What’s in a Name?

Dear reader,

I hate to break it to you, but the stereotype is true: Iowans are really, truly, genuinely nice people. I mean it, Iowa Nice is a real thing, not just a viral YouTube video! Having lived on the east coast for the first 22 years of my life and Iowa for the past 11 (yes, you did that math right) I feel like I’ve had enough time to compare and contrast. But in all reality, there’s just no comparison.

Now sure, we have all have our steadfast loyalties and our daily disagreements. Generally speaking, however, the golden rule is held above all others when it comes to treating our fellow neighbor. True story: the first time I caught the “farmer wave” on a rural Iowa road, I thought he was giving me another kind of hand gesture after spending so much time driving out of state.

The bottom line is that from politics to athletics, we can all share a smile and a handshake even on the most challenging of days.

cy hawk

(Photo used from Des Moines Register Gallery // Source)

Craft beer is one of those industries, especially locally, that seems to exemplify this quality. Attend any beer function in town…festival, conference, collaboration brew…and you’ll find “rival” brewers with “competing” brands sharing experiences and trade tips all in the name of making a better product for the consumer (us) to enjoy. Any qualms or disagreements are usually hashed with a face to face conversation and a beer.  

Which is why it was so startling to see a post on the Iowa Taproom Facebook page on Monday (since deleted) promoting the (since postponed) launch of Iowa’s latest brewery: No Coast Brewing Company. If you’re unsure of the problem without any further explanation, try this experiment: walk into any craft beer bar in central Iowa and order a No Coast beer. 100 times out of 100 you will get one of these two answers:

1)      A glass full of Peace Tree No Coast IPA, which I have previously called one of the best locally brewed IPA’s available

2)      We’re sold out (because it’s that damn good)

Craft beer isn’t immune to naming disputes. The shortage of punny, hop-focused names has been written about at length. In late 2014, Lagunitas threatened a lawsuit (which it later dropped) against Sierra Nevada over the specific stylizing of the letters I-P-A on a bottle label. But to see it happening so close to home…No Coast Brewing Company, located in Oskaloosa, is a mere 30 minute drive from Peace Tree in Knoxville…is startling.

Megan McKay, president of Peace Tree Brewing Company, has already made her feelings known in a blog post recently published on the company website. For their part, No Coast Brewing Co. has made theirs known as well, dropping a trademark on NoCoast and issuing a “Middlefesto” on their website.

But as a long time fan of Peace Tree, from where I’m sitting it looks more like a middle finger.

The topic has taken the local craft beer scene by storm and created quite a stir across the social networks. Opinions range from “they [No Coast Brewing Company] should have known better” to “who cares, it’s just a name.”

Peace Tree doesn’t own the name No Coast anyway…plus the more Iowa breweries, the better, right?

no no coastTrademarks continue to be a difficult part of the brand development process in the craft beer industry and we all know legal work isn’t cheap.” Melissa Carlson, partner and designer at 818 Iowa (i.e. someone who works to develop company brands for a living) mentioned to me after I reached out for additional perspective on the issue. “There are a lot of free resources out there to check name infringement to the best of your ability. But, it’s always best practice to seek the help of a professional when making important branding decisions.”

It’s true. Peace Tree doesn’t “own” No Coast, even though that have been using the name for their flagship IPA since 2013. It’s even made clear in their aforementioned blog post that another Midwest beer, Moon Man No Coast Pale Ale, uses the name. But a quick Google search would reveal No Coast and Peace Tree go hand-in-hand…regardless whether or not they legally “owned” the name. I didn’t even realize that Moon Man was called a No Coast Pale Ale until this week. However, I feel that in New Glarus’ specific case the term is used more like a self-proclaimed style or geographic descriptor, much like Overrated West Coast Style IPA by Surly Brewing (which is, albeit, a much more recognized style…but the point still stands).

This is 2016, and for some, any publicity is good publicity. This can be especially true in an ever more crowded field of craft breweries. Melissa went on to say that “In such a growing and competitive market, it’s never been more important to differentiate your brand in a way that is true & unique to you.”

No Coast IPA, while not a brewery, nor a name “owned” by Peace Tree, is still a brand. And regardless of legality, causing friction within the local craft beer community still feels like a bad way for the folks in Oskaloosa to launch a new brewery.

And it’s definitely not Iowa Nice.

(For further reading, a great conversation thread on this issue can be found over on Beer Advocate here.)

About Tom Hardinge

I’m a professional engineer by trade and have a passion for all things craft beer. I also dig home brewing, traveling, biking, and of course, our wonderful city which this blog is all about!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *