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The Grinch Who Stole Cascadia

with 58 comments

Preface: Today I’m going to take a bit of a break from the never-ending stream of BC Seasonal Reviews to publish an actual article. Yes, what follows is a carefully researched BarleyMowat.com original. I even called people and conducted interviews for this one, although sadly I could not locate my fedora & “press” tag in time to wear it.

Pop quiz time: If I were to say “Cascadia” to you, what sort of beer would I be describing? Odds are that the vast majority of you just thought something like “Hop-forward” or “Cascadian Dark.” One of you, though, did not. One of you thought “Why, Steamworks’ Cascadia Cream Ale, of course!”

That one person is Mr. Eli Gershkovitch, or as he’s better known in beer circles, The Guy Who Owns Steamworks. Not only does Mr. Gerschkovitch feel that the word “Cascadia” is irrevocably associated with his (no longer brewed) Cascadia Cream Ale, but he feels this so strongly that he’s contacting everyone else using the term (or, more accurately, the somewhat-similar-but-not-actually-the-same term “Cascadian”).

Yup, Eli is using his trademark for the term Cascadia (Registration Number TMA669027), as applied to beer and beer-related wares, to send out a volley of calls warning of Cease & Desists to breweries that dared call their Cascadian Dark Ale a “Cascadian Dark Ale.”

Now, I don’t take issue with registering a trademark for your beers. In fact, I feel it’s a prudent step that breweries all-too-often forgo, on the basis of “everyone’s nice in the craft beer industry” or maybe more accurately “meh… seems like work.”


Much like cleaning the mash tun, though, it needs to be done. And please don’t make the interns do this one.

The reality of the matter is that not everyone in craft beer is nice, and that not all of the beer industry is craft at all. If another brewery decided tomorrow to produce a beer called “Singularity Russian Imperial Stout” there really isn’t much Driftwood could easily do about it, and almost every other craft brewery in BC is in a similar state.

So from that angle registering a trademark for your beer is a terribly good idea, however, the trick is around when you need to realize that your trademark is no longer worth fighting over.

Since 1999, when Eli first filed his trademark, the term “Cascadia” has developed another meaning entirely, and that’s the one that everyone out there parroted at the start of this article. Not only is that meaning completely incompatible with a Cream Ale (malt-forward, smooth body), but Cascadian-style ales aren’t even using the term protected in the trademark.

They’re using “CascadiaN,” not “Cascadia.” Combine that ‘N’ with the fact that the beers in question are not actually named Cascadia, but rather just described as such, and you’ve got a trademark that will be very hard to enforce in court.

So not only is Eli bullying fellow craft beers with an old trademark on a beer he no longer brews; he’s doing so without a solid argument. Why bother? Well, it’s all nice and feel-goody to be in the right with such things, but it’s another issue entirely to pay a lawyer to talk to another lawyer and convince them of just how right you are.

Sure, some of the more resource-rich breweries have consulted an IP lawyer and then held the phone away from their ears while said lawyer screamed “The fuck?!” but for most breweries, even that much lawyering is money they can ill afford to not spend on making beer.

And that’s the game plan: convince the little guys that even if they win, they’ll lose because of the finances required for that victory. I hate to admit it, but Eli’s on to something here. Small craft breweries honestly cannot afford to put up a fight, so they’ll sign off on whatever they need to in order to make this all “just go away.”


Much like prison, giving in without a fight is rarely a permanent solution.

The end result will be that breweries are afraid to use the proper descriptor for a Cascadian Dark Ale, and we wind up with a Christmas Dark Ale or some such, all just to keep things less complicated.

But why? Why is he doing this? I’ve had a few talks with different brewers over the past few weeks while researching this article, and while the words used to describe Eli have varied from slightly uncomplimentary to maternally disrespectful to downright physically impossible, none of them were “stupid.”

Eli didn’t just wake up one winter’s morning and decide “What the hell, I’m bored! I think today I’ll undertake a program designed to systematically and mortally offend the craft brewing industry in British Columbia for shits and giggles. Yes, this will require large amounts of my time and make me look like a complete and utter douchebag, but why not? Gotta be better than knitting!”

