Friday Bullets For The Fall Membership Drive

Membership drive? Not for around here. That didn’t work out well. No, it’s the week that the incessant drone in my head called NCPR asks for your support… and you should answer the call. I feel badly for not going over to answer phones this week and not just because sometimes there is beer.

Friday is upon us. The best day of the work week. I have meetings but they are good meeting, thanks for asking.

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Is It True? Has Vermonster Been Saved??

There seems to be some news happening this suppertime around the Vermonster saga-ette with news today from the website of Rock Art Brewery and via their Twitter account. Vermont Public Radio seems to have a tidbit more than I am seeing elsewhere on the why and the wherefore of the outcome… even if they get the name of the beer wrong:

Vermontster president Matt Nadeau is cautious about spelling out the agreement before getting instructions from his attorney. But he will say that Monster has agreed to withdraw its cease and desist letter, provided that Vermontster doesn’t try to break in to the ‘energy drink’ market.

If that is true, what a come down for the litigious Hansens Beverage Company, taking a kick in the teeth and putting a shadow on its brands only to force Rock Art into submitting to agree… to not do what it never intended to do. Brilliant. And all of a sudden little Rock Art is well known in craft brewing circles. Bonus.

More On That US Trademark Law Facing Vermonster

You know, it’s fun to learn new things. Today, for example, I learned how to use the search tool at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. A great example of open government, you can even see the emails on the Office’s file listed as Notation to File – thrill to the bureaucratic reality, baby. Why’d I do it? Well, because Hansen Beverage Company, the makers of a jittery soda pop called Monster, has issued a press release about their reasons for objecting to the application filed by Rock Art Brewery to trademark their beer called The Vermonster. In part, they state:

In order to protect Hansen’s valuable Monster Energy® trademarks, Hansen is legally obliged to, and routinely sends, “cease and desist” letters to, and where appropriate, pursues litigation against, entities and persons who use or attempt to register similar trademarks for products that are similar or related to Monster Energy® products. A “cease and desist” letter was sent to Rock Art Brewery on September 4, 2009… Hansen has not, and does not, target or single out one company over any other, nor distinguish between big or small companies or individuals when enforcing our trademarks.

To be fair to Hansen, that is true. For example, when one looks at the registration by Coca-cola of a drink called “Monster Refreshment” you can see that Hansen does object to others and is not afraid to take on companies far bigger than they are. Hansen actually seems to be involved with a whopping ninety-nine trial or appeal files of one sort or another at the moment. So, they are not picking on Rock Art – though what I see are other firms using “monster” somehow and not just a word, as with Vermonster, containing “monster” or some a step further. What would the do if faced with a “-onster” word like “Sue-me-nonster” beer? I have no idea.

Sometimes trademark applications just go away as when the Brooklyn Brewery abandoned its trademark application for its Monster Ale barley wine in 2005. No idea why they did that. They seem to have all their other brands in he system including the as yet unmade and somewhat mysterious Local 3. Sometimes they are resolved as when Hansen bought the rights to a beer brand called Flathead Lake Monster in 2006… though it doesn’t say for how much. Actually, Flathead Lake Monster Ale seems to have gone away about the same time. There was a Flathead Lake Brewery in 2008 but that seems to have gone, too.

But one trademark didn’t seem to get protected by Hansen. The one for Monster Malt Liquor. It was deemed abandoned by the Patent and Trademark Office who sent Hansen’s lawyer this Notice of Abandonment on 20 July 2009. See, Hansen failed to file a document called a “Statement of Use” even though they were given three extensions to make that filing. Because, presumable, they did “use” the name by making a beer called “Monster.” Or, I think, make any beer at all for that matter. I guess in that respect beer and jittery soda pop are very different things.

Will Hansen’s abandonment of their one intended beer trademark make a difference? Will it matter to their argument that Vermonster causes confusion when it is pointed out that they could not put even a malt liquor on store shelves? I have no idea – but you sorta think it should, right? Interestingly, another factor that might affect the outcome is that soda and beer are in the same trademark goods and services category called “light beverages” which is separate from both wine (listed under “alcoholic beverages”) and coffee (listed under “staples”). A quirk? Not important? Who knows?

Meanwhile, you know things are getting more jittery than usual at Hansen HQ as Monster Energy may have stopped tweeting. the push back and the boycott grow. Because the consumer doesn’t need to wait for a ruling from the Patent and Trademark Office, right?

If “Vermonster” Is Confusing – Isn’t “Monster” Worse?

Much is being made of a legal claim being brought against Rock Art, a small Vermont brewer, who makes “Vermonster” beer by a premium soda pop maker whose brands include “Monster” energy pop for confusing the brand – especially since the claim is being made in the name of the soda company’s plans to enter into the beer market. But not so much is being made on this point noted by one Green Mountain State publication:

Rock Art isn’t the only Vermonster out there. Ben & Jerry’s has long used the name for a massive tub of ice cream available at its shops. A spokeswoman for the company said she was not aware of any trademark issues with the name. “Vermonster” is also the name of a series of truck rallies in Bradford. Brooklyn Brewing Co. makes a barley wine called “Monster Ale.” A representative to the company declined to discuss whether Hansen had challenged its use of the name.

