A small brewery in Maine says it plans to take on the world’s largest beer maker and its high-end portfolio over a rather apocalyptic trademark dispute.
The row started earlier this summer when Mason’s Brewing of Maine says it received a cease and desist letter claiming its “Hipster Apocalypse” IPA infringes upon Anheuser-Busch InBev-owned 10 Barrel Brewing’s “valuable trademark rights” relating to its own “Apocalypse IPA.”
According to the letter, dated from August but shared by Mason’s on Wednesday, the company’s counsel advised that 10 Barrel “cannot allow Mason’s to sell beer that capitalizes off the goodwill” the company had generated with the beer, which has been on the market since 2009. In response, Mason’s shared a brief statement on Facebook, which read in part, “The great Billy Shakespeare once opined, ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’ However, we're pretty sure Christopher Marlowe’s (globally funded mega-corp.) barristers didn't immediately take action on all uses of the word ‘Rose.’”
WHY IT MATTERS
Reached for further comment by GBH, Mason’s founder Chris Morley says the company went public with the dispute today in light of failed attempts at resolution. Namely, he says, his company initially countered 10 Barrel’s opposition by offering to enter a trademark co-existence agreement, adding his company already employs similar arrangements with two other comparably named businesses. He says he believed that such an agreement would’ve been amenable for a number of reasons, adding that Mason’s is much smaller, operates on the other side of the country from 10 Barrel, and their respective labels bear very little resemblance apart from sharing a single word (a word that is employed by a number of brewers no less).
“We asked them to move forward with that and they declined and wanted to move forward and contest the trademark,” Morley tells GBH. “They think we’re a brewery that can’t afford lawyer’s fees. But we can go for a while. I’ve got no problem.”
Indeed, Morley says he’s prepared for a “shit show” to play out. As for AB InBev, the company was not available for comment as of press time, though we will update this post with their statement if they respond. However, this isn’t the first time 10 Barrel has fought to protect its claim to the word “apocalypse.” And while Mason’s framed the dispute within the classic big beer versus small beer narrative, 10 Barrel has proven plenty protective of the mark without Goliath’s help.
Back in 2013, about a year before being acquired by AB InBev, 10 Barrel issued a similar challenge to a startup brewery called, yes, Apocalypse Brewing. In September of that year, the company gave in and changed its name to Opposition Brewing. “10 Barrel’s relentless legal attack upon us could not be met with adequate resistance,” the company wrote at the time. “In short, they successfully out-spent and out-lawyered us.”
Furthermore, interestingly enough, 10 Barrel itself was originally known as Wildfire Brewing and changed its name in 2008 after facing a similar challenge by a restaurant chain of the same name. “We’re a young company so we decided to raise the white flag,” said then co-owner Paul Cook at the time. Mason’s Brewing is a young company, too, having opened just two years ago. However, Morley says he doesn’t have the same intentions of raising the white flag as his new adversary did nearly a decade ago now.
“I will not bow down to these people,” he says.
Only one in a long series of trademark disputes taken public, usually between fellow craft brewers, it’s hard to say if the public shaming move holds much power anymore. Most fans have gotten used to, and sometimes tired of, such uproars. But this one involving AB InBev likely has a sustaining anti-corporate energy to it, even if the effect is negligible.
An AB InBev Communications Manager for The High End has responded:
"10 Barrel first used the name Apocalypse in 2009. We filed a trademark application for the name in Feb of 2014. We partnered with A-B in November of 2014 approximately 9 months later. Mason's Brewing filed for their trademark December 8, 2016. We are open to finding a way we can both co-exist and have tried to discuss with them a solution with both names in the market. That discussion is still ongoing."
In a related case, a co-existence agreement was reached with another potentially-infringing company name Apocalypse Brew Works. 10 Barrel confirms: "To answer your question about Apocalypse Brew Works, yes we do have a consent agreement filed with the trademark office."