THE BROTHERHOOD OF CRAFT BEER

The FullPint: What is your favorite non-MBC beer?

Garrett Marrero of Maui Brewing Company: Anything not made by Gordon-Biersch right now.

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For the full transcript of the interview that the above quote comes from, click here. There’s some great stuff in there about the “rivalry” between Maui and Kona in Hawaii (Garrett does NOT look too highly on his “local” competitor). Maui is a great little brewery that does Hawaii proud. Their CoCoNut Porter is just plain delicious and their Big Swell IPA is a solid representation of the style.

But the reason I quoted the interview has less to do with Maui Brewing and more to do with Garrett’s response to what his favorite non-Maui beer was. Anyone that has listened to our recent All Beers Considered Podcasts has heard the sad little tale of Gordon-Biersch vs. Oskar Blues. In a nutshell, Gordon-Biersch has forced Oskar Blues to change the name of their incredibly tasty Gordon Imperial Red Ale because they believe it infringes on their trademark rights. I should point out that the Gordon is named for Gordon Knight, a Vietnam veteran who heroically died fighting forest fires in Colorado. I should also point out that the Gordon is canned (GB beers are not), has a label and graphics that couldn’t possibly be confused for a Gordon-Biersch product, and tastes about 1,000 times better than any pint of monkeypiss brewed by GB. In other words, there really doesn’t seem to be any chance of consumers being confused by products released by these two respective companies.

Nevertheless, legally Gordon-Biersch has the upper hand. Oskar Blues had opportunities to trademark the name and failed to do so and there was apparently an unspoken deal that they could keep the name unless they started selling in GB’s area of distribution. With Oskar Blues’ recent explosive growth, they have crossed into the neutral zone and Gordon-Biersch apparently decided they had to respond by forcing the beer to be renamed G’Knight.*

*Note: I’d be angrier about this, but I actually kind of think G’Knight is a cooler name than Gordon. It’s particularly appropriate after you crush a four-pack of the 8.7%-ABV beer. G’night!!!

If you listened to our Podcasts, and read the above paragraphs, you probably have a good idea of whose side we’re on. But we’re just bloggers…our job is to become apoplectic about minor things. So it was nice to read this interview with Garrett Marero…a brewer who I assume does not really compete with Gordon-Biersch and has no other reason to have a beef with the company…and see that he finds the whole thing distasteful as well.

To folks on the outside (like the Aleheads), craft brewing has always seemed like a strangely friendly industry. Brewers seem to bend over backwards to help each other. They seem to love to collaborate with each other and help their competitors grow. Contract brewing is the ultimate example of this. In what other industry would a company actually create products for a competitor just to help them grow their business? Look at the Terrapin Beer Company in Georgia. For years, all of their beers were brewed by Flying Dog in Maryland. Sure, Flying Dog was paid for their services, but unless you looked closely at the bottle, you would have just assumed that Terrapin was making the beer themselves. Flying Dog got no marketing or PR boost for helping them. In the meantime, the Terrapin brand was growing and presumably cutting into Flying Dog’s bottom line. Eventually Terrapin was able to open their own brewery and now they compete on equal footing with the company that basically got them off the ground and helped turn them into a darling of the craft beer world. It makes no business sense…but it’s one of the reasons the industry is so great.

Perhaps it’s because all craft brewers are making beer in the shadow of the macros (BudMillerCoors). They know that petty squabbling, in-fighting, and brinksmanship will only lead to losses for them and their peers and gains for the big boys. So they help each other when they can. When there are hop shortages, they share ingredients with each other. They bond at beer judging contests. Brewers visit each other, trade secrets, brew collaboration beers together (a huge trend these days), and generally maintain highly respectful, cordial relationships. And that anti-cutthroat approach seems to be working. The industry has grown in leaps and bounds and has been a remarkable success story in a difficult economic time.

That’s what makes the Gordon-Biersch story so sad. The brewery was founded in 1988 by Dan Gordon and Dean Biersch and was well-regarded for producing solid versions of traditional German brews. In 1999 the company was sold to CraftWorks, an umbrella company that also runs the Rock Bottom Restaurant chain, the Old Chicago chain, and something called Sing Sing Dueling Pianos (among others).

Naturally, the brewery lost a lot of cachet in the craft beer industry when they sold out to a chain restaurant conglomerate. I can’t say I ever enjoyed anything they made, but for the most part I thought of the company as just another crappy brewpub chain. But with the Gordon situation, I have started to actively dislike Gordon-Biersch…and it appears that I’m not alone. Here’s what Garrett Marero said after the quote at the top of the post:

Craft beer is about sticking together; you know “collaboration not litigation”.  It’s sad to see [Gordon-Biersch has] gotten so big they’ve lost the brotherhood of craft beer, it’d be different if Gordon-Biersch made a beer called “Gordon” but they don’t.

