery slope from competitive to cut-throat. Part of the appeal of the craft-beer industry since its inception has been the grassroots, a-rising-tide-lifts-all-boats mentality that truly makes it feel like a community. But with tens of thousands of American craft beers in the market, could the era of Collaboration, Not Litigation be over?