The craft beer community is often collegial based on the “us against them” paradigm. In this case, “us” is the small independent breweries that have popped up by the thousands across the United States, and “them” is Miller, Budweiser and a handful of other large corporate beer brands.
Some craft breweries even flaunt their outsider status by poking fun at the brewery giants – a Minnesota brewery did a limited-run rice lager a few years ago entitled Dilly Dilly, which referenced a medieval-themed Bud Light campaign. To Bud’s credit, local reps hired a town crier in medieval-period attire to read a cease and desist order at the brewery’s tap room.
Within this cozy-but-crowded scene, the small breweries face the challenge of finding original company names, product names and even slogans. Sometimes this can lead to cease-and-desist letters protecting trademarks. At other times, breweries run afoul of those outside the beer industry – Oskar’s Blues Guns n’ Rosé attracted the attention of the band Guns N’ Roses and its lawyers.
Stone versus Keystone
Stone out of Escondido is no stranger to this issue. A jury settled a long-running dispute between Molson Coors-owned Keystone and Stone Brewing. Keystone’s ad department elected to shorten the name of Keystone Light to Stone in its advertising and promotion. This prompted Stone to file a trademark infringement claim.
The case was eventually litigated, with an eight-person jury awarding $56 million in damages. The award falls short of the $216 million that Stone sought because the San Diego jury believed that the infringement was unintentional.
Stone vs. Sycamore
While Stone Brewing positioned itself as David to Molson Coors’ Goliath, the ninth largest craft brewery in the country switched roles in the more recent dispute with North Carolina’s smaller Sycamore Brewing.
Both breweries used the “Keep It Juicy” tag on the packaging of their hazy IPAs, which is now a trendy subgenre of the India Pale Ales. Hazy IPAs have an extremely cloudy body that makes it hard to impossible to see through when poured into a glass. Still, they taste fruitier than the more bitter IPAs popularized in the early days of the craft brewing revolution. The word juicy is often used to describe hazy IPAs.
In this case, Stone argued that it had used the tagline on its cans since 2017. It went on to point out that Sycamore did not disclose to the court or the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that it omitted the fact that Stone previously used the phrase when it registered the tagline, which was granted in 2021.
Stone was not the only brewery using the “Keep it Juicy” tagline. Connecticut’s Two Roads Brewing used it on its cans for several years before the lawsuit. Delaware’s Blue Earl Brewing and nearby Woodland’s Blue Note Brewing outside Sacramento use the tagline in their promotional materials.
“Keep It Juicy is a common phrase that no single brewer can or should own,” Stone said in filings. “But even if it could be owned, it is Sycamore that has stolen it from Two Roads, not Stone that has stolen it from Sycamore.”
No harm, no foul?
While the two sides walked away without damages awarded or paid, a preliminary injunction issued in North Carolina forced Stone to re-sticker 21,000 boxes of beer in warehouses across the country. Each side paid its own legal fees.
Breweries often settle these matters between themselves and celebrate by brewing a batch of beer together. Nonetheless, it is essential for breweries, winemakers and others selling alcoholic beverages to protect their intellectual property. As the Keystone case shows, sometimes companies need to litigate to defend their brands.