OK, that is a few points but you see my point, right. Good old Brooklyn Beer has had a beer called “Monster” on the shelf for quite a number of years. I have one in my stash right now. Simmering in its own wickedness, no doubt. There are others, too. Will they all get sued? The Bee-to-the-Ay lists 34 monstrous craft beers on the market already. What if all craft brewers shared in the idea and put out their own Monster and “-onster” branded beers, too?

We are only at the stage of the legal letter sent, we are told, by the specialist intellectual property law firm Knobb, Martens, Olsen & Bear. Which is good. There is still time to think of the big picture. It may well be that the negative reaction to the note may well lead the Hansen Beverage Company to reconsider their strategy. They look like they want to get along and have a happy name in the marketplace. Who doesn’t? Hard to overcome bad press.

Vermont: Craft Brewer Greg Noonan Passes Away

Very sad news this morning of the passing of Greg Noonan, founder of the Vermont Pub and Brewery as well as author of a number of important books on brewing. There is a thread of condolences over at BeerAdvocate with many sharing their memories of him.

Seven Barrel Brewery Brewer’s Handbook constantly during my former glory-ish days of home brewing. The idea of having one book showing the same recipe for extract, part mash and full mash implied a lot. It said that it was worth getting started and trying to excel. It also told me that it was a very reasonable goal to try and brew dozens and dozens of beer on your path. There was something of the tone of a patient teacher in that book as well as in his other book on my shelf, Scotch Ale, that set them apart and fit right in with the memories people are sharing today.

But it were my trips to the Vermont Pub and Brewery that I immediately recalled on hearing of his death. Almost two decades ago now, a pal of mine and I went on a tear of a road trip starting out in Ottawa, looping into NY state and ending up at the VPB on a Saturday night, trying whatever they had on tap. It was the summer of 1990 back when the beard was still red, the shirts not so tight. We were blown away by the way his place showed the range of possibilities after years of accepting what the Canadian market gave you – not to mention the realization that you could just have a small palace to the honour of good beer, good pub food and enjoying company in the corner of any town… your town, too. For the years since, it’s been a regular stop on the family’s trips from Ontario back to the east Coast. Think I will pull out that old VPB crow t-shirt today (if it still fits) and find me a Vermont beer no doubt born out of his great example and inspiration.

Friday Bullets For The Feast Of The Big Bird

Not Big Bird just a big bird.

I am having a little difficulty coming to terms with the fact that Jay… Jay who has commented on this blog for yoinks, actual yoinks… did not know I have a logo. Made it myself when I was 41. So this is it. Jay: ‘Hello, Mr. Logo.” Mr. Logo (with a deeper voice): “Hello, Jay”. There. That’s done.

  • The “They Were After My Town” Update: “And the third bomb would go off at a military base somewhere along Highway 401, between Toronto and Ottawa.” Where else is a military base along the 401? Well, Trenton I suppose.
  • “What Country!” Update: unemployment dropping. Said it before – amazing economy we have… mainly by the luck of geography and importing the most ‘fraidy cat of business cultures through 300 plus years of immigration.
  • It started when I was in high school and was called “the yuppie flu” as it sapped the will of baby boomers. Now they figured it out.
  • I had no idea that I could pick up high school radio at work until the other day. Plenty of hits of the 80s. Teacher’s oversight committees are gold.
  • Just in time for Gourmet magazine’s demise, I learn that not reusing the paper coffee filter is a crime against nature. Who knew these things were more J-cloth than Kleenex?
  • Did you know algae only took a few years to rebound after the comet slammed into the Earth? It’s all about stunning and amazing facts this week.
  • Less charming is the fact that we are governed by consultants whose salaries flow from who knows where: “Asked Monday if he ever worked at the hospital network, which includes Toronto General, MacLeod replied, “No.”” Excellent. Note the extra “a” in MacLeod.
  • I don’t know what to make of this. I am not of the “Obama = Satan” school that is out there but I still don’t know where he is heading. Peace prize? For just not being in a telephone pals relationship with Dick Cheney? Maybe.

Friday beckons. A three day weekend beckons. Plans for the weekend? Dump run. Wooooooot!

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Our Collective Family Record Of Slavery

I have the TV on in the mornings. It drones on and if I am lucky and the kids sleep in past 4:45 am, I get to pay half-attention to the CBS Morning Show to learn about all the real news. And this morning there was a short piece about the genealogy of Michelle Obama which told about the five generations from slavery to the White House:

She began working on Michelle Obama’s roots at the behest of the Times before President Barack Obama’s inauguration. Smolenyak said her mother, like Michelle Obama’s mother, Marian Robinson, carried the surname Shields, and an “instant affinity” pushed her interest. The first lady’s ancestors lived across the South and Midwest, and many were part of the Great Migration that saw blacks leave the South for the industrialized North. It was the 6-year-old slave Melvinia Shields, bequeathed in her master’s will and later sold for $475, who tugged at the genealogist’s heartstrings. “It’s still jarring to see dollar signs associated with human beings,” said Smolenyak.

