Berrong on Beer - Can't we all just brew along?
May 24th, 2013
02:00 PM ET
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Nathan Berrong works at CNN's satellite desk and writes Eatocracy's beer column, "Berrong on Beer." He Tweets at @nathanberrong and logs beers at Untappd.

The beer world has been up in arms this week as word spread that established brewery, Magic Hat, was filing a lawsuit against newly formed West Sixth Brewery, out of Lexington, Kentucky. Both breweries have weighed in and countless others have opined online.

The storyline sounds like a typical one: big corporation bullies the mom-and-pop little guys in order to get their way. But, when you look at both sides, it’s not so black and white.

Here’s the Cliff's Notes version of the story. Magic Hat out of Burlington, Vermont, has been a brewery since 1994 and makes a beer, their flagship, called #9. West Sixth has been brewing beer for about a year in Lexington, Kentucky. The brewery and beer names have little in common but, you don’t have to be a graphic designer to realize the labels are similar.

Magic Hat, via their attorney, wrote a letter to West Sixth last fall asking them to change their logo and account for royalties from sales or face legal action. West Sixth responded with a rebuttal letter and denied the similarities but also agreed to alter its logo and phase out the existing inventory of the design in question. Then a series of back-and-forth letters were exchanged between the two breweries and it almost seemed like a resolution was forthcoming.

But, West Sixth reneged on their offer, arguing that replacing their logo entirely would be too costly and thus, would remain to use the logo in question. And so Magic Hat filed a lawsuit. And West Sixth countered with a social media campaign encouraging people to sign a petition and pledge “No More Magic Hat.”

And then the small percentage of the internet reserved for arguing beer geeks, exploded.

Reading the attorney’s letters to each respective brewery is a total bore and I wouldn’t recommend reading them unless you enjoy punishing yourself.
But, I really wish the dialogue between the breweries would have continued. I wish it didn’t get to a breaking point and cause a lawsuit followed by a social media campaign engineered to raise a stink.

The craft beer world is better than that. (It’s worth noting that many do not consider Magic Hat a craft brewery due to their ownership by a foreign corporation, Florida Ice & Farm, based in Costa Rica.)

I’ve heard countless stories of breweries in the same town, competing for the same customers, borrowing ingredients from each other. Or breweries coming together to raise money for a worthy cause.

And then there’s the story of Russian River and Avery, two breweries that realized they were brewing a beer with the
exact same name – Salvation. Instead of legal action, which applies much more in this case than the one mentioned above, the two breweries decided to blend the two Salvations together and release one beer appropriately named, Collaboration Not Litigation.

And that’s my humble advice to Magic Hat and West Sixth: work this matter out, outside the walls of a courtroom, and then brew a beer together that shows solidarity, not separation. In fact, you can even name it that. Plus, I don’t think the obvious choice of “69” is going to get the green-light in the marketplace.

I tweeted this proposal out to both breweries yesterday and West Sixth seems to be on board:

That’s a start. Now it’s your turn, Magic Hat. Once everything’s sorted out, is there a chance of a collaboration beer with West Sixth? The beer’s in your court.

Collaboration beers have become somewhat of a trend recently. Most are collaborations between friends or craft breweries that admire each other’s work. And then others collaborate on a beer to signify unity instead of division. Which, for me, is a big part of why I drink craft beer.

Regardless of the reasons, here are eight brewery collaborations worth checking out:

Avery (CO) and Russian River (CA) Collaboration Not Litigation (pictured)

New Belgium (CO) and Red Rock (UT) Paardebloem

Jester King (TX) and Mikkeller (Denmark) Drink’in The Sunbelt

Green Flash (CA) and Founders (MI) Linchpin IPA

Sierra Nevada (CA) and Boulevard (MO) Terra Incognita

Stone (CA) Aleman (IL) and Two Brothers (IL) Dayman Coffee IPA

Maui Brewing (HI) and Lost Abbey (CA) Lemongrass Saison

Yazoo (TN) and Calfkiller (TN) The Beacon

What is your favorite collaboration beer and what advice would you give on how to resolve the Magic Hat-West Sixth snafu? Weigh in with your comments below.

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soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. Turner

    Not to be too off-topic, but I see from your picture you happen to be in the upper room cellar @ Brick Store. I would consider myself a regular and that sir, happens to be heaven. I have been in there a few times and have rarely been disappointed.

    July 2, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
  2. JT

    The Paardebloom is pretty good, as are all of New Belgium's Lips of Faith Series (seriously, there is only one I wouldn't buy again, and if they ever make another Tart Lychee I'm buying out the store).

    I've had a few of the stone collaborations and I've had the Avery one too. FWIW I think it's pretty cool that they work together but I think it's nice when a big brewery teams up with a small one. Nothing wrong with Stone, Avery, Dogfish Head and the like working together but bringing in new and unfamiliar sources seems to be half the point of a collaboration beer anyway.