The “brotherhood of craft beer”…I like that. Now I’ll grant you that there’s probably more of this corporate pushing and shoving behind the scenes than most of us realize. These are still businesses trying to survive and thrive after all. But I think it’s telling that when one company breaks an unwritten rule about collaboration and cooperation in the industry, other companies push back. In the craft beer world, it seems like a rising tide has lifted all the boats and Gordon-Biersch is trying to drill a hole into its neighbors hull. I suspect other breweries feel the same as Maui…and that GB will soon face repercussions amongst its peers. From my end, I won’t buy a GB product every again. This shouldn’t hurt their bottom line since I haven’t consumed one of their beers in 5 years. But if other craft beer enthusiasts begin to catch wind of this story (and that seems to be happening), this little legal tussle between Gordon-Biersch and Oskar Blues could be the worst PR move the company could ever have dreamed up. I just hope that the Beer Gods are watching and that ten years from now, Oskar Blues will still be showing record growth while Gordon-Biersch will just be a footnote in the brewing world.

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While we’re on the subject, you’ll note that in Garrett Marero’s quote, he used the phrase “collaboration not litigation”. This phrase was made popular in the industry when Avery Brewing Company and Russian River Brewing Company both realized they made a beer called “Salvation”. Instead of suing one another over the rights, they decided to serve as examples for the rest of the industry. They combined batches of the two beers, bottled the hybrid brew, and sold it as a beer called “Collaboration Not Litigation”. Wifey and I tucked into a bomber the other night. As you might expect from a brew of that pedigree, it was absolutely delicious.

NOTES: Bomber @ McHops Monastery

STYLE: Belgian Strong Dark Ale

ABV: 8.72% (I know it’s a weird number, but I assume it’s because the two beers combined to create this one had different ABVs)

APPEARANCE: Murky amber color with glowing, gold highlights

HEAD: Short, bright white head that fades appropriately

LACING: Moderate, sticky lace on the top of the glass

NOSE: Dark stone fruits, clove and cinnamon spice, rich caramel malt, and a faint whiff of alcohol.

TASTE: A malty, molasses sweetness washes over your tongue immediately, but  is quickly replaced by a beautiful, funky sour flavor like an Oud Bruin. The finish is fruity with a hint of spice and a little warmth from the booze.

MOUTHFEEL: Medium-bodied…not heavily carbonated and a little sticky.

DRINKABILITY: Wifey and I both really enjoyed this one. Great balance and wonderful flavors. Nothing overpowering or cloying. I could have easily tossed back another bomber.

RATING: 3.5 Hops. Take a good look at this beer, Gordon-Biersch. You can make beautiful music with other breweries if you just stop acting like a complete dick.

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15 comments

  1. the only problem with the final analogies Brother Barley is that they would be mixing in their own shitty beer.

  2. But what do I know? I can’t even use the proper singular/plural form of analogy.

  3. Several points. One, as a follow-up beernews.org post made clear, CraftWorks and Oskar Blues are on very friendly terms: http://beernews.org/2011/01/craftworks-responds-to-cease-and-desist-rumors/ The whole thing is not the bitter situation the earliest reports made it seem to be.

    Two, the Gordon Biersch production brewery in California is owned by Dan Gordon and is a completely separate company from the brewpubs. That’s what the sale of the brewpubs to CraftWorks was about–starting a production brewery. Federal three tier laws prevented Gordon from having brewpubs in multiples states and distributing packaged beer in several states. Anyway, the production brewery is not owned by CraftWorks.

    Three, you are way, way, way, way, way off in calling GB “monkeypiss,” sorry. Lots of hardcore craft folks don’t like the *styles* of beer that GB brews, since they’re almost all German lagers and American beer geeks only like ales. But no one brews German-style beer on U.S. soil better than Dan Gordon, period. No way, no how. It’s all world class beer, but none of it is an IPA or brown ale or imperial stout or Belgian strong dark. In particular, the GB Hefe is the best Hefe you can buy in the U.S. Unequivocally.

    Four, Collaboration Not Litigation is a fantastic beer and Avery kicks ass. CNL will be available on draft in Bham in a month or so.

  4. Good stuff, Danner. We knew about the more “friendly” relationship between OB and GB…we commented on it in our last All Beers Considered. I was careful not to say that OB had ANY problem with the situation. Clearly they don’t since they were so quick to change the name. My point was more that OTHER breweries seem to take issue with what happened.

