Magic Hat shows their Heart of Darkness is more than just a beer.

Somehow I managed to find a few minutes yesterday to catch up on Facebook posts in hopes of temporarily suspending or at least slowing the scroll.  Believe it or not, I really do like almost all of my old friends and try to stay connected to what they’re up to and how many times they’ve shopped at Costco for vastly underrated steaks.  As you might suspect, one or two of them share my interest in craft beer so I wasn’t surprised to see my old Audi TT buddy, Jason, post a status update involving Magic Hat.  They’ve never impressed me as anything more than modestly mediocre and after selling out to what’s now a South American conglomerate they’ve lost their identity but I thought I’d give Jason’s link a shot anyway.  Having read the recap of a lawsuit brought by Magic Hat against West Sixth, a small craft brewery in Kentucky, I became more firmly convinced that Magic Hat has lost more than it’s identity, it’s lost any semblance of the character of shared spirit and cooperation that’s been the hallmark of the craft brewing industry.  More importantly, I was left wondering if this is perhaps an example or glimpse of the inevitable types of bigger business corporate behavior that the craft brewing industry’s success was bound to generate.  Are we reaching an important tipping point in an ever more crowded landscape or this merely the result of an international bully breaking the unwritten rules?

Inverted Object or Perverted Logic? (photo courtesy of BeerAdvocate.com)

Inverted Object or Perverted Logic? (photo courtesy of BeerAdvocate.com)

So here’s the skinny: newly sold and foreign conglomerate owned Magic Hat claims that tiny independent Kentucky newbie, West Sixth copied (stole) their #9 logo.  You can read more about the suit and allegations of “enormous financial damage” here.  Before I go too much further a bit of a disclaimer is in order.  I like craft beer.  I “research”, write about, and evangelize the wonders of well-crafted ales to all who may and to some who absolutely don’t care to hear about it.  That said, my love of craft beer doesn’t pay the bills.  Never has and never will.  The bills are paid by something I don’t love – not these days anyway.  I’m a recovering litigator.  I spent over 20 years in courtrooms as a prosecutor, criminal defense attorney and civil litigator.  I’ve handled over 100 jury trials from murder, rape, child abuse, drug distribution and robbery to construction and roofing defects, commercial manufacturing disputes, products liability, and copyright/trademark infringement.  I’ve put murderers in prison for the rest of their lives and defended companies against disastrous, multi-million dollar lawsuits.  In other words, when it comes the subject matter of one brewery suing another, I know a little something (from every angle).

So what’s really going on here?  Is Magic Hat (or whoever they really are) flexing their deep corporate pockets by filing a frivolous suit betting that a small southern start-up brewery will meekly submit or do they have a legitimate, if unpopular point?  Well, the recovering litigator in me can’t help but conclude that it’s a little bit of both.  There are always many more than two sides to a story.  Don’t get too far ahead of me here.  Yes, I genuinely believe that there is some merit to part of Magic Hat’s claims but whatever merit exists is soundly overwhelmed by simple common sense and good craft beer citizenship.  When it comes to that, Magic Hat is failing miserably.

Are the logos similar?  Well, maybe a bit.  By definition a 6 is an inverted 9 but, all due respect to the legal mind that thought that argument up, it’s ridiculous.  The fonts share some style cues and they each have a special character adjacent to the number but aside from that, they aren’t easily confused except by Cirque de Soleil trainees between two-a-day tryout sessions (and that’s mostly because of their Frenchness).  “Irreperable harm” and “enormous financial damage?” I think not.  I know not.  Not now anyway.  That said, these types of suits are generally brought to protect the owner’s mark from future damage.  West Sixth certainly isn’t planning to expand into Vermont anytime soon but Magic Hat can’t know that and they’re statutorily required to aggressively protect their mark and corporate image at this stage or risk being precluded from protecting it tomorrow.  And there’s the rub.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  West Sixth has made what appear to be legitimate offers to resolve this thing like grown craft beer men – not unlike what Adam Avery and Vinnie Cilurzo did when they realized that both Avery and Russian River had a Salvation in their lineups.  The result was Collaboration Not Litigation Ale.  That’s the way craft brewers have dealt with one another (for the most part) throughout the last decade of the industry’s monumental growth.  Even the truly big boys like Sierra Nevada have gone out of their way to support the local, smaller brewers in North Carolina when they announced their new brewery near Asheville.  Sniping amongst and between craft brewers as the landscape becomes that much more saturated may be somewhat inevitable but doesn’t have to be ugly – not Magic Hat ugly in any event (I imagine I’ve just become a target of one of their cease and desist letters because I used social media to call them ugly).

Black Magic Hat's Prototype Logo

Black Magic Hat’s Prototype Logo

I don’t know – that new logo concept isn’t all that ugly.  Not Mona Lisa or a Pontiac Aztec ugly anyway.  It kind of captures the spirit of the new regime.

Magic Hat's new brew cauldron

Magic Hat’s new brew cauldron

Their nifty new brew kettles fit the image nicely as well.  Looks like a batch of Odd Notion or Roxy Rolles ready for the lauter tun.

