In case you haven’t heard, on January 13th Lagunitas decided to start a lawsuit against Sierra Nevada due to the styling of the ‘IPA’ verbiage on the label for the new Hop Hunter IPA. You can read the full story here if you’d like. Then, later that evening, Tony Magee of Lagunitas put out a series of tweets announcing that they would drop the lawsuit the following day, January 14th. Again, you can read all of that here if it interests you. But what’s interesting to me after all this are the reactions.
Reading commentary and comment threads on social media can be quite amusing. The public outrage over everything is a common theme no matter what the topic. I particularly enjoy those who just read a title, not an article, and present themselves incorrectly. Oh if only you had read the story.
There was a lot of that floating around yesterday. People assumed that Lagunitas was trying to corner the letters ‘IPA’ in sequence and were up in arms that “people across the country make IPAs, they can’t do that”. Good thing that wasn’t the problem then isn’t it? The issue was with the branding, not the phrase IPA.
Many called the lawsuit petty, childish, and attention-seeking. I disagree. I think Tony said it best himself:
Can you imagine what would happen if I used a crown logo or a golden scroll or a red star or a red triangle or a harp on my own label…?
— LagunitasT (@lagunitasT) January 13, 2015
Think about what is at stake here. Yes, neither Sierra Nevada nor Lagunitas are enormous companies and despite the fact that they’re huge for craft beer, they are true to the roots of what craft beer is considered to be. At the same time, they’re a business. This lawsuit and transaction was all business.
Trademark issues, ceast and desist letters, and legal battles happen every day. I’ve had close friends receive these notices and have had to change what they’re doing to be compliant, with no intent of trying to imitate others. Just earlier in the week NPR reported on these issues. You can read up on that here of you’d like. From a business perspective, branding is everything. Building your brand and brand recognition can take years. Others interfering with your branding and making it confusing, whether intentionally or accidentally, can be a serious problem.
Yes, craft beer has its own sense of community and camaraderie that very few other fields can boast, but at the same time we as consumers need to realize that they are all competitors. Sure, they make collaborations and might even go in on hop orders together, but at the end of the day me giving money to one means another didn’t get that same cash. They might later, but at that moment they flat out lost.
So, am I going to boycott Lagunitas? No. That’s ridiculous. Lagunitas SUCKS is delicious and I might even go buy one right now. I respect that they did what they thought they needed to do to protect their business and brand.