In the (Brew)Dog house

By Brand Heeler

Another case of overzealous brand enforcement resulting in a bad hangover

BrewDog, crafter of ‘punk’ ales, has been the toast of the beer industry for the last 10 years. Crowdfunding its way to international prominence, BrewDog has surfed the zeitgeist and generally behaved more like a start-up from Silicon Valley than a brewer from the Ythan valley. But, just as many edgy young rebels grow up to be rather more reactionary in their middle years, so BrewDog may be struggling to hold true to the passions of its youth.

Having previously railed against ‘petty pen pushers attempting to make a fast buck’ when taken to task by Elvis Presley’s estate over a reference to the King, BrewDog now finds itself accused of hypocrisy for demanding – in similar tones – that an independent family-owned pub change its name. Once the ‘Lone Wolf’ pub in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, the Wolf (as it now is) was forced to drop its original name after receiving a letter from BrewDog’s lawyers. BrewDog, it transpired, was concerned about the effect on its newly launched range of ‘Lone Wolf’ spirits. In the face of media criticism and a public backlash, which saw BrewDog being billed as ‘just another multinational corporate machine’ and painted as the Goliath to the Wolf’s David, BrewDog backed down, but too late to save the pub an expensive rebrand, or itself a kicking from industry insiders, drinkers and even its own shareholders (so-called ‘equity punks’).

It’s a useful example of how difficult it can be for a business to maintain brand integrity as it grows and evolves. Far from being the cheeky little challenger brand it once was, BrewDog is now a major international player in its own right and is rumoured to be considering a stock market float (which we think could also be the name of an innovative beer-based cocktail!). Consequently, it needs to work even harder to retain its values and avoid becoming exactly what it has always set itself against. It’s a story as old as humanity: edgy young kid kicks against the establishment and sets out to change the world, but grows up to be an accountant or middle management (or, whisper it, a brand lawyer) just like everyone else. BrewDog has now done the right thing… and, we think, probably just in time to limit the fallout. But, in a final twist, we’re less than amused to see it’s trying to blame its lawyers.

Calling them ‘a bit trigger happy’ and tweeting that it’s had to sit them on the naughty step ‘to think about what they’ve done’, BrewDog suggests its solicitors were simply off on a frolic of their own. What an insult! We’re not saying lawyers aren’t capable of acting with imagination and initiative from time to time (our dancing at the Christmas party is a case in point) but we’re happier to do so when we’ve got clear instructions and we’re being paid! We’re tempted to echo suggestions that Wolverhampton Wanderers take a look at BrewDog’s Lone Wolf logo – and then give us a call to talk about trade mark infringement…

This article contains our thoughts and opinions on an issue of general interest and is written from the perspective of Australian and/or English law. It is not legal advice and is not provided in the context of a solicitor-client relationship. It may not even be relevant to your jurisdiction. No duty of care is assumed or accepted. Please carry out appropriate research and consult with a suitably qualified legal expert before taking any action or making any decisions.