On June 28th, the Brewer’s Association (BA), the primary national association for craft breweries, announced that it would be introducing a new seal that independent craft brands would be allowed to affix to their labeling. While several prior votes among the BA board for such a mark had failed, the Association decided that it could no longer ignore the growing trend of craft beer brands being purchased by large macro-breweries or otherwise receiving large investments by them. For those unfamiliar, such brands include: Elysian, Devils Backbone, Breckenridge, Lagunitas, and Wicked Weed. In an effort to promote their members’ brands with customers by distinguishing them as being “truly” independent, the BA has developed the following seal, which a brewery can use under three conditions:
- It has a valid license from the TTB (Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau)
- It meets the Brewers Association definition of an independent brewery
- Signs a license agreement with the BA to use the mark
Any brewery that meets the above requirements, whether or not they are a member of the BA, can use the seal. However, the third condition, requiring a license agreement with the BA, will likely slow down or reduce adoption of the seal of independent breweries.
One alternative that the BA could have gone with to circumvent this issue was to register the seal as a collective trademark. Collective trademarks enjoy protected use by any entity that is a member of the group that registers the mark. Instead, the BA seems to have gone with a certification trademark, similar to something that you would find under a kosher, vegan, or organic food certification program. Bob Pease, President of the Brewers Association, explained that this was done because, “the BA’s independent craft brewer seal is available to member and non-member breweries that qualify. This is why it is a certification mark. A collective mark indicates membership of a particular organization, whereas a certification mark does not.”
Thankfully, the TTB has confirmed that any brewery who wishes to include the independent craft beer seal to their packaging
, will not need to file a new certification of label of approval (COLA). This may help to streamline the process of breweries wishing to adopt the seal. It is unclear at this time how many breweries will move forward with the change, particularly if it means redesigning beer labels to fit in the new seal. For example, Troegs began using the word “independent” on their labeling, at the cost of removing “craft,” back in late 2015. Nonetheless, if you’re someone who cares about independent craft beer, it may not be a bad idea to check for the seal when considering your next purchase.
For those who are interested, the High End, a division that AB-Inbev setup to manage the craft beer brands that it has been purchasing over the past few years (see examples above), released a video outlining the objections of its craft brewery brands to the new Independent Craft Beer label. The comments to the article outline some notable objections among beer enthusiasts, but I prefer the more succinct opinion of DCBeer’s own Jacob Berg, “That High End video is one of the dumbest things I've seen in beer, and I see dumb shit on a daily, maybe even hourly, basis."
Greg Parnas, is a contributing writer to DC Beer and local alcoholic beverage attorney. If you'd like to discuss more about this issue, or other concerns with beer and the law, please feel free to reach him at Greg@dcbeer.com.