Friday Froth: Down With Anchor!

James Gribbon

A California brewer reached across the country to attack Hartford's City Steam and, distressingly, they've won. At issue? Anchor thinks they own the word "steam." Regular Friday Froth readers may remember when I first mentioned the lawsuit brought by Anchor Brewing against City Steam Brewery Cafe almost a year ago. This week a judge ruled Anchor Brewing in San Francisco can force City Steam in Hartford to chance its name. The lawsuit was upsetting then, and it's dead-fish-on-a-hot-sidewalk repellant now. 

I'm urging every craft beer drinker in Connecticut to boycott Anchor beer. Just don't buy it. It's that easy. Our voices and and dollars will be noticed. Just this week, Lagunitas dropped a similarly frivolous lawsuit against Sierra Nevada due to overwhelming consumer derision. Let's tell Anchor we in Connecticut are not going to take it laying down. 

The foodie community has worked hard to bring fresh, delicious food of high quality to America's tables and leave the old way of low quality, factory processed foodstuffs behind. The craft beer movement has the exact same goals, and big beer like Budweiser's InBev and MillerCoors have done everything they could to fight it. They've bought distributors who carried craft beer and then barred it from their trucks, they've written legislation to choke the craft beer industry, and they've pounced on the flakiest excuses to bleed small, local breweries dry via the attrition of protracted legal wrangling. 

Now we've started to see the largest craft brewers adopting these tactics to bully the industry's little guys. Succinctly: the hell with that. 

I'm not against protecting trademarks. I was fully in favor of Magic Hat's action against West Sixth in their little spat of 2013. Look how similar these two logos are:

Now let's look at one of Anchor's beers, and a bottle of City Steam Brewing beer. 

First: Absolutely no one would confuse those two beers. No one. And Anchor's other beers, even less so

Second: City Steam has every right to their name. Maybe more so than Anchor, if we're using common sense. In my first column on the suit I wrote:

"There was little to no refrigeration in the final years of the 19th century, so Anchor used coolships - essentially huge, flat pans - to cool its freshly brewed wort before fermentation, like setting a hot pie on a windowsill. The coolships were on the brewery's roof, and the hot wort gave off steam, hence "steam beer.""

So Anchor made beer the same way every other brewery had done it for thousands, literally thousands of years before refrigeration, and then bought a trademark for the word "steam." They don't use steam to make their beer, it's just what happens to water vapor in cooler air. But apparently Anchor now owns one of the laws of nature, according to the courts.  

Let's contrast that with City Steam:

"Brewing with steam heat is the equivalent to cooking with gas - it's a reliable, even source of heat which creates a more uniform, replicable product. It's ideal, in other words. That's why, in the mid-1990s, a group of brewers and investors worked with The Hartford Steam Company to install a steam-powered brewery/cafe in the Brown Thompson building. This has been City Steam Brewery's only home since it opened its doors in 1997, years ahead of the current craft beer boom."

So City Steam Brewery Cafe creates their beers using actual steam, not just as a byproduct. They also name their beer recipes (Naughty Nurse, Innocence, Colt 46, etc.), so they don't refer to any of their products as a steam beer. There are no parallels here. The only use of the word "steam" anywhere on the bottle is in the name of the brewery that made it, but Anchor thinks they own that, too

Remember when I mentioned the Lagunitas lawsuit? Here was the issue:

[h/t to Paste for the image]

Lagunitas brewery founder Tony Magee briefly got it into his head that he owned the acronym "IPA," and decided to sue fellow California brewer Sierra Nevada because they dared put it on their packaging. This was a blatantly ridiculous claim, and Magee was called out on it in the court of public opinion. He did the wise thing, and dropped his preposterous suit, fast. 

Breweries work out their differences like grownups all the time. When they don't, smaller brewers with less money to spend on lawyers often get the shaft, and the world of craft beer gets a little worse. I reject that; I hope you'll join me in standing up for Connecticut's own City Steam, and #boycottAnchor

City Steam beers are super easy to find in Connecticut, and doing something good comes with its own buzz. See you out there.