First Brewed: Can’t find online
Bitterness: 100 IBUs
Alcohol by Volume: 9.8%
Brewery: McKenzie Brewing Company, Eugene, OR
I’m not a lawyer. I’m glad to finally admit it and it feels really good get something that big off my chest. It needed to be said, and now we can all move on.
But no, the blog won’t be ending there today. The reason I mention that I’m not a lawyer is that I want to make it clear that what I’m going to discuss in the following paragraphs comes from absolutely no legal background. I’m not going to throw around any wild notions or pretend to understand more about the law than I actually do. I just want you all to know that you’re not talking to an expert, and if you have any further questions, I suggest consulting with one.
Legal issues between craft breweries are rarely, if ever, fun. In fact, they’re probably not fun between anybody (unless you win against some real jerks). But I understand that sometimes a craft brewery needs to take legal action, whether to right wrongs that have been done to them by partnerships or to protect a trademark.
The reason it’s so unfortunate that these legal actions take place is that craft brewing originated from a place of collaboration. Because craft brewing originates with home brewing, it begins at such an amateur level that sharing information is absolutely vital. The Internet has made this even more viable, allowing home brewers to share every step of the process along the way with anyone who might care to know and benefit from that knowledge.
But home brewers can quickly outgrow their small scale systems, leading them to open craft breweries, which have to be legally protected just like any business. I would hardly call this selling out, especially since the independent spirit runs so strongly in craft breweries, but it does mean that breweries have to get protective of their beers, names of their beers, brewing processes and everything in between.
This very thing happened with today’s beer, McKenzie Brewing Company’s Hopasaurus Rex. When I get a new beer, as I’ve mentioned before, I like to do a little online research to see what buzz exists around it, and to see if I’ve caught on to something new. With Hopasaurus Rex, some of the first search results hinted at a legal battle I had completely missed, but clearly seemed important to those involved. I, of course, had to learn more, and now I pass that learning on to you!
“Legal battle” is a bit of an exaggeration since the whole thing mostly involved one cease-and-desist letter. Apparently the folks at McKenzie Brewing Company caught wind that Freetail Brewing of San Antonio, Texas was producing a beer with the same name they had previously trademarked, Hopasaurus Rex. Seeing that someone was infringing on their territory, McKenzie sent the cease-and-desist letter to Freetail.
Normally, the story would end here and would be a boring tale of legal procedure. But Freetail’s founder and CEO, Scott Metzger, has become somewhat of an Internet hero for his response letter, which you can find here. It turns out that Freetail’s Hopasaurus Rex is actually part of a brewing process, not a beer itself. Regardless, Metzger acquiesced to McKenzie’s request and stopped using the name, but not without taking the time to make himself out like the good guy in all of this.
That’s my biggest problem with Metzger’s response, and the whole situation overall. Did McKenzie brewing need to pursue legal action? Probably not, since Metzger seems like a reasonable person, but I can see where they’re coming from. To them, someone was using one of their trademarked names in order to make a profit, and they wanted to solve the issue as quickly as possible. Lawyers shouldn’t be the first resort, especially in a community that’s supposed to be as tight knit as craft brewing.
But Metzger’s response ignores a key factor: he’s very clearly in the wrong. Freetail tried to use a name that was already trademarked, which means they either failed to do their homework or just didn’t care. In addition, by making his response public, Metzger makes the (presumably) fine folks at McKenzie Brewing look like a soulless, faceless corporation while he’s the lovable rogue who likes messing with squares. Maybe his response wasn’t intentionally as calculated as all that, but it’s definitely the vibe it gives off, and that’s another thing that isn’t needed in the craft beer world.
I was already going to taste the beer before I even knew all of this, but considering the legal brouhaha surrounding this beer’s name, I had even more reason to taste it. The color was a glowing auburn that had very little clarity, though I poured it into a frosty mug so that might have had something to do with it. There wasn’t much of a head, but what nestled on top was thick with a nice tan color. The odor was a total blast of hops, the kind that brings tears to your eyes. There were vague floral hints underneath all the hops, but not much to speak of.
The taste of the beer followed right in lock step with the aroma. The hops completely dominated the flavor, bringing to mind pine and a bit of citrus. If you’ve ever wondered what hops plants taste like (I don’t recommend eating one raw), this might give you a good idea. It wasn’t nearly as sweet as Hop Stoopid, the closest beer I can compare it to, but it also skirted bitterness by adding the bare minimum of malt to keep it from being overpowering. The intensity of flavor completely masked the 9.8% alcohol, but I was only about a third of the way through the glass before it made itself very apparent. Don’t drink and drive, and definitely don’t drink Hopasaurus Rex and drive.
Does Hopasaurus Rex live up to the hype that surrounds it after the legal issues? I don’t think any beer could, but it’s a wild ride that I won’t soon forget. I’m glad the dispute seems to have settled down, and without any real casualties. My advice to anyone trying to come up with a name for their beer is to do a thorough search of all the proper channels to find out if the name is already in use. It’ll save everyone a headache. And then you can unwind with a nice pint of Hopasaurus Rex.
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