Yesterday Brother Barley created a bit of a stir regarding the cease-and-desist letter from Bell’s Brewery to Northern Brewer, calling for a boycott. Today Bell’s finally awoke to the shit-storm of animosity the event precipitated, and issued the statement below. Everything In italics is my interpretation of what Larry Bell is really trying to say to the craft beer and home brew communities… because I’m pretty good at reading between the lines, ya know?
To All Interested:
Yesterday, Northern Brewer posted on their Facebook page about a cease and desist letter that they received from Bell’s Brewery, Inc. I apologize that Bell’s has taken so long to respond to this issue, but all members of management were travelling to the Craft Brewers Conference yesterday and could not get a response posted. (Because of course we don’t all have Blackberries, IPhones, laptops, or office staff working back at HQ; also, I couldn’t figure out how to spin this whole thing without sounding like a total D-bag. Still can’t, actually.)
On March 18, 2011, representatives of Bell’s Brewery, Inc. sent a letter to Northern Brewer regarding that company’s use of Three Hearted Ale for a homebrewing kit. This letter was sent out at a time when Bell’s is having to defend it’s trademarks including Two Hearted on several fronts (But mostly land and sea). Because we are finding ourselves in this situation, we believe that is necessary to correspond in writing to those we feel are infringing on our mark (Our attorneys have advised us that letters are preferable to text message pics of my genitals). We do not know the owners of Northern Brewer nor were we familiar with the products they offered until recently (Just because I was a homebrewer for many years before starting Bell’s, which began as the homebrew shop we still operate, are obviously a little maniacal about competition, and Northern Brewer is one of the biggest and most well-known homebrew sites in the country, how could we possibly be familiar with Northern Brewer or their products?). From a legal perspective a phone call was not going to provide the documented defense that we need as we try to defend this trademark now and in the future (Of course, a courtesy phone call with a follow-up letter would provide us with our necessary “documented defense”; but I digress).
Here is a partial extract of the letter we sent: “As a result of the extensive business investment by Bell’s Brewery, significant goodwill has inured in the TWO HEARTED trademark.” (Goodwill we are destroying by letting this matter play out publicly on the internet) “While Bell’s Brewery encourage the development of independent brewers and homebrewing, Bell’s Brewery are concerned with your use of THREE HEARTED ALE Extract kit.” “Bell’s Brewery are of the opinion that there is a likelihood of confusion between your mark and the trademarks for TWO HEARTED owned by Bell’s Brewery. The marks create the same overall commercial impression (Unlike the very different overall commercial impression created when comparing some baggies of malt extract and dried hops to actual beer, or between the numbers “2” and “3”). Furthermore, the goods associated with your mark and the trademark for Two Hearted are identical.” “Consequently, your use of THREE HEARTED is likely to create confusion, deception, or mistake among purchasers (excepting of course those that are functionally literate, and not utterly and completely moronic) as to the origin or source of the goods/services, or convey to the purchasing public that the goods/services are approved by Bell’s Brewery or that there is an affiliation or connection between you and Bell’s Brewery.”
We have no issue with Northern Brewer other than this trademark infringement. We are flattered that they want to clone our beer-we have no problem with that. In fact, our staff recently agreed to work with Zymurgy magazine on a Two Hearted clone. Clones are not the issue (here, Dude). Neither do we have a problem with homebrewers. Bell’s was founded as a homebrew shop in 1983 and has been in that business ever since. We are great supporters of the homebrew community and have underwritten many competitions, donated prizes to clubs, conducted tours with homebrew clubs, provided beer for certain AHA conventions, spoken at AHA convention, held an AHA membership rally, etc. etc. We have no problem with homebrewing or homebrewers. We love homebrewers (No, really! My mama always taught that words speak louder than actions. And she was right, if you think about it, except for really loud actions like gunshots). Bell’s has worked long and hard to develop and market Two Hearted Ale. It is a very valuable asset for our company.
As president of Bell’s it is my job to protect those types of assets (Actually, it’s to make and sell beer, but whatever). That is my responsibility to my (wild ego, and) employees and their families, and to the shareholders of the company. Never were we contacted by Northern Brewer asking permission to use Three Hearted (Because clones with similar names are commonplace in the homebrew industry and permission to use a similar tribute name is generally never sought, but how would I know that being involved in homebrewing since’83?). Upon learning of Three Hearted we moved to defend an asset that we own and have owned for many years. This is our right and duty. (Right now I’m trying to make it sound like my chickenshit cease and desist letter is akin to storming the beaches of Normandy. Is it working?) A trademark that is not defended becomes worthless. And while some of you may think that this was harmless flattery (And totally immaterial to our bottom line), by not defending against this we would be opening the door for further challenges against our mark. (Like the time we made our Oracle DIPA that sounded a hell of a lot like Buffalo Brewing’s Oracle IIPA, but again, I digress) At this time it would appear that Northern Brewer plans to respect and acknowledge our right to this trademark, as I understand that they are renaming their product (suck it, bitches). For this, we thank them. This is all we are asking for. As regards Third Street (Our absurdly reaching defense of our Third Coast Ale), we filed for an extension to oppose, not an opposition (because that makes it less absurd and reaching). The use of the extension is often used so that two companies can sit down and see what each others marks are, and if they can co-exist. Often an agreement is drawn up between the two companies for this co-existence. We are currently in that discovery phase with Third Street. (Whereas we knew with Northern Brewer they would just back down, and it’s fun to say “Fuck you” to smaller competitors, isn’t it?)
I know many of you think that Bell’s was heavy handed in our actions (Because we were). I’m sorry you feel this way (which isn’t an apology at all). Bell’s has been on both sides of trademark issues-sometimes a winner and sometimes a loser (which is of no relevance to anything). Twice in the history of Two Hearted we have been sent cease and desist letters regarding the labels (Maybe because it shares a name with a Hemingway book from 1925 as well as a river in Michigan’s North Peninsula that has flowed since the last Ice Age). Additionally, we acquired the label by written permission of it’s former owner who gave it up many years ago. When these actions arise we try to respect others intellectual property and conduct ourselves with a modicum of decency (I would like to emphasize “try”). Trademark law is part of being in the consumer products business. I hope this letter explains our position and that you will understand that we are just trying to protect what is ours. We are sorry if some of you feel offended (which is the way someone who lacks empathy apologizes) by our action, but for us we felt it was the most professional and legally necessary means to an end (so screw you). We hold no malice towards Northern Brewer, their employees or their customers.
Sincerely, (Now go buy more of my beer, suckers)
Larry J. Bell
Bell’s Brewery, Inc.
I think O’l Larry acquitted himself rather well, don’t you?