Thursday, 5 February 2015
When Craft Breweries Clash: Camden vs Redwell
There's a storm brewing in the craft beer world. A storm I'm not happy about. A storm which upsets and frustrates me.
If you've seen the beer world news recently, you'll see Camden Town Brewery have initiated a series of warnings and lawsuits against like-minded brewers who have upset them by using words they don't like anyone else to use.
I'm not on about curse words or the like - I'm on about words that describe beer styles, and the name of a place in London.
First off we had a collaboration brew between Weird Beard and the Brewdog Camden bar staff. A great idea, and aptly named Camden BearD, the B & D capitalised for corresponding letters in BrewDog.
But Camden Town Brewery took offence to the name, stating that the word Camden was in fact misleading, and made it sound like it was a collaboration between all three brewers. Resolved in a very roundabout way, the beer is now called K*ntish Town BearD, more than poking a tongue out at Camden Town, whose brewery lies under the railway arches of Kentish Town. Make of the asterix what you will...
Back to today's issue.
Poor little Redwell Brewery. They haven't had much luck of late. Last year, Red Bull gave notice to Redwell to change the name of it's brewery because it was too 'confusingly similar' to Red Bull, a statement I find to be complete nonsense to anyone who drinks or associates with either product.
Now Redwell has come to blows with Camden Town Brewery for the name of Redwell's 'Hells Craft Lager', stating Redwell has traded the name to ride on the success and reputation of Camden's flagship lager.
That's it in the short and sweet, but my issue is not with one of the two brewers - it seems to me that both are at fault in this petty argument.
For one, Hells, or more commonly Helles, is a generic German term for a light lager. How can Camden claim exclusivity when the term is so widely used in Germany, and increasingly in the UK?
In the same breathe, why can't Redwell trade under the name Helles, which is far more widely used, but maybe not so recognised in the UK? In this respect, I would agree that it does appear that Redwell might be trying to trade on the success of a rival brand - and that does them no favours.
A bigger gripe with this whole situation, however, is Camden's recent treatment of like-minded breweries. As craft brewers, they seem to have forgotten their roots; instead more distracted in trying to protect their brand than create great beer.
To me, it just seems to be a sort of bullying and anti-competitiveness in a sector of the industry which has grown largely because of partnerships with each other. Collaboration brews and tap takeovers have shaped and created an atmosphere of harmonisation across the industry. It's vaguely similar to Budweiser's treatment of Budvar Budweiser (the proper one from Czech Republic), finally resolved in the UK in 2013.
Redwell are none the better. They recently filed to trademark 'Hells Craft Lager', a step which clearly put it in the firing line with Camden Town, and rightly so.
Whether it's a cheeky publicity stunt or total naivety, the fact that Redwell are now crowdfunding in order to take this to court, is in my opinion a TOTAL ABUSE OF THE CROWDFUNDING PLATFORM! (You can surely read my frustration...)
Consumers and brewers of craft beer should only really care about one thing; the quality of products, not about trademarking as many words and beer styles and places as possible so that you become the only person who can trade a certain style of beer in a certain place. Heck, someone will try and trademark IPA or London if we're not careful.
Camden have really disappointed me, but Redwell should have realised their actions would eventually come with consequence. It seems we no longer live in a craft beer world where everyone is still starting out and working together to help each other succeed.
Perhaps the craft beer industry has become a victim of its own success. Perhaps, like BrewDog, they all become corporate machines, governed by shareholders and boards of directors losing sight of the beer and focusing more on the brand, protecting their image, merchandising and stamping out the small producers.
In that respect, they've become everything they started out against...