But Who Will Think Of The Innocent Pumpkins…

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Fall is a fantastic season if you enjoy change, beautiful scenery, and crisp outdoor happenings.

Fall is a terrible season if you happen to be a gourd…

Pumpkin Protest...

Somewhere around mid-Autumn, the Great Pumpkin Slaughter begins. And perhaps ground zero for the decimation of innocent pumpkins is the Cambridge Brewing Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The brewers blow through dozens upon dozens of 10-barrel batches of the pub’s Great Pumpkin ale. And to make each batch, the brewers have to hand-cut 150 pounds of pumpkins. This is a near-thankless task that the dedicated brewers (Will Meyers, Megan Parisi, and Kevin O’Leary) hope will one day be automated…or that there will be an international pumpkin plague that wipes out the gourd, leaving only happy hoppy beers in its wake.

Tomorrow is the second annual Great Pumpkin Festival at CBC (from 4 pm – 1 am) and here are the details…

This event will feature 6 CBC Pumpkin brews alongside 14 Pumpkin beers from breweries like Elysian, Iron Hill, the Alchemist, Dogfish Head, Southern Tier, Allagash, Jolly Pumpkin, and more!

Executive Chef David Drew has also whipped up an amazing pumpkin inspired menu.

And of course The Great Pumpkin Festival would not be complete without the sacrificial tapping of the 150 pound giant pumpkin filled with “cask? pumpkin beer by robed monks and offered to the masses.

$10 gets you in and your very own “Great Pumpkin Festival 2009” limited edition glass. Then, it’s in to the festival to buy tickets to sample the brews honoring the great gourd.

And don’t forget your costume…it is Halloween after all.

‘Tis the season to celebrate the slaughter of your favorite gourd…

(image courtesy of Will Meyers’ wonderfully creepy imagination)

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Death of Buzzards Bay, Part Deux?

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Almost as soon as it arrived, the Just Beer Brewing Company’s listing in the Massachusetts Beverage Business Magazine, the price guide that lists products available to retailers, has disappeared. I believe it only appeared for a month, perhaps two, before taking its exit. No word on whether the brewery has rethought plans to offer its beers at cut-rate prices.

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So Has Rock Art Actually Won Anything?

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The beer blogosphere has been filling up in the last twelve hours with news that viral Goliath slayer Rock Art Brewery has indeed bested its potential litigation rival Hansen’s Beverage Company. Details at this point are surprisingly scarce, with Rock Art’s own website only celebrating victory without defining its terms.

America You have saved

Your voice has caused corporate america to rethink its position

We can continue to brew our beer as we have since 2006!!

Yea!!! huge victory for the people!!

POWER belongs to the people

In all the media accounts in the last twelve hours, only this detail seems to have emerged (from WCAX.com):

Rock Art lawyers have been in negotiations with Monster lawyers and late Wednesday afternoon the two sides came to an agreement. Rock Art gets to keep ‘The Vermonster’ name as long as it stays out of the energy drink business.

While this was what Rock Art’s president Matt Nadeau ostensibly offered to Hansen’s as a compromise a few weeks back, it can’t be the entire story. While this debate has largely been framed in terms of David vs. Goliath, big mega-corporate thug versus folksy small town brewer, the spark in the tinderbox stemmed not from an out-of-the-blue cease-and-desist letter from Hansen’s but from Rock Art’s application for a federal trademark on the Vermonster name. This point is near uniformly misunderstood in the debate and Hansen’s is just viewed as a bully with a ridiculously acute case of myopia. The difference between every other beer named Monster and Rock Art’s Vermonster is simply that the Nadeau’s sought a federal trademark for a consumable product whose name somewhat closely approximated one trademarked by Hansen’s. In an act of corporate responsibility, Hansen’s and its attorneys were obliged to consider whether to oppose the application. For right or wrong, the company felt it legally and strategically had to oppose the application and quietly hoped that Rock Art would simply back down from the application (while inevitably retaining the Vermonster name). A similar scenario may very well have played out with the Brooklyn Brewery’s Monster Ale, where it made a trademark application, only to later withdraw it. That beer remains on the market with the same name.

