The narwhal is one of nature’s awesome animals. There’s no argument there. The argument lies in its U.S. trademark — that recognizable sign, design or expression that identifies a product (in this case a craft beer brand). Last year, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. launched its Narwhal Imperial Stout, inspired by the mysterious, unicorned whale that lives only in the arctic. The stout is damn good, featuring rich notes of espresso, baker’s cocoa, roasted grain and a light hint of smoke. But it just so happens there was already an upstart Brooklyn brewing company using that name (since 2010) — Narwhal Brewery — and they also made a damn good Narwhal Imperial Stout (rich in maltiness, boasting fig, sherry, molasses and topped off with a dark chocolate complexity).
Late last year the two craft beer brands came into a trademark dispute, and just recently Narwhal Brewery announced it would be changing its name to Finback Brewery. The duo behind the yet-to-open brewery (owners Kevin Stafford and Basil Lee are finalizing a space in Brooklyn) say even though they had the name first, they’re more interested in brewing beer than fighting over a name.
We quote a well written article by the Brooklyn Paper: “We finally just decided to bite the bullet,” said co-founder Lee of the decision to toss their original name overboard. “We came to the conclusion that if we changed our name, we could put this behind us and get back to trying to open our brewery … With all the other stuff we’re working on with our brewery, we weren’t going to waste time and money doing that.”
Lee and Stafford registered Narwhal Brewery as a limited liability corporation with the State of New York in April 2011, but didn’t file for a federal trademark. Sierra Nevada (the second largest craft brewer in the United States) filed a federal trademark to name an imperial stout “Narwhal” in June 2012. It’s a tough call for sure, but it’s also a lesson for other craft brewers who haven’t nationally trademarked their brands. Regardless, we are excited to see Finback Brewery open up.
For more info, visit their old website, which has a note on their homepage. It gets a little more in depth on the situation.
“We have been diligently working to launch the brewery in Brooklyn in 2013. I wish we could say that all our efforts have been devoted to making that happen, but instead we have been engaged in a trademark dispute with Sierra Nevada Brewery. As many of you may know, Sierra Nevada recently released Narwhal Imperial Stout. We have been using this name since 2010 and working hard to build our brand with it. We contacted Sierra Nevada prior to the release and, at first, discussions with them were very positive. They sympathized with our situation as they were also founded by passionate homebrewers in their garage. We agreed we would not take any action to hinder their scheduled release and they agreed to withdraw their trademark application so that we could properly file for ours. Word of advice to anyone starting anything: file for a federal trademark immediately (www.uspto.gov). We did not and now are in this situation, LESSON LEARNED.”