Oh, one more thing Magic Hat: don’t forget to mention in your cease and desist letter that my refusal to purchase one or two six packs of your mediocre beer this year will inflict enormous financial damage.

Cheers! (and don’t forget to chime in)

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The Idiot’s Guide to Holy Ales

Alaskan IPA with a hoppy halo

Sure sign of a Holy Ale

Lots of ominous signs in the news these days.  North Korea is preparing to immolate Manhattan or launch a cyber attack against the online reservations systems of Nobu and Daniel to send New York’s well-healed foodies into a tizzy (not sure why they’d need to go to any of that trouble after simply sending Dennis Rodman back).  Assad may be using chemical weapons against Syrian rebels.  A Kardashian is apparently pregnant (with a reality fetus), Lindsay Lohan is still Lindsay Lohan, and the Virgin Mary appeared on a taco shell.  I’d be truly impressed if she showed up in the gelatinous coating surrounding Spam.  To each his own when it comes to Holy signs.

Mother Mary & The Stone Gargoyle have been said to appear .  Commence the pilrgimage!

Commence the pilgimage!

That got me thinking about craft beer (you wondered – me too – if I was going make that connection somehow).  Specifically, I started thinking about my term for the rare, the mythical, the “ungettable” craft beers: Holy Ales.  I wrote about one of my Quests for a Holy Ale last week but realized that I’d never given the topic of Holy Ales all that much thought.  Why are some Holy and others just spectacularly pious (really good)? Is it all about the beer itself or is there something more? A matter of faith or a matter of taste?

I figured the best way to understand how a beer achieves Holy Ale status would be to take a look at the ones already on my altar:

3 Floyds Dark Lord

3 Floyds Dark Lord

  • Russian River Pliny The Younger
  • Three Floyds Dark Lord
  • Deschutes The Abyss
  • Surly Darkness
  • Bell’s Hopslam
  • Founders KBS and CBS
  • Alchemist Heady Topper
  • Ballast Point Sculpin
  • Rogue Voodoo Doughnut (since defrocked)
  • Stone/Maui Coconut Macadamia Porter

That’s not the whole list but it was enough to get me started in trying to identify common traits implying Holiness (aside from the fact that darkness and evil seem to be tickets to my craft beer heaven.  Probably won’t be sharing this list with my Rabbi over a pint of He’Brew Glorious Jewbelation during Hanukkah).

First of all, there’s virtually no chance that any two craft beer fans will have identical lists of Holy Ales – just too many choices and too many varied tastes out there.  Regional availability plays a huge role as well.  In simplest terms, it’s all about basic economics but on a very personal scale: Supply vs. Personal Demand.  Milton Friedman had it figured out a long time ago and probably tweaked his theories at the Map Room Pub.

So now that I have the basics down (sort of), here are my Rules for attaining Holy Ale status.  Thine craft beer mayest be worshipped as Holy upon satisfactory passage of the following (and I’m not calling these commandments because I’m already in enough trouble and don’t want to be pummeled by frogs – I’m wearing red today and would end up looking like a Jewish Christmas Tree – like I said: enough trouble already):

  1. AVAILABILITY (or lack thereof).  Goes without saying that scarcity is a huge factor.  If you can your hands on a particular brew almost anytime you want , it just doesn’t feel “special”, though it may still be spectacularly pious.
  1. GEOGRAPHY.  Relates to availability.  What’s rare and difficult to get in one area may be a snap to obtain somewhere else. I don’t have Troegs Nugget Nectar on my list primarily because I can get plenty of it out here when its available – I love it.  It’s a special IPA.  I know many people think it belongs in the conversation with Hopslam, Pliny & Jai Alai.  If I lived in Fon Du Lac it would be Holy but I don’t, so it’s just a really fine sinner.

    Brewed every 50 years

    Brewed every 50 years

  1. REGULARLY (even if sparingly and only occasionally) BREWED.  That’s my way of saying one-offs don’t count.  I’m primarily talking about firkins.  Some of them are fantastic and highly prized but if we allowed them to attain Holiness the craft beer scene would resemble Pete Townshend’s  prescient lyrics of Exquisitely Bored in California: “pray TV looks like pay TV to me.”  In other words, there’d be too many Holy Ales preaching from the tap handles and we’d have a hard time finding our true prophets over profits.

I actually had a few other factors but then recognized that they all related to personal taste and that’s really where every craft beer geek’s list is going to go their separate ways.  I’ll never worship a Barley Wine, Belgian Tripel, or Doppelbock but others may brand me a blasphemous heretic for my beatification of IPAs or Double IPAs.

At the end of the day we all see the Holy Ale signs we want to see in the lacing.  I’m still waiting for the Stone Gargoyle to appear in mine.

What about your Holy Ales? Agree or disagree with my rules?  File an appeal with a comment…

Cheers!

Evil Accounting or Something More Sinister?

666-b

On Thursday, November 6, Anheiser-Busch released its annual revenues of $666 Million.  In an earnings season which has proved devilish across practically every industry, A-B’s earnings figure appears to be right on the mark.

Rolling Rock may never come clean about their mysterious “33” but A-B’s “666” needs no interpretation – or confirmation for that matter – you can taste the number in every painful sip.