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...


  1. Two words for both of them: "GROW UP" as one of the original micro brewers (yes, I have been knowcking about this industry for nearly 25 years now), I have had beer names copied by, Marstons, Abbeydale and Triple-f, I have just ignored them, I have the courage to say that my beer is good enough so why should I care if they copy me. I have taken the mickey out of the respective brewers on seeing them, have I gone legal? No.
    If it comes down to the name "Hell" then both breweries are at fault, hell lager was being imported into the UK in the 1990s so they can both shut up and learn to brew instead of sue.

  2. Hi Adam

    I feel the need to stand up for Camden Town Brewery here as there are a couple of glaring mistakes in your post that could cause your readers to make unfair criticisms about them.

    Firstly and perhaps most importantly, 'Hells' is most certainly not a generic German term. Hell and Helles both are and mean light or pale respectively but, bar in exceedingly rare cases where Hell is pluralised as Hell's (that apostrophe being all important here) it is not used in Germany to describe a beer style. I've researched this extensively and most importantly have asked several actual, real life Germans who have confirmed it.

    To say Camden have forgotten their craft roots is also a falsehood. They are some of the most passionate people in the industry making what I consider to be exceptional beer - They might not excite the most ardent of ale fans as they chose to focus primarily on brewing lager but it is exceptionally good lager. Camden Hells tastes as good as the best Munchener Hell such as Tergenseer and their India Hells Lager, released last year was probably my beer of the year. They've also collaborated with the likes of Beavertown, Kernel, Partizan, Ska, Odell, Da Brabandere and Mohawk just to name a few - breweries that embody the 'spirit of craft beer.' Breweries that Camden has formed lifetime long bonds with. They also have every right to protect their brand, they are a business after all, a business that employs almost 40 passionate people. In protecting their brand they are also protecting the livelihood of their employees.

    When this situation originally rose in September last year (which I covered in detail here: Camden politely asked Redwell to change the name of their new beer. This was not only ignored but now Redwell are actively lying to their customers by denying this correspondence ever occurred. It did, I've seen it with my own eyes.

    I will agree with you that Redwell's crowdfunding campaign is an abuse of the system. Even more so know that as well as a successful brewery they own two bars in Norwich that sells their beer direct from the brewery - making them lots of lovely margin. This is deceitful to their own customers.

    It is a shame that this comes back to the situation with Weird Beard, this was handled badly by all parties, including Weird Beard and Brewdog themselves but then this was perhaps the first incident of its kind that became public knowledge in the UK and it's something that will become more commonplace as the craft beer industry grows. Thankfully because of the Weird Beard incident the industry now better understands how to handle these situations. The most pertinent thing here is that WB did change the name of its beer, however begrudgingly.

    This is the main thing, I could recite countless incidents, mostly in the US, where one brewery has asked another to rename its beer so as to protect its brand - The only difference here is that Redwell have said no. A little maturity and a small investment in a few adjusted keg badges would sort this whole incident out in minutes.

  3. Hi Matthew,

    Lots of great points here, and I have been objective. I have said that Redwell should change the name, you're right in that it wouldn't take much, and to then crowd fund for the High Court costs is fundamentally wrong.

    I think beer 'styles' are incredibly subjective, everyone is brewing an 'IPA' whether it is or isn't, but jumping on the name wagon because it's popular and what the majority of people can associate with. This is why I don't believe Hells or Helles or Hell can be trademarked, because it is a name people associate with a light lager, whether they're real life Germans or not.

    In regard to Camden's beer output, their Ink Stout is fantastic, and their Pale Ale my session craft keg of choice, there's no observations here on the quality of either breweries' products, only that concentrating on petty arguments doesn't really do any justice for THE BEER, which is what consumers care about.

    P.S. The Indian Hells was also one of my beers of the year, on tap at The Botanist in Kew.

  4. I think the most important factor here - regardless of qualms over descriptions of style - is that from 2010 to 2014 only one brewery in the UK was brewing a beer called Hells and that was Camden who deliberately chose to omit the extra 'e'.

    I'm pleased you agree Redwell should change the name of the beer and I agree - I wish this whole thing could be finally put to bed and both breweries can get on with the important business of making great beer. :)

    1. Thanks so much for commenting, Matthew. :-)

      I agree - I think it's clear that using the name Hells Craft Lager is a poor decision bearing in mind everyone on the craft beer scene associates it with Camden, and has done for so long. And I also think the crowdfunding stunt is very poor. I wrote about Crowdfunding in Harpers recently and discovered many a wonderful beer project, so it's a shame such a positive platform is being used for something so ugly.

      But I also think Adam makes a valid point that Camden have been making a lot of noise about naming and that they could have handled some aspects of the disputes better, so neither are blameless. I think the whole point of the piece was to illustrate what a shame it is that *this* is the focus/news at the moment rather than the fantastic beers being made.

      (That said, I haven't even tried Redwell's beer yet! I hope it's worth the fuss...)

    2. I'm actually off to a Redwell tasting of a new beer on Monday off the back of this, their White IPA. Looking forward to writing about their range next week.

  5. I just checked with some fake Germans and they said 'Oui'

  6. I'm sorry but this blog is full of so much falsehood that's it's portraying Camden to be bullies and "poor little redwell" the victim.
    I'm shocked as a blogger you would write this load of bollocks based on hearsay. Crap journalism
    Thank you Matt for straightening some truths out. Redwell are doing the most lying and scheming than anyone put together, enough is enough.

    1. Hey 'Anonymous',

      I think you're being pretty unfair here.

      I think it's clear if you read the entire post that neither brewery comes out well in terms of Adam's opinion on the dispute - and Adam did link back to other sources so it's a little more than "hearsay". If you read the entire post you'll see that 'poor little Redwell' is said with more than a little tongue in cheek and that's made abundantly clear.

      I knew there would be people disagreeing with some of Adam's opinions and I think that's fine. But it's an opinion piece - it was never going to please everyone - and calling it 'crap journalism' is petty.

      The fact that we're all here debating a stupid legal dispute rather than some very fantastic beer illustrates his main point pretty well.

    2. I'm not here to argue, you are obviously his friend.
      I'm just saying my peice and if anyone is being petty it's Adam. The whole weird beard shite was put to bed and I see no reason to bring it up again like a dog with an old bone. Camden have acknowledged they fucked up. Over and out.
      I don't like the writing style at all, seems to be trying to hard.

    3. Admittedly I am his friend, but I'm also the editor of this blog, and so I thought it appropriate to respond when I felt your comments weren't entirely fair.

      But thank you - of course I appreciate you saying your piece (it's why comments aren't moderated), I just thought I'd say mine too. ;-)

    4. Dividing opinion makes great journalism - I knew this piece would divide readers, and I'm happy we can talk about it all in a grown up manner :-)

    5. Absolutely! But at the end of the day you are dredging up the past to seemingly get a reaction and that's kinda crappy.

  7. I believe Redwell only put the trademark application after Camden put theirs in. For trademark purposes its one of the easiest way of blocking the automatic approval of the trademark. Camden needs to shut up and actually come up with trademarkable names instead of taking an existing one and calling it 'unique'

  8. Redwell would rather cause extreme distress for all involved than back down and put an E in this name. It's as simple as that.
    His inflated ego will be the ruin of him and his team. Shame really.

  9. All the big players in the industry have expressed their disgust at Redwell and their reckless behavior, thereby putting their own staff in jeopardy. Perhaps the guy will have to sell one of the crap pubs he owns instead of his failed crowd funding? Now there's a plan!