Barley Mowat 

Archive for the ‘Beer and You’ Category

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 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

Phillips Super Krypton

without comments

An imperial version of one of Phillips’ best beers? Why sure, I’ll have a go at that! Super Krypton is an amped up version of their regular Krypton Rye PA (Rye Ale/IPA), and it’s the latest in the seemingly never-ending string of Phillips speciality releases (side note: keep ’em coming guys!).

On pouring, this guy has a much lighter colour than I would have figured given the usual heavy malt profile of Rye Ales. The colour is a light amber, almost yellow. However, there’s a decent amount of cloudiness, meaning this beer hasn’t gone through a filter. That’s a good thing.

Nose is all hops–citra hops to be specific, but something’s missing here. I get the floral punch of citra, but the tropical fruitiness is absent. In fact, there’s not a lot here except the citrus florals. But screw the nose, there’s a party in my stomach, and Super Krypton’s invited (was that as bad as it sounded in my head? It was? Well screw you, go start your own blog, then!)

Huh. The body is thinner than I’d ideally like from a Rye Ale, and the mouthfeel is definitely trending towards watery. In fact, that unique rye punch to the body is barely perceptible. The hops are definitely there, but again they’re diluted by something… medicinal. I wonder what’s causing that… oh yeah, 8.5% ABV, and you taste every single point of that.

In the end, this is not a bad beer, but not one that I’d pick up again. The massive booziness detracts from, and thins out, what should be the focus: the thick creamy body of a big rye malt IPA. Ultimately, I kinda felt like I was stealing from my parent’s medicine cabinet while they were out of town. “It tastes sorta like cough syrup” really isn’t a flattering tasting note for any liquor, but especially beer.

Lastly, most Phillips beers suffer from a metallic tang on the palate from either piping or yeast, and this one is no exception. The only real issue here is that this tang only amplifies the booziness.

Coles notes:

Brewery Phillips
From Victoria, BC
Name Super Krypton
Style Imperial Rye IPA
SOA Now None awarded.
SOA Potential n/a. Not a cellaring beer.
Drink One.
Best use Getting amped up before a bar fight.
Availability Widely available at LRS
Cost $6.50-9.00 per 650ml bottle.
Similar Beers Phillips Amnesiac, CC Imperial IPA, HS Total Eclipse of the Hop
Chuck says Meh. Skip it. There are better options; yes I know all those are normal DIPAs, but this one wasn’t very rye-y.

Written by chuck

November 20th, 2012 at 3:47 pm

Posted in Beer and You

Tagged with

Going Once, Going Twice, Gone

without comments

You know the stories; you hear about it all the time: tales of rare or forgotten bottles of wine, still covered in dust from decades of storage, being auctioned off for truly astonishing amounts of money. With all the proceeds going to Charity, of course.

Sure, it’s a fiver at a time, but she gets it all eventually.

Even in BC, with our draconian liquor laws, such things were known to happen. Turns out, though, that we were breaking the law the whole time. The Sun has the scoop. TL/DR version: A theatre in Victoria was bitch-slapped by the LDB because they had the nerve to auction off wine for a local charity. But never fear, Rich Coleman is here! No sooner does the article talk about how everything was called off then Uncle Rich parachutes into the scene and starts slinging around words like “outdated liquor policies” and promising to make everything all better. The BC LCLB even decided to throw down a press release detailing the change. Bam! Your government works!

So, I guess we’re done here? Nope. It seems to me that every time something like this happens we craft beer types assume the best and then Capt. Coleman* winds up finding a way to swap out “liquor” for “wine” as soon as we’re not looking, or even in the case of the farm-gate amendment rather pointedly putting in “vineyards and distilleries.” If I’m not being clear here, let me put this in very bold, simple terms: If we don’t jump on this bitch, Uncle Rich will straight up fuck us on this one.

Sure, just as he did with BYOB, he’ll whip out that tone you use when explaining the Real World to a toddler, and try to convince us that beer just isn’t as special as wine, and that no one would ever pay money for it in auctions. Surely having beer at auction would sully the charity’s reputation. Lot 1: Château Haut-Brion 1988, sold to the lady in the blue evening gown for $2,750. Lot 2: A six pack of “Bud Lite,” sold to the… rotund… gentlemen in the stained undershirt for… Four dollars and eighty-six cents. What’s that, sir? Ugh… no… financing is most certainly NOT available.

I mean, that’s the fear right? Beer just isn’t worth as much as wine and won’t sell at auction for any real sum of money. What’s that? $2,368.73? For ONE bottle? One 375 millilitre bottle? Holy shit. That’s like $4750 for 750ml. You could buy a bottle of wine for that!

CAMRA, I’m looking at you, here. Get on this.

* My fact checkers are informing me that Rich Coleman is, in fact, not a Captain. That’s odd, cuz it just sounds so right. Screw ’em, I’m leaving it in.

Written by chuck

November 15th, 2012 at 11:40 am

Posted in Beer and You

Tagged with , ,