Please note: When contacted to answer “What Gives?” Steamworks elected to skip the chance to explain their point of view and replied with “No Comment.” What follows is therefore my best, educated guess as to the motivation behind all this drama.

Nope, he’s got a plan, and that plan has a lot to do with Section 36 of the Trade-marks Act. Section 36, for those of you that don’t spend your spare time reading Canadian IP Law, is the “use it or lose it” clause with regard to trademarks. Basically, if you have a trademark on something, you have to use it at least once every three years, or you risk easily losing it.

Coincidentally, the last time Steamworks appears to have brewed a beer with the Cascadia name is… winter 2010, and boy is that three-year anniversary coming up fast. In short, they’re getting ready to use it.

But what will this new beer be? Will they resurrect Cascadia Cream Ale, kitshy graphics and all? Doubtful, as it’s just not commercially viable to produce a sweet, malty beer and call it “Cascadia.” Consumers will buy it, open it, and say “What the hell is this?” before angrily demanding their money back. That’s what’s called “Bad PR” in the business.

I figure they’re brewing up a proper CDA, and Eli is using his bully tactics to clear the playing field prior to its release, rather than have his CDA compete with a handful of other similarly styled beers based on, you know, actual merit.

Sure, those other beers will be there, likely labeled as “Black IPA” or even “CDA” and yes, we’ll know they’re really Cascadian Dark Ales, but sadly, not everyone reads this blog. The average beer consumer will not equate the labels, and the playing field will wind up being just a little bit tilted in Steamworks’ favour.

What can we do about this? We’re the beer buying public, and obviously we won’t stand for acute asshattery of this nature, so what actions can we take? Sure, we could simply not buy his beer, but even if all 50 of my regular readers take part in such a boycott Steamworks likely wouldn’t even notice.

What we need to do is get the word out. Eli likes to see himself as a man of the people. He’s always willing to talk to the press and get his good name out there so that we can see that, deep down, he’s just like us. It doesn’t matter the topic, be it talking about luxury waterfront real estate, affordable Ferrari ownership, or even flying your private plane to Europe, he’s your guy for fluff pieces that make him look good (or at least that make him look like a less attractive, budget version of Richard Branson).

Eli is particularly sensitive to PR, is what I’m saying here, and if only there was some sort of media that’s driven by the people… some sort of “social media,” should such a thing exist? Oh yeah, I’m doing this:

Mr. Gershkovitch Twitter: @steamleader
Steamworks’ Twitter: @steamworksbeer
Steamworks on Facebook: SteamworksBeer

Voice your displeasure; let them know what you think. In the meantime, Eli, if you’re still reading this, please take a moment away from that Cease & Desist addressed to me that you are no doubt drafting in the next window, and think this over.

I know you figure that you’re just defending a trademark that is rightfully yours, but you have to let this one go, buddy. You’re doing serious damage to both your own and Steamworks’ reputation in the craft beer industry, and the industry is small enough that this will come back to bite you in the ass. Perhaps you think Steamworks’ can stand on its own, but look around you. Look at your staff in the brewery and brewpub. See that look on their faces? They aren’t so sure. I cannot believe that someone there hasn’t said something to you about this. Listen to them.

Besides, how does this end? There are 11 breweries in Canada making several different Cascadian beers (lager, dark, pale, IPA). I’ll even list them for you: Alley Kat, Banff Avenue, Brewsters, Flying Monkeys, Granville Island, Howe Sound, Old Stone, Phillips, Red Truck, Spinnakers, Yukon. And then there are the importers: Alameda, Boundary Bay, Hopworks, and The Commons, and more every day. Are you going to take on all of them? What happens when one of them has deep enough pockets to fight back? What then?

Don’t turn your greatest assest–the community of craft brewers–into a liability. Work with them on this one. Have a round table and discuss what your concerns are; they’ll listen. Even now, this far along, they’re willing to work with you. Free “Cascadia” and it will be a massive PR boost for Steamworks. Brew a collaboration beer to celebrate the moment. I’d buy that.

Even if collaboration isn’t your style and you really just want to make a Steamworks CDA, let the trademark go, man. Trust me on this one. Put out your CDA and make it a good one. It’ll do just fine on its merits alone. Steamworks brews great beer, the best beer in BC by some measures. When people walk into a bottle shop and see your product, let them think about that, and not about why it’s the only Cascadian Dark Ale on the shelf.