In my work I am bumping into history more and more and find the specifics of personal history and who was related to who the most interesting stuff. A few months ago, I asked myself who was the last slave in my town. I didn’t really answer the question but found some information – especially the story of the man who seemingly incongruously fought at Sackets in red during the War of 1812 even as had also been brought to Ontario at the end of the American Revolution as a slave to Loyalists. Makes me wonder if any were on the ships from New York City in 1783-84. There were plenty of possibilities in those days… possibly. I still need to find the 1812 soldier’s name but it also reminded me of the prof who taught slavery in first year property class to illustrate the principles in a way that stuck in the mind. Nothing like a children listed in a slave sale advertisement to bring a point home. Now I wonder who the last slave sold in my town might have been. And where was the sale held? I had no idea they were curious about the same questions in Largs.

Warning: Your Freebie Beer Blogging Ways Are Over!

A few weeks ago, a wiggling waggy hand rose above the crowd pointing out that there was uncertainty as to who was dabbling in beer blogging in relation to matters in which the blogger had a financial interest. Melissa Cole admitted that there were doubts even about her own writing and that it was all not quite on. It has all devolved into a well deserved bout of slappy heed over calling out but not calling out yet the point is still a reasonable one… as is Jeff’s counterpoint… but not Pete’s… Pete’s contribution is not helping things at all.

Well, as the New York Times tells us things are now more serious than whether one or another or all of us are cool with… or is it cool towards… such practices. Bigger than even Pete Brown (as sophomorically illustrated¹) himself, the UK’s – if not the language’s – real top beer writer. See, the law is now involved as the United States Federal Trade Commission has issued a revision to its “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising” (warning: big honking burly .pdf) which states in a number of ways that blogging has now gone big time and we know so because the line between comment and endorsement, opinion and advertising has gotten blurred. For instance, the FTC states at page 14 and 15:

The Commission recognizes that because the advertiser does not disseminate the endorsements made using these new consumer-generated media, it does not have complete control over the contents of those statements. Nonetheless, if the advertiser initiated the process that led to these endorsements being made – e.g., by providing products to well-known bloggers or to endorsers enrolled in word of mouth marketing programs – it potentially is liable for misleading statements made by those consumers.

… and further at 47 to 48:

The Commission acknowledges that bloggers may be subject to different disclosure requirements than reviewers in traditional media. In general, under usual circumstances, the Commission does not consider reviews published in traditional media (i.e., where a newspaper, magazine, or television or radio station with independent editorial responsibility assigns an employee to review various products or services as part of his or her official duties, and then publishes those reviews) to be sponsored advertising messages. Accordingly, such reviews are not “endorsements” within the meaning of the Guides. Under these circumstances, the Commission believes, knowing whether the media entity that published the review paid for the item in question would not affect the weight consumers give to the reviewer’s statements. Of course, this view could be different if the reviewer were receiving a benefit directly from the manufacturer (or its agent). In contrast, if a blogger’s statement on his personal blog or elsewhere (e.g., the site of an online retailer of electronic products) qualifies as an “endorsement” – i.e., as a sponsored
message – due to the blogger’s relationship with the advertiser or the value of the merchandise he has received and has been asked to review by that advertiser, knowing these facts might affect the weight consumers give to his review.

So, while the FTC indicates that it will not go after the bloggers directly, it will go after the advertisers who use new media to get their message out. What will this mean? It may put a chill on ads, samples and…frankly… the goodies. And what the hell point is there blogging if one never gets the goodies??? Well, for those quasi-bloggers who are really professional writers (you know, the book writers) slumming with the cool kids, it will mean absolutely nothing because their revenue is through indirect advertising not the entirely more wholesome and less problematic direct moo-lah stream. Me, I actually get very few samples through the maple wall that is the US-Canadian border and the cash ads mostly come (however oddly) from other nations. But for the poor US based semi-pro beer blogger just looking for a little reason to go on, well, this may be the kick in the pants they don’t really need. So share a silent moment, if you would, for the blogger looking for that one little break, that something in return. It may just have become that bit less likely to arrive in the mail.

One last thing. I do think it’s great that the law is actually addressing new media (even if blogging was cool seven years ago and starting going lame about three years ago) but is this at all a likely outcome in an advertising model where a scurrying pack of small operators get paid peanuts to send out a viral message?

In order to limit its potential liability, the advertiser should ensure that the advertising service provides guidance and training to its bloggers concerning the need to ensure that statements they make are truthful and substantiated. The advertiser should also monitor bloggers who are being paid to promote its products and take steps necessary to halt the continued publication of deceptive representations when they are discovered.

No, me neither. Ain’t going to happen.

¹[Ed.: lesson – don’t blog with an eleven year old goading you on to make the cartoon look sillier. Sorry Pete. Really. Sorry. Just think how boring this post would be without your input… err… participation… umm… objectification.]