    June 28, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
  3. Steve

    This story is indicative of much of what has been going wrong in the media as of late, namely, the tendency to believe that all sides of a story must be treated equally, regardless of the validity of the ideas put forward. It's the same reason that in politics, fringe views with absolutely no basis in fact are given the same weight as those based on knowledge (the idea that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge"), all in the name of being "fair". And while this is not nearly so weighty an issue (unless of course you are West Sixth), it's the same thing. This isn't a frivolous spat between two companies with a minor difference in point of view, worthy of the often channeled "Can we all just get along?". This is a case of corporate bullying, pure and simple. Some issues are black and white, others are shades of gray, this falls into the black and white camp. Only the most careless glance would even leave upon the possibility (though still unlikely) of confusing these two logos. Magic Hat is just trying to eliminate a small competitor before it becomes big, pure and simple. Can we all just get along? Sure, sometimes. But other times, you have to stand up for yourself. (I won't even go into the fact that this story gets some of the facts of the case just dead wrong)

    May 29, 2013 at 7:55 am |
  4. tv22

    I looked at the logos and about the only similarity is they're round and have a number in them. Really shouldn't be an issue at all.

    May 28, 2013 at 8:55 am |
    • thesaj

      Both have a star. But no, I do not think folks are going to be that confused. And I think both could sell more beers by promoting "69"....

      Unlike the author, I think it'd sell quite well in the marketplace.

      May 28, 2013 at 9:05 am |
  5. beerknurd

    Boulevard Brewing (MO) & Dechutes Brewing (OR) – Conflux #2

    and vice versa

    Dechutes Brewing (OR) & Boulevard Brewing (MO) – Collaboration #2


    May 28, 2013 at 6:22 am |
  6. Craig

    But...but...but think of the poor lawyers who will lose lotsa money. They probably have kids that will have to take out loans to attend college, or maybe even have to actually attend a public school, and that means they might not be able to buy their way into law school and continue the family business. We have to have the'''s the American Way!


    May 28, 2013 at 5:33 am |
  7. North Dallas Don

    I'll pop open a nice cold Rolling Rock and watching this play itself out.

    May 28, 2013 at 2:57 am |
  8. Frank Booth recommends PBR


    May 28, 2013 at 12:31 am |
  9. Sid

    reminds of the line from "Other People's Money" (btw, Danny Devito's most undeappreciated film by far!):

    "lawyers are like nuclear warheads – they have theirs so I have mine but if anyone ever actually uses them they just f- everything up!"

    May 27, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
  10. Oh what the frak...

    A pox on West Sixth for being foolish enough to not notice (or blow off) the similarity, for going back on an agreement that was as good as they could possibly get, and for then trying to make Magic Hat look like the bad guy.

    And fwiw – I've never had a West Sixth beer, and have not cared for any of Magic Hat's...

    May 27, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
    • Karlos

      The bad guy is the big beer company suing the little guy :p. Pound 9 is not equal to star 6

      May 27, 2013 at 9:12 pm |
    • Greg

      The labels are not sufficiently similar to cause confusion – Magic Hat will lose if this goes to trial.

      May 27, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
    • EmptyHat

      The article is incorrect, W6th offered to make 2-3 of four changes if that was acceptable to Magic Hat. Magic Hat did not respond until it filed the lawsuit 3 months later. West 6th never reneged, because Magic Hat never agreed to the changes.

      May 27, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
  11. el flaco

    Now this is what call a frivolous lawsuit

    May 27, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
  12. t3chsupport

    Wow, what a silly battle to choose. I don't think those labels look very much alike, at least not enough to warrant suing over. If they want to try trademarking the 8 pointed star and a stylized number, then maybe, but no one has, so neither of them really has much to complain about. All that Magic Hat has done for itself now is paint itself as a bully, and advertise for their competition. Smooth move.

    May 27, 2013 at 11:39 am |
    • Greg

      Very true – I had never heard of West 6th before. Now, I have something to look for during my next shopping trip.

      May 27, 2013 at 9:44 pm |
  13. Waitwhat

    "followed by a social media campaign engineered to raise a stink. "

    Is it any surprise that it turned into a social media campaign with Ben Self as one of the owners of West Sixth? Mom and Pop brewery indeed.

    May 25, 2013 at 9:36 am |
    • Mr. Hat

      I think suing someone raises a "bigger stink" than posting that you are being sued by an Ass-Hat company does :p

      May 27, 2013 at 9:24 pm |
  14. hen na gaijin

    Does anyone really drink this swill ? Either of them ?

    May 24, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
    • Phil

      Uh yea...?

      May 27, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • davey

      your mom does, and plenty of it.

      May 27, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
      • Frank Booth recommends PBR

        Excellent post, and best laugh I've had all weekend.

        May 28, 2013 at 12:32 am |
  15. MrBig

    West Sixth is only a year old and recently participated in their first collaboration with another KY brewery and it was tasty. I fear Magic Hat doesn't have a strong history of collaboration (or for that matter of calling up other breweries, cease and desist seems to be their primary brewery to brewery lingo.) But here's hoping!

    May 24, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • thesaj

      I fear Magic Hat is over-rated. I remember hearing so much about it. But found that as a brewery, they rather unimpressed me.


      But really, I think micro-brew benefit from collaboration. Look, Dogfish Head and Stone collaborated. Did they fear it would hurt their sales? Lose them business...

      Now way....

      I mean you've got Dogfish Head linking to Stone and Victory breweries. Wait, they're sending business elsewhere. Why? Because they know an expanded beer culture is better for all breweries involved.

      May 28, 2013 at 9:10 am |
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