On April 27, 2021, Rockville, Maryland’s True Respite Brewing Company announced the introduction of their Bright Spot Beer Co. brand. This is a re-brand and re-launch following their loss of the Brawling Beer trademark during a United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) proceeding. I had a chance to chat with the co-founder of True Respite, Brendan O’Leary, about their acquisition of the Brawling Bear brand and pivot to Bright Spot.
Brawling Bear began as a contract-produced brand in 2016 and opened up a production facility in 2018. Unfortunately, a series of delays prevented them from opening a Gaithersburg taproom to welcome the public. The brewery was hoping to get that done in 2020 and then, in an all too often repeated phrase, COVID happened. Facing the dual headwinds of the pandemic and a lawsuit seeking to cancel their trademark, Eric Rosenthal and Jenn Rogers of Brawling Bear decided to close up shop and contacted True Respite at the end of the summer in 2020 looking to sell some of their equipment. O’Leary, a fan of Brawling Bear, enquired into what Rosenthal had planned to do with the brand. “Brawling Bear was like an older sibling. We poured together at festivals before True Respite opened up and I had such a personal affinity for the beer and Eric and Jenn.” What particularly interested O’Leary from a business stand point was that Brawling Bear fit a different niche of the beer market than True Respite. Where as True Respite puts out a lot of higher priced one-off and rotating series beers, focused on brewing trends and packaged in 4-packs of 16 ounce cans, Brawling Bear was founded on flagships: reliable, repeatable, stand-by beers. When Rosenthal let O’Leary know that there were no specific plans regarding the brand, True Respite jumped on the chance to buy Brawling Bear’s assets. This included the branded merchandise, recipes, trademarks, existing beer stock, and kegs. The sale was completed in September 2020. During the course of the purchase negotiations, True Respite was made aware of a trademark dispute with New Mexico’s Boxing Bear Brewery, but decided to move forward with the acquisition.
O’Leary brought up the idea of having a lower price point, flagship brand to Otherside Beverage Co., True Respite’s distributor partner in Delaware and most of Maryland. Otherside agreed, becoming the wholesaler for Brawling Bear products. What O’Leary found is that “the buyers’ relationships with Jen and Eric is what caused retailers to be so loyal to Brawling Bear. Since Jenn and Eric trusted us, the buyers followed suit, and we never lost an account during the transition.” True Respite made some changes to the line-up, shedding underperforming beers while keeping the existing brand and philosophy. Blindside IPA came out of that process, and Brawling Bear Lager became the second core beer.
Unfortunately, things came to a head on February 2, 2021, when the US Patent and Trademark Office ruled in favor of Boxing Bear in their dispute against Brawling Bear. One of the key arguments in the case was that the term “brawling” is a subset or type of boxing and is often using to describe a kind of boxer. That loss of the trademark fight came on top of an already difficult time. “This past year has been a barrel of bat shit,” explains O’Leary. “Bailey [O’Leary, co-founder of True Respite and Brendan’s wife] had some chronic health issues. COVID came, we lost a trademark, there was just hit after hit; but we persevered and found a way forward through all of it.” It is out of that perseverance that Bright Spot was born.
The vision for Bright Spot is to be a parallel brand of lower cost beer to be sold in 6-packs. “There might be a move in the future to spin off Bright Spot into its own full fledged operation,” notes O’Leary. For now, folks can enjoy 6-packs of Bright Spot IPA (formerly Blind Side) and Bright Spot Lager (formerly Brawling Bear Lager) at retailers across Maryland and DC. Ideally you will find them priced at $11.99-12.99 per 6-pack. Unlike with True Respite, Bright Spot beer will be offered with volume discounts to retailers, which should keep the price overall lower. Be on the lookout.
We interviewed O’Leary, and True Respite co-founder and co-owner Brian O’Connor, about their Biermi platform last year.