Cease and desist letters have become an important part of the business of craft beer as breweries and brands attempt to stand out in an increasingly crowded marketplace and defend their brands in order to do so. Two local breweries recently ran into such a situation, and the resulting dust seems to have settled quickly.
Just a few days ago we introduced our readers to Silver Spring's Citizens Brewing Company, which will open in downtown Silver Spring, MD in 2014. However, when that brewery opens, it will do so with a new name, as it was the subject of a cease and desist letter from DC Brau, located about eight-and-a-half miles away in northeast Washington, DC.
The potential problem stems from the possibility of asking for "a Citizen" and there being confusion between an offering from either DC Brau or Citizens.
For the past three years, DC Brau has made a Belgian-style pale ale called The Citizen. This beer is distributed in Montgomery County, where Silver Spring is located, which, in the words of DC Brau CEO Brandon Skall, "creates consumer confusion." According to Skall, DC Brau has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars marketing and developing this beer, one of their flagships. He describes the decision to issue a cease and desist letter as "gut-wrenching" and with "absolutely no malicious intent." He also notes that nobody from Citizens consulted, asked, or inquired with DC Brau about the brewery name.
We here at DCBeer hope that this happened early enough in Citizens Brewing Company's development that a name change will have minimal impact on its progress. Citizens will announce a new name for its brewery shortly, perhaps as soon as this afternoon. We expect a statement from Citizens Brewing Company shortly and will update this post when we receive it.
UPDATE, Citizens has issued this statement: "It's certainly not an insignificant thing to change a name, but we are taking this in stride. Our goal is to get our doors open this summer, which is why we've decided to move on, change our name, and not spend the thousands of dollars required to fight the Cease and Desist order. We'll be announcing our new name this afternoon. We are excited to focus on making excellent craft beer accessible to everyone through our taproom and beer garden in downtown Silver Spring."
UPDATE 2, from Citizens Facebook page: "This weekend we received a surprise from DC Brau Brewing Company in the form of a Cease & Desist letter. We’ll take their threat of litigation as a compliment. They believe in our success just as much as we do! In order to focus on opening our doors in Summer 2014 and creating the best brewery we can for you, we’re changing our name and announcing the new moniker later today. We’re proud to be bringing craft beer to downtown Silver Spring no matter what name you call us."
UPDATE 3, DC Brau has a statement as well, titled "Statement regarding Citizens Brewing Co." It is posted in full: "DC Brau is proud to be a part of the ever-growing DC/MD/VA beer community, and is excited to continually see others realize their dream of opening breweries/brewpubs in this market. Our beer community is made stronger with new ideas and styles that introduce more and more people to good, local beer. We welcome this growth.
That said, we have worked very hard over the past three years to build DC Brau in the Mid-Atlantic region, with a significant investment in developing and marketing our flagship brews, including The Citizen for which we hold a trademark on the name when used in relation to beer.
When we heard about the Citizens Brewing Co. opening, we approached them about our concern about potential brand confusion within the market. We had hoped to address the situation without having to resort to any kind of legal action, but unfortunately that wasn’t possible. We appreciate that they have decided to change their moniker, and wish them every success as they continue to work toward opening their brewery in 2014."