As Alan has noted (in his lawyer’s view), Hansen’s has a long history of vigorously defending its Monster trademark (and franchise) and that is understandable from a corporate law perspective. But Hansen’s is also a pragmatic corporation and the tide of public and consumer opinion has clearly turned against it with the viral Rock Art boycott and protest.

The question that remains unanswered is an important one. While Rock Art claims victory here and cites its old propagandist “Power to the People” line, the devil is in the details. Has Rock Art truly defeated Hansen’s in securing an agreement not to oppose its trademark application for Vermonster or has Hansen’s actually won what it simply wanted all along: protection for its core product and trademarks? If Rock Art has agreed to withdraw its trademark application and stay out of the energy drink game, then it’s hard to say what the small brewery has really won beyond a great deal of viral PR and public sympathy (the value of which certainly cannot be understated).

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Pennichuck Brewing No Longer Closing, Apparently…

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Despite all signs to the contrary, including an email to customers and the Brewers Association membership offering its entire brewhouse for sale, the Pennichuck Brewing Company is apparently no longer closing. Not sure what the sudden, dramatic back and forth is all about but an outside investor has apparently come forward to help the brewery with its financial problems. I look forward to seeing how the brewery’s business model, which I’ve written about before, changes in the months to come.

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Belgian Beer Fest Recap, Lawsuits Flying Around, and Other New England Beer Happenings…

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It’s been a while since I wrote about the New England beer scene, as my focus has been more on the national and international. So I thought I’d take a few minutes this suddenly snowy afternoon to offer some brief updates on the New England beer scene.

Openings and Closings

Since writing The Good Beer Guide to New England, we’ve seen many breweries come and some go. In more recent months, the White Birch Brewing Company opened up a 1 barrel (you read that right) in Hookset, New Hampshire. A self-professed lover of Belgian-style beers and high alcohol American beers, this homebrewer turned professional brewery is presently trying to live the dream 31 gallons at a time. The economics are incredibly difficult to make work at that small a production level, just ask Andrew Carlson. From what I sampled of the White Birch products at the recent Belgian Beer Festival in Boston, including a Saison and several different Tripels, the transition from homebrewing to production brewing is clearly never an easy one. I understand that the beer is available at a limited number of New Hampshire stores and retails for above $10 per bottle, a pretty steep asking price (but understandably necessary in light of the small-scale) considering the quality of the offerings available for less than that amount. A beer festival is not always the best place to take the full measure of a brewery so I look forward to seeing how this brewery manages the hurdles it faces.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project, run by brewer Dann Paquette and his wife Martha, continues to do very well in Boston and in a limited number of eastern markets. Instead of plopping down hundreds of thousands of dollars on a new system, the Paquettes decided to rent excess time on the systems of other willing brewers. Pretty Things produces a range of interesting and eclectic beers, possessing a broad profile of flavors, at very reasonably price points. Cheers to both Paper City and Buzzards Bay for allowing a fellow brewer to take over the reins of their breweries.

In the Northern Kingdom of Vermont, brewer Shaun Hill continues to ready his next brewing operation, a farmhouse brewery in Greensboro, Vermont. Having kicked around The Shed and Trout River Brewing, Shaun left Vermont a couple years back to brew at the Nørrebro brewhouse in Copenhagen, Denmark. We visited Shaun earlier this year and while he is full of plans for the future, they are tempered with the understanding of how difficult it is to open up a new brewery. He’s been slowly slogging through the required paperwork and zoning but there is no sure date on when this project will come to fruition. Shaun’s days in Copenhangen are numbered as he’s showing the ropes to his successor, Ryan Witter-Merithew, formerly of Duck-Rabbit in North Carolina.

