In a crowded craft beer market, the name’s the thing — and the wackier the better

In a crowded craft beer market, the name's the thing -- and the wackier the better

CINCINNATI — What’s in a name? Apparently, in the world of craft beer, quite a lot.

Just ask MadTree Brewing about Gnarly Brown.

There are more than 4,600 breweries currently operating in the United States, according to the Brewers Association. As more beers flood the market, the well for such creative connotations, once considered a distinguishing stroke of marketing genius, is starting to run dry. And disputes over trademarks are becoming increasingly common.

Columbia Township brewery MadTree, which holds the registered trademark on core beers such as PsycHOPpathy, Happy Amber, PSA and Lift, ran into a brick wall in 2014 when trying to apply the same mark to a brown ale by the name Gnarly Brown, one of its most popular beers. Other breweries have seen similar struggles.

“With so many beers (on the market) now, you do have to be careful,” said Mike Stuart, director of people and social strategy at MadTree. “It’s a little more difficult. The nice thing is, working in the craft beer industry, most of the breweries are pretty decent to each other. Generally, these (disputes) will solve themselves without involving attorneys — generally just an email or call. Other times, you run into issues.”

When MadTree filed its petition to trademark Gnarly Brown, California’s Delicato Vineyards, the maker of Gnarly Head wine, filed a notice of opposition to that request in April 2015. Delicato said it would be “damaged” by such registration and that similarities would “likely cause confusion, mistake or deception,” since both beverages are sold to consumers in the “same trade channels.”

Delicato said the parties had engaged in “good faith settlement discussions” surrounding the dispute since October 2014; it wasn’t until earlier this year, in February, that MadTree announced it would cease production of Gnarly Brown. However, in a Tumblr post announcing the decision, the brewery did not directly reference the filings.

Stuart, in an interview earlier this month, said the parties ultimately avoided going to court. As per the settlement, he said, MadTree agreed to stop using the Gnarly Brown name effective Jan. 1, 2017, giving the brewery time to deplete its inventory.

But don’t fret: The brewery, which says it has settled the naming dispute, plans on bringing the beer back — albeit under a different name.

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