Breweries Are Getting In Huge Fights Over Beer Names

With over 4,600 craft breweries throughout the United States, the craft-beer industry is running out of names for their creations.

As breweries use up every possible name, many of which are associated with a pun, animal, or landmark, competitors have found themselves in the midst of countless legal battles in order to protect their names and logos.

At least 25,000 active registrations and applications related to beer have gone through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, according to The Wall Street Journal.

"We’re literally running out of words in the English language that haven’t already been taken," said Brendan Palfreyman, a Syracuse lawyer who works with beer trademark cases.

Examples of recent cases include a dispute between Maine’s Wash Ashore Beer Co. and another brewery’s application for a “Washed Ashore” beer, and a “Brew Shed” beer being contested by The Shed Brewery in Vermont.

Eric Ottaway, chief executive of Brooklyn Brewery, said he spends approximately $200,000 annually to protect his company’s intellectual property.

"Brand names in many ways are the most important thing that any company has," Ottaway said to the Journal. "There are only so many different ways to make IPAs."

Craft beers first became popular in the U.S. in the mid- to late 1990s, according to the Brewers Association. Two decades later, craft beer accounts for about 12 percent of U.S. beer consumption and 21 percent of beer purchases, as breweries increase throughout the nation at a rate of about two a day.

As a result, coming up with a unique name can be a challenge.  

Jamil Zainasheff, owner of Heretic Brewing in Northern California, went through 10 names that were already in use before deciding on Shallow Grave Porter.

"It was the name we liked the least," he said. "That’s the way it goes."

On a related note, if a name is too creative, it can lead to other complications in the future. Mike Beebe, assistant brewer at Mike Hess Brewing in San Diego, said his team has been leaning towards names associated with local landmarks instead of "Latin-inspired" ones.

"If people can’t pronounce it, they won’t order it," he explained.