Update: And in a move that surprises pretty much no one, Steamworks has deleted all posts mentioning this issue from their Facebook page.

Update 2: I have received a response from Eli in which he reveal plans to license Cascadia to craft breweries for ~$1 ; I will update with Eli’s full response and reaction tomorrow.

Update 3: Update here, with Steamworks’ response and my take on it.

Written by chuck

November 22nd, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Steamworks Speaks

with 6 comments

This is the second of three posts on the Cascadia trademark dispute that consumed BC Craft Beer in fall of 2012. To read the whole thing from the beginning click here

The response to my article yesterday daylighting the whole “Cascadia” situation has been massive. This is an issue that really seems to have resonated with people all over–not just from Vancouver, but from all around the world. In addition to the dozens of comments on my blog here, there have been four threads on Reddit (with almost 200 comments), posts on beer-themed forums like BarTowel and a few discussions on non-beer themed sites here and there. In short, people on the Internet seem to care about this.


You know it’s serious when someone makes a cat graphic.

Also, Social Media lit up with 100+ retweets and damned near 400 Facebook likes. And yes, this means I now have hugely inflated ego and will be an insufferable ass from here on out. Deal with it.

As well, there were dozens of posts to Steamworks Facebook page. I say “were” because SW established a pretty good program of going in every hour or so and deleting them before finally giving up and disabling their wall entirely. That’s a quality move there, Steamworks.

Perhaps the most important bit of communication, though, was an email to me, authored by Mr. Gershkovitch, received last night titled “Notice of Defamation Action.” Don’t panic; Eli isn’t taking me to court. It’s a joke, and I mention it here because I liked it a lot. That title put me in a great mood. Attached was Steamwork’s reply. I’ve posted it here. Please read it, as the rest of this post won’t make much sense if you don’t.

So let’s talk about this letter. Despite the fact that this looks like something that was written in one go and shipped out quickly, it’s actually a very carefully considered and written piece of propaganda. The spin here is pretty massive, and if you read through it start to end you would be forgiven for forgetting what we were talking about in the first place.

I’m not going to dissect this letter bit by bit; I’ll leave that to the frothing hoards on the Internet, who are already way ahead of me on this one. Instead, I am going to sprinkle a few tidbits of info here to salt this discussion.

First, nice try Steamworks. This letter attempts to deflect a discussion about a trademark dispute into a David vs Goliath battle between the little guy and Molson. I’m not a fan of Molson by any stretch, and I’m even still a little hurt by GIB’s decision to sell out to them. However, that doesn’t mean I’m dumb enough to get distracted with a “but but Molson!” argument. It doesn’t seem like anyone else is either.

Second, the notion that every small brewery instantly rolled over in compliance because they’re just so nice (as opposed to Molson, who are meanies) simply does not jive with what I’ve learnt. Perhaps Steamworks doesn’t think that I might ACTUALLY TALK TO THE BREWERIES, but I have, and while, yes, some are acquiescing to the trademark, some are absolutely not because they think the TM is bullshit.

Third, an offer to license a trademark for $1 sure sounds swell, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, according to BarleyMowat.com’s in-house legal counsel* you can’t just willy nilly sell unrestricted use of your trademark. This is part of the “protect it or lose it” Eli mentioned. If you let people give you $1 to use your term however they want, you may lose that trademark because you’re not protecting it.


Similarly, believe it or not, this man is not protecting his “ladies.”

Nope, this licensing agreement will almost certainly come with some rather strong restrictions on how you can use the term, because it has to in order to preserve the trademark. And those restrictions have to be spelt out in a document, which needs to be read by a lawyer. The last time I checked, lawyers cost more than one dollar. So we’re right back where we started with small breweries being potentially unable to afford this whole thing, or simply being unwilling to bother with spending time and effort on something that is, afterall, not brewing beer.