    Point 2 is information I clearly didn’t know, but probably could have learned if I had spent more than a minute researching this post. But researching takes time away from my ranting and you’ve got to do what you love.

    We’re going to have to agree to disagree on Point 3. To be fair, I’ve noted before that I am one of those “beer geeks” who just can’t connect with most German beer styles. That said, there are many German-style beers I truly love and I simply do NOT like GB’s output. Though it has been quite some time since I last sampled their suds at their brewpub in DC. For my money, Victory in Pennsylvania makes far and away the best German-style beers in America. Though obviously I won’t begrudge you for preferring GB.

    Glad we can agree on the Collaboration. A delicious beer and I can’t wait to grab it fresh from the tap.

    Thanks, as always, for the work you do.

  5. Aloha all, I appreciate the use of the article and your clearly shared vision of what craft is all about. I would like to point out that I don’t have any personal issues with Kona. In fact, to see what they’ve done for craft in Hawaii is impressive. It would be wrong to take away their due credit. My issue is with the truth in labeling and origin of the beers. I fully believe in arming the consumer with the knowledge and letting them choose based on such. When we conceal and make them think its one thing when it really is another thats deceit.

    As far as GB you’re right we aren’t competitors even though they sell in Hawaii and have a producing brewpub here. We’re also very different companies. I am a strong believer in what I said in the article and being that Dale Katechis is a good friend It was fitting to bring it up. We have to support each other even when it might be unpopular. Craft truly is one of those unique businesses where a rising tide does lift all boats. Nary anyone believes that any other craft brewer is competition, we’re collaborators, brothers and sisters.

    Mahalo for your support!

  6. […] I wrote a piece about Gordon-Biersch’s legal wrangling over the name of Oskar Blues’ Gordon Imperial Red […]

  7. I’m not big on German beer myself. It’s pretty rare that I’m in the mood for a GB product, and on those occasions it will almost certainly be their Hefe or their Kolsch (Sommerbrau). Neither a lager. Sometime their pils. I simply recognize that Dan Gordon is an unsurpassed master of the art of German brewing and I give him credit for that. Even though I’m not a fan of German-style beers on the whole. I don’t have to like it personally to acknowledge its quality. Taste is subjective.

    And I would prefer almost anything Victory brews over almost anything GB brews just about any day. But I don’t consider anything Victory does to be authentically German, just German-inspired. Prima Pils rocks my world but no German brewer would ever produce anything that hoppy. Victory does German with a very American twist. They also do Belgian style and English style and full-on American.

  8. While I can agree with Danner, I can also say that being more “German” is almost never a good thing. It seems all of the things they are really good at involve steroids, making drinkable (if not good) beer, doing lots of mean things to people they consider inferior (which is probably everyone), and growing mustaches that aren’t even full mustache (what self-respecting man grows anything called a “toothbrush mustache?). So congratulations GB for being the greatest American and doing something mediocre…it’s like being the best looking fat kid.

    This is where I should also point out that I’m just bitter than Dan Gordon gets to do what he loves and excel at it and will always be a million times better brewer than me…assuming I start brewing.

    So ignore everything I write.

    Beers…love ’em.

  9. […] I heard that Matchbox Twenty was going to make the Matchbox toy car company change their name to “G’Knight”. […]

  10. […] little, and that brewery tends to lose a little luster in the public eye. Witness the flap between Oskar Blues and Gordon Biersch for another example of a brewery making a reasonable legal claim that, nevertheless, made them look […]

  11. […] my favorite aspect of the story is Dale Katechis’s tongue-in-cheek reference to the Gordon-Biersch flap (GB recently forced Oskar Blues to change the title of their Gordon Imperial Red Ale because it […]

  12. […] Oskar Blues Gordon: Gordon Biersch may have forced Oskar Blues to change the name to G’Knight, but it’ll always be Gordon to me. The label on this delicious can of Imperial Red Ale […]

  13. […] The evening will feature a tasting of Maui Brewing Company’s Mana Wheat, Big Swell IPA, Flying High IPA, Coconut Porter & Bikini Blonde. All have received rave reviews! “Maui is a great little brewery that does Hawaii proud. Their CoCoNut Porter is just plain delicious and their Big Swell IPA is a solid representation of the style.” – Aleheads.com […]

  14. […] BSDA, Collaboration, Not Litigation.  Brother Barley even used that beer as an example of the brotherhood of craft beer, taking the opportunity to extol the virtues of brewers like Avery, Russian River, Maui Brewing, […]

  15. […] Not Litigation Ale, Russian River and Avery simply combined two existing brews in the name of craft beer brotherhood. Yet another option has been taken by Larry Sidor of Deschutes Brewery and Steven Pauwels of […]

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