In other farm-brewhouse news, brewer Paul Davis and his family continue their efforts to open their own production brewery, to be called the Prodigal Brewing Company. Located on the Misty Mountain Farm in Effingham, New Hampshire, not far from where Paul used to brew for the Castle Springs Brewing Company. He ambitiously hopes to start a small farmhouse brewery, where he’ll grow his own hops, and notably produce true-to-style German lagers. Paul has experience opening breweries, having helped direct the Troutbrook Brewing (Thomas Hooker) opening. Add to that honey, roses, and some animals and this functioning farm will be a very interesting addition to the New England beer scene.

Speaking of lager beer, it appears that the von Trapp family of The Sound of Music fame is readying its own production brewery attached to its Vermont inn and tea room. The project is apparently a long-time dream for the Stowe-based operation and the focus will be on lagers, though somewhat hard to understand with quotes like this from the local paper.

One will be a nice Salzburg-type beer,? von Trapp said. “It will be a terrific, flavorful beer that’s not too hoppy and not so strong that you can have one at lunch without getting a headache.

The lead brewer on the project will be Allen Van Anda, formerly of
the defunct Cross Brewery and the Rock Art Brewery. The company is in the process of putting together all the required legal groundwork for the operation, whose opening date is not yet known.

The guys who were to start the Nomad Brewing Company in North Adams in Western Mass have relocated their operations to Pittsfield and have nearly completed a buildout on the newly rechristened Wandering Star Craft Brewery. I imagine the business plan will remain the same, with a heavy focus on real ales.

Also some word that Ben Roesch, formerly of Honest Town, Nashoba, and Cambridge Brewing, is working on a new brewery in Worcester, with a release date of November on the first beer. Disturbingly named Wormtown Brewery, the brewery will run four different beers initially and will be Worcester’s first brewery in some time. In an odd twist, journeyman brewer Mike Labbe has taken over Ben’s old job at Honest Town, adding another notch on his well-worn resume of brewing gigs.

The Pennichuck Brewing Company of Milford, New Hampshire also just announced that it is closing up shops after a few years of service. In an era where craft beer sales are rising, even in a bad economy, it’s always difficult to know why any particular business cannot succeed. The New Hampshire market is a tough one and despite its minute size, Pennichuck distributed beers as widely as Alabama and Florida. The beer was not particularly well-established in the Boston market and we generally only saw the specialty offerings that were inexplicably sold in 1 liter bottles, usually at stratospheric prices (bottles of the imperial stout were $10 to the retailer, let alone with the additional consumer markup). UPDATE: There is news that Pennichuck has secured funding from an angel investor at the eleventh hour and will remain in business. Look forward to seeing how the brewery changes its approach to improve its financial future.

Lawsuits and Small Business Headaches

Speaking of Rock Art, I’ve generally avoided weighing in on the viral madness of the Monster Energy Drink and Vermonster saga. As an attorney, I’m interested in learning more about the intricacies of trademark law as it applies to this situation, but that isn’t likely anytime soon. I’ve been asked about the situation several times over the last week and my response is usually the same: Rock Art should capitalize as much as it can on the free press and viral word-of-mouth PR it will garner in the next couple weeks and then it should rename the Vermonster, a specialty beer that the brewery doesn’t produce much of, something cheeky but safe from litigation. The viral campaign against Monster does appear to be gaining some traction but Rock Art’s filing of an application for a national trademark may be sufficiently important to move to the courtroom, despite the PR fracas. To fight a mega-corporation with a $2 billion market capitalization, while perhaps principled, is a recipe for business disaster and doesn’t make any sense. I think the good folks at Rock Art probably know this and if not, they should listen to the wise counsel of Peter Egelston of the Portsmouth Brewery and Smuttynose Brewing who sums up with examples what I’ve been telling people this week.


And in a final bit of news, the La Resistance distributorship, run by the Shelton Brothers, has been sold to another Massachusetts distributor. La Resistance distributed beers from Paper City, Thomas Hooker, Pretty Things, Jolly Pumpkin, among others, along with the Shelton Brothers line of imported beers. No word on whether each of the products will remain with the new distributor.

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