Not to mention that a licensing agreement sets up Eli as some sort of King of Cascadia, judiciously bestowing or revoking these rights to those he sees fit. As funny as I think that image is, it’s not a reality that solves this mess. The Grinch Who Stole Cascadia becomes The Grinch Who Still Has Cascadia But Lets You Look At It Once In A While. Maybe. If You’re Nice.

I really wish this $1 licensing solution would work, as I’d happily just write a $56 cheque to Steamworks for all 56 other breweries in BC (including GIB) to be able to use the term “Cascadian” in a beer style without additional restriction forever, and we’d be done with this whole thing. Sadly, that’s not going to happen, as it is a virtually impossibility that Steamworks would ever agree to licensing terms this loose.

UPDATE: For a much more in-depth review of Canadian Trademark Law and how it applies specifically to this case, read this excellent post over at hoplog.

UPDATE 2: The saga continues in part there.

* Yes, we have in-house counsel. Bet you didn’t see that one coming, did you? She mostly spends her time repeatedly explaining “libel” to me, and occasionally informing me that I can not, in fact, sue a brewery for making bad beer. That part still doesn’t seem right to me, though.

Written by chuck

November 24th, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Posted in Beers

Tagged with ,

Parallel 49 Black Christmas

with 5 comments

I suspect the recent increase of seasonal one-offs from Parallel 49 is a calculated attempt to monopolize my blogs’s beer review bandwidth. In addition to Salty Scot yesterday and today’s post, I have Ugly Sweater to get up in the near future (preview: buy it), and P49’s brewmaster Graham With has dropped severals hints of small batch release craziness still in the pipeline.

So what should we expect from P49’s third bomber release, coming directly on the heels of #2 on Wednesday? “Black Christmas” is marketed as a “Christmas Dark Ale,” but don’t go opening one of these guys hoping for a fantastical P49-style twist on your precious sweet, sticky Christmas Ales*. Nope, this guy is a CDA, straight up. I’m not sure where the “Christmas” aspect plays in, aside from the creepy label (side note: it was originally supposed to be the Grinch but the LDB nixed that, saying that a cartoonish label would inspire kids to drink it. To the LDB: The fuck?! Why are you selling beer to kids?)


This is so much… better?

One detail that’s hidden away in the small text on the label is that this beer makes use of “100 Mile Fresh Hops.” Usually beers containing fresh hops have that fact splattered in bold print all over the front, or even incorporated into the name, but not this one. In fact, even while discussing the beer with Graham, the freshness of the hops was not brought up.

But what does it taste like? As you’d expect with a CDA (Xmas or regular Cascadian variety), it pours nearly pitch black with a good deal of carbonation. The fresh hops announce themselves in the nose, followed by a nice malty/raisin scent.

Upon liberally pouring this down your beer hole, you get basically more of the same. The malty-raisin builds slowly sip to sip, and even presents a bit of rhubarb over time. The mouthfeel is rich, creamy, and definitely well executed. Bittering hops are not overdone. Essentially this is a nice well balanced English IPA that’s been coloured black through roasted wheat malt.

Overall, despite Graham’s obvious enthusiasm for this particular beer, I’m not as sold on it. It’s definitely a decent CDA, but the fresh hops throw an off-putting twist on the style. That’s the thing with experimenting, sometimes you get amazing results, and sometimes Chuck’s not a huge fan. Oh well, y’all should still (try to) buy it and drink it, it’s definitely worth a taste, it’s just not something I’ll likely grab again given all the other beers I’m morally obliged to taste and tell you about.

* Update: I’ve heard from the brewery that Christmas was used because of the timing of the release and the pine-forward hops, and that also there’s some trademark issues around “Cascadian”. I’m researching that and will post a hyper-rant if true.

Coles notes:

Brewery Parallel 49
From Vancouver, BC
Name Black Christmas
Style Cascadian Dark Ale
SOA Now Swing and a miss
SOA Potential n/a; not a cellaring ale.
Drink Now.
What Chuck really wanted for Xmas A CDA crossed with an Xmas ale. That would have been swell.
Availability Very limited release to LRS and at brewery
Cost $7.00-$9.00 per 650ml bomber
Similar Beers Howe Sound Gathering Storm, GIB CDA
Chuck says Buy it if you can find it.

Written by chuck

November 10th, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Posted in Beers

Tagged with